Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Fragment Four May Not Actually Be a Fragment)


The blues and blacks dominating the cover art don't deceive.  This is a darker Devo, ever more bitter with the world and less willing to make lighthearted fun of it.  Utopian Boy Scouts in JFK pomps ready to seduce their female counterparts for their cookies.

"Through Being Cool"--Right outta the gate they're beating some poor schmuck over the gourd with a waffle iron.  Least they had the decency to throw a pillowcase over his head.  Harsh, but they're just following the NuTra blueprint.  Which is actually red and brown.  Oh well, we do live in a world with such a thing as scented deodorant.

Of course Devo's song about how they are so misunderstood was misunderstood.  The "cool" refers not to hipness, but disposition.  Although the vocal delivery comes off with phlegmatical as a military march chant, the lyrics advocate death to the "ninnies and twits."  

Smart versus dumb, rabid curiosity versus satisfied ignorance, who will win?  Neither. One needs the other to survive.  Spice of life, when sensibly applied.  The only thing more bone-chilling than a world where all copies of 100 Years of Solitude are destroyed…is a world where 100 Years of Solitude is compulsory reading.

"Jerkin' Back and Forth"--Another club-ready, not-about-masturbation platter, coming with two sides of vocal.  This is some toe-tappin' emotional squalor right here.

"Pity You"--Toni Basil, years later, would cover this song as "You Got a Problem."  Years prior, she covered Jerry Casale.  Hi-o.    And I'm out.

"Soft Things"--We're back!

Just in time too.    Jerry tones down his tendencies towards statue-ness here, and actually sings a bit, to fine effect.  The lyric-writing process musta been fun.

"Okay guys, guys.  I need some words that end in '-otic.'  I already have 'chaotic.'"  Well done, but I'm disappointed rhotic, psychotic and kairotic didn't make the cut.  

Although "Soft Things" is a clear celebration of the magnificent female form, Jerry still takes pains to mention the woman's mind.  In fact, he is well aware that the undulating woman is in control mentally as well as physically, rendering him a pop-eyed, slack-jawed, ineffectual bone-sack.

"Going Under"--Lovers not-yet-so meet at the arcade, right by Berserk.  Evil Otto watches the humanoids fall in love.  His sinister smile does not fade, knowing as he does a thing or two about overwhelmed hearts.

"Race of Doom"--It's funny how mechanical and non-thrilled the fellas sound whilst reciting the title.  Thankfully, the sonic lava bed is plenty engaged and engaging.  This is music made to drop kick walls to.  

Jerry sounds so goddamn removed.  He's like Krang, a head in a microwave.  I really don't wanna be his time bomb.  I just wanna dance.

"Love Without Anger"--The fundamental message I get behind.    "Love without anger isn't love at all."  You need a healthy dose of both in a relationship, because no emotion should be off limits.  This isn't to endorse the violence frequently borne of anger; that's not love.  But neither is emotional compromise for fear of the occasional screaming match.  Those are actually pretty good for you.  Get the blood circulating, get some color in your cheeks.  Besides, making up afterwards is the fun bit.  That's where Bob1 steps in.

While Mark has the lead here, it's Jerry (resident Devo cat-dog) that I've always associated most strongly with the track.  "Are you kidding me?"  Oh he's taking from his real life right there.  

"The Super Thing"--What a neatly programmed little drum pattern.  Shame it would only be used the once.

More will to power with Professor Casale.  I bet he read aloud those interminable speeches in Atlas Shrugged as vocal exercise.   Ostentatious, but brilliant.  Also, Bob1's guitar solo is the number two.  He ain't down yet, no matter how much fire the double-headed dragon huffs in his direction.

"Beautiful World"--That T-mobile commercial where the guy mishears the lyrics to "Pour Some Sugar On Me" always pissed me off.  "You don't have to understand music to enjoy it," the voice over informed us.  Suck a dick twice over.  Maybe you don't need to WRITE SONG-BY-SONG REVIEWS to show how good music makes you feel, but you should at the very least know the correct title of the song you are listening to.  (T-mobile lunknuts didn't even know that!)  Otherwise music is no greater or more profound a factor in your life than the toothpaste you use.  It's not a catalyst for change, it's another bit of background noise.

Anyone who listens to "Beautiful World" and doesn't catch the cynicism probably watched the "To Serve Man" episode of The Twilight Zone and thought those aliens were so nice cooking for the humans like that.  Such is the mouth-dropping cluelessness that Target ad campaigns are made of.

"Beautiful World" is no "Whip It"--it's superior.  The hook is a petulant synth, statue Jerry has just been rubbed down to a gleam.  You can't write or sing a song like this without having your sense of justice shaken, your heart broken, or your instincts correct.  The lyrical twist makes me mad because it's true, and you can't refute it.  This isn't a beautiful world.  There are beautiful people, places, and things.  Yes.  Of course.  But for every friend is a thoughtless stranger, for every staggering work of art a monolith of corporate greed, and for every Prius a Scion.  

That said…it's all we have.  Spuds don't quit.  That's what the twits want, for the disillusionment to overwhelm us.  I will never bring joy to the life of a twit.  I hate those whores and shan't quite mashing them.

"Enough Said"--Video game time!  The introduction is just pixel dust, man. Inconsequential lyrics and a weak finish for a damn solid record.  Angry Devo is good Devo.  


The B-52s, on the other paw, were too busy updating their sound to be too peeved.  Keith Strickland was growing increasingly disinterested in sitting behind a drum kit and POUNDBOOMCRASH, so he and Ricky Wilson vowed to take the band in a different direction, one closer to the current trend de-emphasizing the guitar and placing the sonic onus on those impersonal yet tempting synthesizers.  

