Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fossils: Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!
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Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Only in the heady 1970s could a label (Warner Brothers, in this instance) wager on such an unlikely act and pull off a commercial coup. Devo arose from the ranks of the indie punk/new wave scene with a striking visual image (yellow industrial jumpsuits and sunglasses with red plastic ‘flowerpot’ hats) and bizarre philosophy (the concept of ‘de-evolution,’ that mankind had begun to evolve backwards rather than progressing, witnessed by the dysfunction and consumerism of American society). The band released a couple of singles (“Mongoloid,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”) on its own independent Booji Boy label, bringing them to the attention of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who helped the band get signed to Warner Brothers.

Bowie was evidently on the hook to produce Devo’s debut, but previous commitments led to Brian Eno replacing him in the producer’s chair for the creation of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! The band re-recorded its early singles (including the popular B-side “Jocko Homo”) as well as a bunch of new originals like Mark Mothersbaugh’s “Uncontrollable Urge,” Gerald Casale’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’),” and Mothersbaugh’s “Too Much Paranoias.” The music was jumpy, dissonant, and edgy with odd time signatures and amateurish, tense vocals mixed with out-of-control guitar and synthesizer. The band’s lyrics were satirical, humorously tongue-in-cheek, and intellectual – hardly the stuff of Top 40 prospects. Regardless of its odd duck status, Are We Not Men inched up to #78 on the Billboard album chart, the band striking gold two years later with its Freedom of Choice album and hit single “Whip It.”

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