After the seminal mutant microcosm of the modern world they constructed on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Devo have moved on to present their listeners with a no-win situation. It’s creepy enough to think that these musicians would laugh at you if you took them seriously. But it’s even creepier to believe that they’d still laugh if you played it cool and pretended to get the joke.
This kind of inscrutable smirk winks back at you from all over Devo’s third album. There aren’t many musical differences between Freedom of Choice and the first two LPs. What makes things uncomfortable is the change of topic. Now that the so-smart Spud boys have turned their poker faces toward the boy-girl game, they play it with such horrific lyrical literalness that it’s impossible to figure out their attitude. There are a few clever variations on the theme (“Snowball,” “Girl U Want”) and some nonmating dances (“Freedom of Choice,” “Mr. B’s Ballroom”), but the gist feels like moon-June-spoon.
And we’re supposed to take this stuff straight? C’mon! The adenoidal lead vocals sound like they’re being delivered while held at arm’s length, as Devo’s mechanically pitched rhythms click in coldly all around them. When the band heats up or the singer sounds like someone’s actually inhabiting his vocal chords or a thick, loud guitar forces its way to the forefront, there’s a momentary ring of truth. It just doesn’t happen often enough to eradicate the record’s suspicious emptiness.
Doesn’t everyone feel dumb enough about love without encouragement from a bunch of guys with red flowerpots on their heads?