Cover art by William Wegman.  No doubt some fans thought that dog was sniffing up the left-over PCP.  

"Legal Tender"--Robert Waldrop again drops some words off, this time in celebration of counterfeiting money.  It's easy and no one gets hurt, just richer--that's the B-52s way.  This song was and is huge in Brazil.  Not as much as football, but certainly more than The Simpsons.

The robot beats and whining key hooks do not try and fool you.  This is the new sound, and you're on board or jumping over the railing and Wegman-paddling to shore.  The repetition is so eighties baby, but Kate and Cindy's combined vocal chops take it all the way to the future.  

"Whammy Kiss"--Dim the lights…hit the play button…Ortega!  Get the acid!  Sloppy, I said sloppy, and I would miss the whole point if I demanded more from this band than "I need a refuelin' I need your kiss/Come on now and plant it on my lips."

Ricky made it clear at the end of "Legal Tender" that adaptation was not decay, and he's even more a presence here, chopping and slashing into the romantic array of stars.  Fred's so damn pushy though, even about something so sublimely simple.  "When I get home!  When! I! Get! Home!"  Damn!  You can mush up with the couch cushions, that's gonna be yer attitude, pal.

"Song For a Future Generation"--My favorite B-52s song of all-time.  Not their best, that would be "Private Idaho."  Unlike that space-punk classic, "Future Generation" is built to spill over onto your circuit breaker and wait around for your reaction.  Some people still can't make it all the way through without vomiting up things they haven't recently eaten.  Still others consider it a feel-good classic, a zany cosmic gift barely-fit for us silly earthlings but it was marked for us, so save the box!

I am of the second group.  I am President of the second group, actually.  Empress King Queen President, fully.

All five members of the group take turns at the mic, 'cause future generations have to know who exactly these people were.  It's a fabulous concept that proves, even if the B's were moving further away from the sound that put them on the map, their goofy, sweet spirit was still there, still an inspiration.

It was funny as a kid listening to Whammy! on my brother's cassette, trying to make out every word they were saying (took years, literally, to figure out Keith's).  It's probably even more amusing that as an adult I actually have ranked the members introductions.

5.  (Fourth in the song) "Hey, I'm Kate and I am a Taurus/I love tomatoes and black-capped Chickadees."  That's cute.  But I always thought Cindy would be more rip-roarin' to hang with, and this kinda bears me out.  "Loooove" tomatoes?  Really?  They're very basic, you know.  I love pizza, which utilizes the tomato. Tomato juice, sure.  

4.  (Fifth in the song)"Hey, my name is Keith and I'm a Scorpio from Athens, G-A and I like to find the essence from within."  He runs it all together with no variety in intonation, and also a bit vague.  No wonder I couldn't suss it out as a kid, "the essence from within" is not something a kid can even begin to comprehend.  Nowadays?  I'd totally love to chop it up with Keith.  He knows we are not alone.

3.  (First in the song) "Hey, I'm Fred the Cancerian from New Jersey/I like collecting records and exploring the cave of the unknown."  Fred Schneider is so goddamn Southern-fried kitschballs it's easy to forget he's from New Jersey.  I wish it was as easy to forget New Jersey.  

2.  (Second in the song) "Hello, I'm Cindy, I'm a Pisces/And I like chihuahuas and Chinese noodles."  Cindy is from Georgia.  Oh my God is she from Georgia.  The best delivery of all the B's here, definitely.  Cracks my shit up consistently.  And what great taste!

1.  (Third in the song)  "Hi, my name is Ricky and I'm a Pisces/I love computers and hot tamales."  There's the novelty of hearing the voice of the late genius…the staccato laugh before his part, coming out of the key solo…the fact he loves computers in 1983.  One year before the first Macintosh came out.

The absurdist desires cover the gamut--they want to be everything, fit into every role, try them on like crazy outfits or wigs, from one to the next, and so on, regardless of social expectation based on gender, age or economic class.  (The insistent refrain "Let's meet and have a baby now!" could be understood as a piss-take of heterosexual idealism coming from this band, which is another check in its column.)

"Song For a Future Generation" always makes me smile, and if it doesn't work the same wonder on you…well..then…well we're gonna keep looking and listening, 'cause I feel like smiling to some music with you.  How 'bout that.  

"Butterbean"--How 'bout this? 

Abandon decorum, all ye who enter here.  This is a metaphor for nothing, the subject is actually the butterbean.  While that particular legume is disgusting to my palate, this track helps me forget that fact for a few minutes.  Mind you, there are a hundred other foods from the American South to extol in song.  Barbecued ribs, anyone?  Don't eat meat?  Cornbread!  

People down South get the shittiest of raps, but they enjoy eating, drinking, fucking and telling stories like nobody's business. 

"Trism"--Music writer Rob Sheffield once marveled in a Rolling Stone column how utterly free of any flaw the first "side" of Whammy! is, and damn if that ain't just the truth plain as. It's not like "Trism" signifies the beginning of the end of the fun.  It's just…it's funny how we have a song about atmospheric travel but the song about beans was more transcendent.  Just sayin'.  Fred Schneider's so white when he passes through a prism, more prisms come out.

"Queen of Las Vegas"--By the numbers, and none of them in the sequence presented will win you the Lotto.  

"Moon 83"--This was the spot occupied by their cover of "Don't Worry Kyoto" by hero Yoko Ono if you acquired a first-pressing.  I didn't, so I have to remain true to how I heard the record.  

A modern remake of "There's a Moon In the Sky" from the debut record, which is both unnecessary and mediocre.  

