.
http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/a7a5614bad8f74a6e21b3b788e29dfd7755e3fde.jpg Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

Devo

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 0 0
November 30, 1978

What's Most Impressive about Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is its authority: Devo presents their dissociated, chillingly cerebral music as a definitive restatement of rock & roll's aims and boundaries in the Seventies. The band's cover version of "Satisfaction," for instance, with its melody line almost completely erased and the lyrics delivered in a yelping, droogy chant to mechanical rhythms, at first comes across as an intentional travesty, a typical New Wave rejection of the oldfart generation. But what Devo is really doing is reshaping the old message into their own terminology — claiming one of the greatest anthems of the Sixties, with all its wealth of emotional associations, for their own time. It's a startling gesture, yet a surprisingly convincing one.

The same could be said for the whole album. The primitive guitar work and pulsing beat suggest a gamut of early Sixties borrowings, but the group is also reminiscent (the vocals especially) of some of the artier New Wave bands such as Wire or the B-52s. Yet all of these influences are flattened into an arid, deliberately fragmented science-fiction landscape. There's not an ounce of feeling anywhere, and the only commitment is to the distancing aesthetic of the puton.

I suspect, though, that in adopting this style, Devo would argue that they're simply being good journalists — that the futuristic deadpan comedy of their stance reflects the current pop-culture reality. "Too Much Paranoias" for example, starts out as a mocking, jarring little ode to dread that's genuinely frightening, then turns into an overt joke in which the chief villain is apparently a McDonald's hamburger ("Hold the pickles hold the lettuce," in a spasmodic shriek), but the joke is equally scary. And the group's attitude remains poker-faced throughout. In the lobotomized anthems that end side one, "Mongoloid" (a sort of bastard cousin to the Ramones' "Pinhead," with a great, stuttering guitar line) and "Jocko Homo," it's impossible to tell whether these guys are satirizing robotlike regimentation or glorifying it. The answer seems to be that there isn't any difference.

Brian Eno's production is the perfect complement to Devo's music. Eno thickens the band's stop-and-go rhythms with crisp, sharp layers of percussive sound, full of jagged edges and eerie effects that whip in and out of phase at dizzying speeds. On every cut, Devo seems to know exactly what they want and how to achieve it almost effortlessly. Such apparently random strategies as the "What Goes On"-style organ in "Mongoloid" or the neat-Byrds-like guitar intro to "Gut Feeling" coalesce into a barbed, dislocated texture that draws you in even while it sets your nerves on edge.

Though the group's abstract-expressionistic patterns of sound are closely related to Eno's own brand of experimentation (not to mention the recent work of David Bowie, who was once slated to produce this LP) and to a host of other art rockers, Devo lacks most of Eno's warmth and much of Bowie's flair for mechanized melodrama. For all its idiosyncrasies, the music here is utterly impersonal. This Ohio band either treats humanity as just another junky, mass-cult artifact to be summarily disposed of, or else ignores it completely. Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is a brittle, small masterpiece of Seventies pop irony, but its shriveling, icecold absurdism might not define the Seventies as much as jump the gun on the Eighties.

prev
Album Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Promiscuous”

    Nelly Furtado with Timbaland | 2006

    This club-oriented single featuring Timbaland, who produced Nelly Furtado's third album, Loose, was Furtado’s sexy return after the Canadian singer's exploration of her Portuguese heritage on Folklore. "In the studio, initially I didn’t know if I could do it, 'cause Timbaland wrote that chorus," Furtado said. "I'm like, 'That's cool, but I don't know if I'm ready to do full-out club.'" The flirty lyrics are a dance between a guy and girl, each knowing they will end up in bed together but still playing the game. "Tim and I called it 'The BlackBerry Song,' she said, "because everything we say in the song you could text-message to somebody."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com