"Big Bird"--The other BB song already filled the goofy quota.  There's still some of it on the floor, actually.  Stop wasting my time.

"Work That Skirt"--I'm feeling like Whammy! would have been the greatest EP ever, but back-to-back short-players wouldn't have been a great look for the band.  A tolerable surf-space instrumental.  

What makes the second side hurt, like way beyond just being displeased with the lack of passion and innovation, is that Ricky Wilson's guitar is barely a factor.  When the songs are as applesauce as those on the first side, the pill goes down easier.  But given what would happen by the time the next B-52s album was finished makes their insistence on innovation bitter going down.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Space In Between is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Fragment Three Reflects Contrasting Ethics)


The beginning of arguably the most musically schizophrenic decade yet to be saw Devo on the precipice of relative stardom.  The band members--specifically creative linchpins Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale--were not in it to wind up pioneers who got scalped (though that's precisely what happened).  Nimrod record execs and their rock-dumb bottom lines damned to hell, Devo had a plan for global domination that would emphasize their art-driven paradigm.  Moles envy pandas for good reason.

Old Akron cronies may have clucked their tongues when the band relocated to L.A. and then shuddered as synths grew more prominent and Devo's songs came out sounding increasingly poppy, but Devo had outgrown pissing off audience's waiting for Sun Ra.  They were fated to create new wave nonpareil.

Buoyed by the top 20 hit "Whip It," Freedom of Choice went platinum and immortalized Devo--a band that evolved their visual aesthetic literally album to album--as the "flowerpot guys" (not to be confused with The Flowerpot Men, the "Ferris Bueller guys"').  The energy domes would define Devo like nothing they donned before or after, red ziggurat-shaped plastic hats that, per master mythologist Jerry, collects energy "that escapes from the crown of the human head and pushes it back into the Medula Oblongata for increased mental energy. It's very important that you buy a cheap plastic hardhat liner, adjust it to your head size and affix it with duct tape or Super Glue to the inside of the Dome. This allows the Dome to "float" just above the cranium and thus do its job. Unfortunately, without a hard hat liner, the recirculation of energy WILL NOT occur."

There are several origin stories for the dome, of course.  Either the "Little Lulu" comic, a household lamp, or The Beginning Was the End, aka the most cannibal-tastic book ever written.  I know, of course, that the true inspiration was the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine.  

"Girl U Want"--The first sound we hear is Bob1's cranky old bastard of a guitar, soon enough twinned with some tangy, Christmas-in-July key work.  Inspired by "My Sharona," but leagues ahead of it, of course.  Oops oh my, milkshake all over the exercise equipment, way to multi-task, fat boy.

This is the rare love ditty with enchanting lyricism.  There are a multitude of fresh ways to say you're besotted with someone, but most people traverse the tried and true trail.  Thankfully, while we are all Devo, Devo were not most people.

"She sends down an aroma of undefined lust/That drips on down in a mist from above."  She ain't sprayin' Febreze, sweetie.  See, that's an accessible alternative for the word "pheromones" (which I don't even think Burt Bacharach could have made fit into a pop song) and a sharp substitute for the phrase "messy pink pussycat."  

"It's Not Right"--An early indicator of how exceptional an album Freedom of Choice is comes with "It's Not Right."   This is, superficially, another "baby" song, the type of songs Jerry claimed Devo was above and beyond yet still produced in bulk anyway.  ('Cause a dog licks its balls then your face, I guess.)  Vapid, certainly; but the presentation is relentless, tugging your ear, tapping your temple, zapping approaching enemy aircraft into purple mist.  Unbelievable, truly; you don't experience heartbreak when you traffic in groupies!  

"Whip It"--The hit.  The one.  Devo and The B-52s would both have the hit, that song that rocketed them into mainstream awareness, making it possible for them to have "casual" fans, and dividing the more devoted supporters into multiple camps of, alternately, gratitude, weary acceptance, or churlish bitching.

First, about the actual song "Whip It."  No question can there be that a great deal of its appeal to radi-yokels was its potential interpretation as a masturbation anthem.  Never mind the reality, which is that the lyrics were penned as parodies of Norman Vincent Peale's happy little motivational nuggets (with a pinch of Pynchon as well).  

"When a good time comes around/You must whip it.../I say whip it!  Whip it good!"  

Subtle for a parody, and not especially gratuitous for a lewd lullaby, but subtlety done even half-assedly will zoom by most heads most times.  Is it one of their all-timers?  In context, yes.  For content, well, that's up to us.  I never skip the song, but it wouldn't make my personal top 5 on the album.

So "Whip It" exposed Devo to the molasses masses.  It earned them some tidy cash, though nowhere near what went to the exec at WB who couldn't understand why his kids liked that gay New Wave shit anyway.  It made the very word "Devo" a catch-all insult for high school/collegiate lunkheads to hurl at any peers who didn't share their ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Better to live in a world where this all transpired, for us as fans and for the members of Devo as artists.  Imagine if "Whip It" hadn't been a smash.  What would have been their next move?  Dissolution?  Desperation?  If a few Devo-tees felt betrayed having to share their favorite music with a few thousand folks who "don't really pay much attention to lyrics" so what?  Put yourself in the band's domes.  At some point the artist needs to receive resonant recompense for their efforts. Otherwise they'll feel like they're stocking the shelves with vodka accidentally labeled as "Fourth Ward Tap Water."

"Snowball"--If I ever met the dude Sisyphus, I'd shake his hand.  Then cringe as he got crushed by that big ol' rock.  Sorry, dude.  Big fan!

Mark Mothersbaugh was kinda born to press down and sweet-talk frequencies.  The B-52s would, on their next full-length after Wlld Planet, try and take the keybs in that direction as well, less alien mating caterwaul, more dance floor call-to-arms, but never got the chance to let it play out.  It's hard to imagine, even with the combined talent and vision of Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland, that the B's coulda matched Devo on that front.  'Cause making you move with synthetic sounds is not hard to do; but to make ya feel?  To make the listener hear the whine and weal and groan of the organ as an emotional pinwheel is a talent.  Freedom of Choice is the whole damn show.

"Ton O' Luv"--Sometimes we hear what we want to.  If someone wants to believe "Whip It" is about frosting the pastries, all the citations and references under the milky way ain't gonna convince 'em otherwise.  That's maddening, but also, life.  I  like to think this is Jerry's paean to fat broads.   It resonated a bit more when I was among their ranks, but I still dig on it.  The music even wobbles and jiggles.  If Jerry Casale is, as I like to claim, the esoteric Gene Simmons, then he has pounded the pillowed pavements with some wide-circumference chicks in his time.  Bless you, sir.  

"Freedom of Choice"--Devo are drawing the lines all right, same way a coroner does.  Same sense of duty, too.  

"Freedom of choice/Is what you got/Freedom from choice/Is what you want."  Imagine being a middle American picking up the album 'cause you like that funny jack-off song and hearing this!  Pepsi or Coke?  Black or white?  Democrat or Republican?  Honda or Chevy?  I come from a Pepsi family, we always vote this way, same vacation every year, I guess I could do something a little different, but the way it is is just so comforting.  I don't what to overthink anything.

"Gates of Steel"--With a simple as a handstand riff jacked from Chi-Pig's "Pimple on My Plans" slashing over emergent synth, Devo offers up a riveting yet fundamental plan of attack for the sick-of-it-all spudlings craving more.

"Give in to ancient noise/Take a chance on a brand new dance/Twist away those gates of steel!" 

Love the contrast.  We the people, driven by the same basic impulses since time immemorial, no matter how the way we communicate with each other has changed in all that time.  You will never change history if you do not know history.

"Cold War"--"A boy and girl/Two separate worlds/The endless tug of war."

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.  Remember that hokey book/shirt/mug/towel/Lifetime movie/Pop Tart flavor?  It's got some years on it, so perhaps you don't.  The nifty link I have provided gives you the overview on this philosophy of love amongst the humanoids, and it's a tidy phrase to be sure.  Did absolute bubkes-cheeks to actually improve relations between the genders, however.  The reason for that failure to bring about revolution is, now check this out…men are from Earth, women are from Earth.  Now the dude's head might be all Sweden and the girl may have a brain like Brazil, but it is most assuredly all taking place on the same goddamn planet.  Stop with all the cutesy pithy bull, it wears down the horns.  And ain't nobody runs the streets of a year 'cause they're afraid of getting a massage.  

While "Cold War" doesn't stimulate me much mentally, the total sonic package is nothing less than bagels ripped outta the toaster and tossed to the starving Booji Boys and Girls.

"Don't You Know"--Similar to "Cold War."  A little punchier, a little better.

"That's Pep!"--Lyrics straight-jacked from a poem by Grace G. Bostwick.  Oh but do I love me a literate smart-ass.  

Intro rules.  The music that plays over the opening credits to "For Death It's a Wonderful Toy," the horror flick about a child's Slinky possessed by the soul of a serial killer recently executed by the state of Ohio.

"Mr. B.'s Ballroom"--I maintain that a rewrite of this track could be done transforming the subject to a frat orgy and you wouldn't have to change the words much at all.  One of the rare Devo songs without an overarching message.

"Planet Earth"--The best merger of keys and strings on this entire album, but man check out bee-smasher Jerry over here.  Talkin' 'bout the world and all the craziness.  People buy, people cry, people die.  

It's justice that Devo's best-selling album is also their best.  Inevitably, though, there will be downsides to having your audience grow exponentially seemingly overnight.  Not everyone will get the joke/message/warning/ethos.  Devo's next record would attack this phenomenon head-on.


Mesopotamia was slated to be the B's third album, under the auspices of one David Byrne (the number one white boy from Baltimore for years and years, right up until David Simon started writing and then ah, usurped!  But it was a good run). Byrne and the band clashed.  See, with all the outside musicians (including horn players and bongo-bashers) taking the B's in a decidedly more exotic direction, the vibe was that Byrne wanted less to educe an organic sound from the group, and more to mold them in his own image.  Sessions were cut short, and a planned ten-track full-length was released as a six-song EP, in two distinct versions.  The first, released through Warner Bros. in the U.S., is the one I heard.  Island Records released Mesopotamia in the U.K., a longer version, featuring Byrne's original mixes.  This release did not grace my ears till 2010, thanks to magic fairies of obscure music Fed-Ex'ing to me in a dream.  This "alternate" EP is nothing revelatory, but certainly dancier and more adventurous.

Three of the four "lost" songs would be re-recorded for Whammy! the following year:  "Queen of Las Vegas," "Big Bird," and "Butterbean."  Of these, only "Queen" was later released in its original form, on the anthology Nude on the Moon.  The fourth track, "Adios Desconocida," was a Fred-sung ballad.  See, you know you wanna hear it now.  

"Loveland"--Cindy solo, baby, you know it's a guaranteed good time when Miss Wilson's on the mic, blonde wig built for a Baltimore hon but made for a Georgia peach.  She won't be thwarted in her quest to find the ultimate thaw.

Is that accordion?  I love it to syrup-drenched pieces, whatever it is.  Ricky's picking and choosing his spots here, and his touch is deft as ever, even buried as his sounds ultimately are here.  

The Byrne mix is eight-and-a-half minutes, with spastic breakdown filler the reason for the season.  Also a different vocal take (not better, not worse; always interesting).

"Deep Sleep"--Michael Stipe named Mesopotamia as one of his favorite releases of the 1980s in Rolling Stone, way back in the days when a person could reasonably expect to pick up a copy of Rolling Stone and find good writing.  He wasn't given space to expound on any of his choices, but I bet this was one of his favorites.  

Kate only, though she double tracks herself like a super falling stereo star.  The band won an elephant in a radio station contest as well, and had to keep it in the studio.  

This one's short and quirky.  Seems like shared sex dreams between a sleeping couple in "the coldest part of the night"?  Hmm.  The end is the best part, and that's not meant smart-ass.  It really is, it's quite spooking.

"Mesopotamia"--The enduring classic, and a staple of their live show to this day.  All 3 B's if you please.  I hate to think of this delightful song used in a history class by some misguided teacher seeking to impart some catchy wisdom unto a bunch of hysterically unworthy Rhianna fans.  

"Before I talk/I should read a book!"

Fades on in with that pharaoh strut, stays a spell.  "THEY LAID DOWN THE LAW!"  Oh God, the vocal contrast on that line makes me want to suplex a bag of potatoes into the vent of a volcano and make fuckin' lava taters for dinner. 

"Cake"--Kate and Cindy talkin' all sassy, pushing each others words around, y'all play nice!  Is this song about cake?  The hell it is.  Take the sensuousness of red velvet, the familiar sweetness of chocolate on chocolate, and toss out the delicacy associated with lemon chiffon.  Nonesuch here.  

"Take a little/Take a little nip."  Oh Lord, child.  "If you want a better batter, better beat it harder."  The vapors, they are acquired.

"Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can"--To get their shit together and write some new material, the B's got a house in Mahopac, NY and commenced to the creatin'.  Unfortunately, their neighbors were crotchety douchebags with no concept of homosexuality, as the band's presence not only incited noise complaints, but also disapproving looks for the mere fact five young single men and women were sharing a home.  Fortunately, they got a crackerjack tune out of the whole ordeal, from Ricky's recombinant riff and a bad-ass horn section loud as they wanna be.  Fred's awesome here as well; not vitriolic, just pissed.  

Byrne's imagining of "Garbage" includes some back-masking and judicious pruning of the guitar so's to highlight the percussion and sound effects.  Yes, you actually hear a BOING! in there.

"Nip It In the Bud"--A whole lotta ado about not a whole lotta in general going on here.  Ricky Wilson was just born to be the most underrated guitarist in the rock genre, is all.  

So, uncomfortable though the aborted sessions were, they gave us one absolute classic for the canon, and a handful of other memorable tunes that showed the B-52s could still entertain without coming off as the band who plays three shows a week at Fellini-themed house parties with their equipment set up on the picnic table.  Eager to explore on their own terms, they set about recording their real third album.

(Just a song before I go...doing some searching 'round, I've found several references to The B's and Devo performing a gig together (Devo headlining, is the implication) in Austin, TX 'circa 1980/81.  The fuck?  And no one ever got a pic of the two bands together backstage?  Then how do we know it really happened?)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Fragment Two Moves If Stared At Long Enough)


July 1979

In the ditch, police found five hazmat suits and an Englishman who insisted he was a quark.  He was asked to perform a funny walk and upon refusal, was beaten viciously. 

In the studio, Devo were skater tots under the auspices of General Boy (producer Ken Scott acting as his stand-in, most days) with neither boards nor ramps in sight but an insistence on safety nevertheless, for one never knows when one (or more) may be called into duty.

"Devo Corporate Anthem"--The first of two Mark-ed up instrumentals, both clocking in under 90 seconds.  Perfect for making a roller derby team feel real important, but I say shoot higher! Plastic people in a plastic world all gather at the Devolympic Games, where medals of tin, lead and chrome are handed out to the athletes who managed not to quit, pass out or die during competition.

"Clockout"--Raw, to be kind; underproduced, to be accurate; missing heart muscle, to be mean.  Alan Meyers was the band's secret weapon, "The Human Metronome" they called him, but there's a big difference between "stealth" and "timid."  

Shame, 'cause Jerry always piles the relish on the dog extra high when attacking the big-wig fat-cat son-bitches who hated on him and his boys for having the balls to use their brains and the brains to use their balls.

"Timing X"--Not much to this, the second of two Mark-ed up instrumentals.  It's nice if no coffee's handy.

"Wiggly World"--When Patrick and I saw Devo live in DC, 2005, we were even more excited than could be normally expected, as the spuds were including "Wiggly World" in their setlists alongside the other "hits."   Dub-dub is bike rack 'n' roll, a simplified "Jocko Homo" that jacks lines from Shadduck's tract outright ("Wear gaudy colors or avoid display") in aid of making the classroom a more welcome environment for those students who may be freaked out a bit by descending chords but don't mind the occasional stormtrooper beam fight.  Outstanding!

Then Josh Freese had to fuck up his wrist not enough to cancel the DC show, but just enough to drop the rather demanding "Wiggly World" from that night's set.  Which wouldn't have happened if he'd used his hands for praying, like a good Christian soldier.

I'd rather live in a wiggly world than not; it's movement, leastways.  I can be still when I'm dead.

(I am the only human being in the history of Earth to hear Bob2's super baritone here--"It's never straight up and down!"--and be reminded of Danny Wood's spoken turn on "Step By Step" by New Kids on the Block.)

"Blockhead"--Oh shush, I've always been a ravenous fan of music.  The crap, the credible, the dull, the delicious, it's all passed through these doors.  Furthermore, the way I'm wired, more of it sticks for me than for the average absorber.  

Another 7/8 martinet jam, written by the bros 'Baugh.  

Cube top 
Squared off 
Eight corners 
90-degree angles 
Flat top

Now that's a true blockhead; none of this perfectly rounded Charlie Brown nonsense.

"Strange Pursuit"--Beserk damn bursts of regenerative voltage.  Beepy-boopy to haunt the pizza-fueled nightmares of a sleepy Snoopy.  

Nerd love.  It's no secret.  "Intersecting love lines drew us closer every day."  Shit, dude likely has graphs and charts crafted, sketches, a one-act play of how their first date should (no damn it, will) go if he ever goes beyond the crying wank stage and actually approaches this girl about maybe going out and having some pizza and garlic dough balls, or maybe a movie or something.  

The last lines shouted by Mark in the throes of tumescent torment beg for the lyric sheet.

Darling i'm dazzled 
But you know i'm too frazzled
(Jenn hears:  Dialin' up the afterbirth, cadavers in the frazzle)
I've taken my mind apart
And lost some of the pieces
(Take apart the afterbirth and put it on a pizza)
It never gets tough
When you're gettin' real rough
(It never gets tough when you get into her bra)

The ending is no joke.  It's a heartbeat, yeah maybe even a love beat, denting the sternum as the moment of truth nears.  What happens next…is anyone's guess….

"S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain)"--Superheroes suffer, too.  But while a lame-ass band like Five For Fighting will take that neat-o concept and turn it into a sappy, spineless, queasy and quivering ballad about how even uber-men need hugs too, Devo looks into the idol's head.  Literally.

Whether it's the external pressures of keeping the world from collapsing into a Caligulian chasm, or the internal pressures caused by a further mutation of the very same demented force that transformed them from mere man to something other than, the noble freak cannot persevere.  Saved so many, just to lose himself in the end.  We're all devo, then.

"Triumph of the Will"--Rapist or just really horny guy?  Why does Jerry Casale sing like I imagine a statue would sing, emotionless face tilted up just so, chin jutting out, eyes fixed on some grand sunset in the distance?  The line "It is the thing females ask for/When they convey the opposite" (or as Jerry Statue says it, "Op-oh-sit") has me thinking this is the POV of a sexual assault master who never learned the subtle distinctions of human interaction and the agreed-upon rules of communication between procreative creatures.

Statue Jerry ain't a bad guy at all, really, just has some things he wants to get across, unsavory as they may be.  I don't judge you, Statue Jerry.  We all have our stories to tell.

"The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise"--I dunno what said surprise was.  That anyone would ever love a mutated freak?  Oh the 70s, what a time you must have been.  John Merrick would get so much poon flung in his direction if he had been unveiled in this viral age.

There's a real 50s feel to this one, though, a real "let's race for pinks!" vibe about the whole shebang, especially Bob1's buried-alive guitar line during the verse and Mark's elastic "ah-hoo"s.  Only the wavy synth dates the track definitively.  Wall of Sound melted down by gamma rays.

"Pink Pussycat"--Spoiler alert:  this is not about an oddly-colored feline.  In case the stated desires to "sleep inside you," "lick you clean," and "mess you up" were just too tenebrous.  It would be sexy if Mark weren't singing with mouse guts in his yawp, but somehow I feel that wasn't the intent anyway.  

Maybe fun definite fact:  Mark borrowed the word "stroft"--to mean, a combination of strong and soft--from a toilet paper commercial purporting the product to be just that.

"Secret Agent Man"--Ooh, swing and a miss.  I prefer Johnny Rivers' version if only because he made it sound like the title was "Secret Asian Man."  

"Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA"--Devo's second and final medley.  Perhaps they realized what happens when you try and follow up perfection.  (That's why perfection isn't really a very desirable state to attain.  You literally cannot improve on it.  What fun is that?)  

Clock in,…out…left right left right…in out in out….duty now. We must repeat.  Poor Bob2, why's he always the janitor in these secret complexes where revolutionary plans are being developed? 

Wait?  What's that?  What's that?  The Great Pumpkin?  Shit no, stupid!  It's Mr. DNA, aka Mr. Kamikaze, the altruistic pervert!  Tomato juice for the Smart Patrol, what good young men they've been!  Superheroes must maintain all of their strengths.  Superheroes must be willing to die for what they believe in for life to go on.  Strap on your helmets!  Lower your visors! Preserve the strands!

"Red Eye"--Whew.  Well I wouldn't blame "Red Eye" for being mediocre coming after that dazzling celebration of conscription but it's actually a lot better than just that.  Music to chase rapidly accelerating transit to.  Love can dumb us down to the point where the irreversible laws of physics are ignored if not outright disrespected.  



Devo's sophomore record was anything but a retread of what had done so well before, which earned them not only big points for guts, but also rewarded the listener with an album that, while far from flaw-free, hit its targets with deadlier accuracy.  

Wild Planet is not a rehash of "The Yellow Album," but it doesn't wander off too far from that pylon-ed path.  (When you consider that several of the tracks had been in the bands repertoire from damn near the beginning, this is a less vexing sin.)  There are missteps.  There are songs that can be confidently classified as among their greatest.  There is also the definite sense of, "How much longer can they do this?"

"Party Out of Bounds"--The descriptor "party band" is often intended as a reductionist label, but the B's embraced that tag for its essential truth.  Devo wrote songs about a band of young suburbanites using science as the weapon in the ultimate fight to save the world; "Party Out of Bounds" concerns the unique problem faced by inveterate party crashers who have bumrushed one shitty shindig.

Both songs are greater than tacos.  And tacos...are pretty damn great.

Robot Ricky Code BADxG#C# produces a sound that Patrick once likened to the No Wave movement which had supernova-ed in its own special patch of stars a few years prior.  I had never thought of that before, but there's definitely some James Chance in those spiked slashes.  

"Dirty Back Road"--Robert Waldrop returns to write more thinly-filmed nastiness.  J.G. Ballard took the car/sex metaphor to an extreme, but here it's nothing more than some anal on the beach.  Why crash the whip when you can whip some ass?  Best of all, in a group with three gay men, the girls sing it.  Why not, though, Kate and Cindy were pretty much born to rub their voices together.  

The unequal-yet-free two-note to three exchange between keys and strings is proof that kissing is really the best part of the whole experience though, and should not be overlooked.  

"Runnin' Around"--After screaming out of the gates with peerless precision, the band stumbles.  A dopey "baby" song saved entirely by Ricky Wilson's never-standard angles.  

"Give Me Back My Man"--Then they bounce back so hard the sky snaps.  Cindy solo turns would become hallmarks of B-52s albums, and it could be argued that this forlorn love song twirls prettiest of all.  The lyrics go from mellow yearning to imploring to potential hopelessness, drowning in found sound all around.  No song with the chorus "I'll give you fish/I'll give you candy/I'll give you-hoo/Everything I have in my hand!" should qualify as heartbreaking.  But here it is.  Even the way Cindy sings said chorus is soul-rending; there's a sense she's stretching those syllables out just to buy herself more time, that maybe just maybe there's still a chance, all she needs is time.

"Private Idaho"--Given its due as one of the greatest songs of the 1980s by Pitchfork Media, and covered surprisingly poorly by the otherwise sure-handed Sleater Kinney during select live shows in 2002, "Private Idaho" is still likely best known as the inspiration for a film title.

The details are irrelevant in this case; the fact that it remains known is all that matters.  A seamless example of what made them a great band:  Fred's barking, Kate and Cindy's cloud-shaming harmonies, Ricky's singular guitar style and Keith's workmanlike drums giving no hint that he was, along with his old high school buddy, the group's sonic visionary.

When art this fully realized hits your life, that life is spun but good.  "Private Idaho" is the red velvet cupcake of rock and roll, ludicrously tasty and irresistibly fashioned to boot.  The guitar is so inventively placed and played, the vocal interplay so effortlessly vivacious, the lyrics so goddamn Dada you'll cry for your mama.   There are people in my life who don't like this song and those are people I consider "acquaintances."  Even my mother likes this song.

"Devil In My Car"--A longtime live favorite gets immortalized.  Too bad it's damned!  

The burn is slow in this one, indeed, but the switch-ups are just enough to keep the lactic acid at bay.  

"Quiche Lorraine"--Fred has this poodle, ya see, and oh does he love that poodle!  She's so little and fashionable and did I mention green, and her name is "Quiche Lorraine" or "QUICHE LA POODLE!"  Every day they pound the streets, owner and pet to us, but equals to each other. It's really so wonderful to see...Quiche Lorraine running off with a Great Dane!  Oh Fred.  He's crestfallen.  Have you ever seen a boy so sad?  Uh oh, now he's bitter.  Such rancor!  Fred, you can't mean those things, didn't you and Quiche have such wonderful times together?  Remember the park?  The ice cream social?  Fuck you too, asshole, I hope you can't sleep for a week because you're haunted by visions of your precious little two-inch tall poodle getting rammed by a big ol' Great Dane!

"Strobe Light"--A perennial fan favorite that I just don't dig on that much.  Ricky's "solo" is again the highlight.  I get why people like this song, it's classic sexy-silly, but Fred as Casanova is too funny to stand.

"53 Miles West of Venus"--Ah, this is more like it.  A not-quite instrumental, this is Ricky showing the keybs around the town they both like to pretend is Neptune in a silver Cadillac they both like to pretend is a rocket ship.  Sampled to great effect by underground hip hop group the Arsonists some years back, "Venus" is by turns spooky and loopy, and unforgettable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Fragment One Is Yellow and Grotesque)



After several years slogging around the Midwest, and allowing a couple sour grapes to drop unceremoniously from the vine, Devo solidified as a tick-tock crew of "five punk scientists with a plan" ready to dominate the globe:  vocalist/synthist/co-writer/geek Mark Mothersbaugh, vocalist/bassist/co-writer/wise-ass Gerald "Jerry" Casale, guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh ("Bob1"), guitarist/occasional key-toucher Bob Casale ("Bob2") and drummer Alan Meyers.

Before long, they captivated the New York scene and the -sters within.  Famed names lined up to suck their dicks, but only one could stay on for any appreciable amount of time.  Recording with Brian Eno in Cologne, Germany in late 1977, Devo very quickly rejected nearly every adventurous idea their legendary producer offered up and decided to commit the songs to tape as faithful to their original demo forms as possible.

Taking inspiration from a picture of golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez (with further impetus to avoid a lawsuit by morphing the image into something resembling the Hispanic cousin of Lyndon Johnson), Devo's prom picture is unnerving and irresistible.  It is an immaculate indicator of the music to be found past the packaging.

Status as a watershed for rock music that stretched the brain and balls notwithstanding, it would take 19 years for Are We Not Men to reach gold status in the U.S.

"Uncontrollable Urge"--Devo has an image for every album.  For their first time out, the iconic hazmat suits.  Well done; a positive first visual impression is crucial.  Moreso, however, the sonic impression.  To this end, the Mark-penned "Uncontrollable Urge" is tattoo-esque.  Listeners should take some Q-10 before hearing this one, because you're gonna wanna dance and you may as well boost your metabolism to the maximum rate.

There aren't very many aural similarities between Devo and their fellow freaks to the South, but one thing I've noticed over and over that the bands do share is the desire to get the most outlandish, weeping-wall sounds from keyboards, organs and synthesizers possible.  Along goes the song and then, oh shit, your foot just went through the floorboard.  Now it's stuck in lava.  How did lava get under the house?  Your house is on top of a volcano.

While flying the multi-vox flag was a common trick for the airborne B's, "Uncontrollable Urge" features a very rare Mark/Gerald/Bob1 arrangement, with the latter two just averring what their partner-in-crime is telling us with a minimum of enunciation.  The ballyhooed call-response section is overrated, and best enjoyed live, when the four non-seated members of Devo converge at the center of the stage and "dance."  The accentuation and augmentation of the word "yeah" in all our history is a properly depressing reality to endure.

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"--Legendary cover of an all-timer.  It even made Jagger dance.  'Course he woulda had to have been a bitter bastard to snarl at Jerry's bubble-butt bass or Alan hitting lily pads or most of all Mark's legless somersaults.  Repetition as road to satiety.

"Praying Hands"--Take that, religion!  Oh yes, kids, the God squad have been a popular target for the contrary at heart since Judas stuck Christ with the ultimate tab.   The least anyone do while in the act of rebelling is be creative and interesting and Devo pretty much had no choice to be otherwise, being all young dumb and death to the humdrum.

Religious faith as a sufficient substitute for self-flagellation, that's a hard sell.  Even for Mark, it seems, 'cause he never enunciates the word "diddling."  The right hand is what?  Shame pervades!

"Space Junk"--Jerry has no such issues in front of the mic.  Or behind it.  He even says "Tex-ass" and "Kans-ass" to remind everyone that he's a whip-smart, mega-conscious, line-steppin' young fella, but he's still young, after all.  Scatological puerility shares shelf space with the erudite evolutionary ethos and neither shall collect dust.

The story is simple enough:  girl walks down an alley, gets brained by felled satellite.  Turns out earthlings are getting bashed left and right by this wayward space junk.  Forget the National Guard, capital punishment, or military enlistment--this is how the government takes its citizens out.

"Mongoloid"--Devo's first single, written solely by Jerry, who handles the vox alongside the nasally Bob1.  (Who also blessed "Space Junk.")  The very title is now an anachronism, a reminder of bygone days when mental deficiencies were grudgingly acknowledged by polite society, who really were not very kind towards the afflicted at all.

The protagonist is de-evolution in action.  He is dressed like a normal everyday man of business, has a nice home for his nice wife and children whom he supports with a nice job, but the guy is an actual idiot.  Empirical fact! one knows, or even cares.  The mongoloid has assimilated nicely into his suburb, his society.  What a nice, gentle, contented man.  Wouldn't we all like to be like him.

If it seems like the pretzel plot of a black-and-white horror show, the tune itself won't disabuse you of the notion.  That Minimoog is gazpacho status.  Best served bleeding ice cold into the vocals with thickly-sliced snare blasts for further flavor.

"Jocko Homo"--Monkey one monkey two, we do how monkeys do.  In good ol' 7/8 time, the true and actual "Devo Anthem."  Inspired by BH Shadduck's anti-evolutionary tract "Jocko Homo Heavenbound" (which you can read here if you really have the time) this song is the crystallization of Devo's raison d'etre.  Professor Mark runs a very interactive class, so be ready.

Simian drugs, simian drugs.  "The poot" is the worst name for a dance ever.

"Too Much Paranoias"--Weakest song on the entire album, but instead of just leaving it at that, I'll boss up and tell you why I think so.

I admit freely, that smear of a guitar riff is amazing in the way a cat showing its teeth before it attacks an obnoxious child is amazing.  You can't listen to or watch it just once.  It creates a warm feeling of justice in the pit of the gut.  Nasty justice.  Tarpit-slick justice.

But, lyrics that quote the Big Mac song win no points in my scoring system.  Not to mention when Mark sings the title, it sounds like the chorus to "Viva Las Vegas."

"Gut Feeling/Slap Yer Mammy"--A medley, in the way that mixing melted cheese in with yer mashed potatos is a medley.  "Gut Feeling" builds tension with hands shaky from non-prayer, but the prevailing mood is a brutal wind that leaves the heart in the throat.  Until verse two, when everything goes askew.  "Tongs of love"?  How is that an actual thing that was ever said?

The "Slap Yer Mammy" portion of the program is like most of the sex had in the world:  raucous and inconsequential.

"Come Back Jonee"--Just a couple years shy of Ronald Reagan's ascension to the highest office in the United States, Devo long for the 1960s, namely the man that America rallied behind as the best of themselves, the handsome young New Englander John F. Kennedy.  Privileged, poised, charismatic and fantastically horny (mind you, his chronic back problems meant that he was hardly the most active sex partner), he was a beacon of hope and portal to prosperity.

Then he was murdered.  'Cause only world leaders of true genius think riding in a parade car with the top down is okey-dokey.  Still, Devo long for those days.  When the President was sexy and being a hippie didn't seem utterly laughable; the days when you and your friends could gather in peaceful protest and not have to worry about taking a bullet in the back.  Sonically, they hearken back even further.  This is pure cowboy rollicker, pistols at dawn and saloon doors.  It all seems so long ago.

"Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')"--Written with Akron buddy Gary Jackett, this is an insipid yet intermittently entertaining "baby" song.  How fucked up does a guy have to be to think he "missed the hole"?

"Shrivel Up"--The most well-constructed song on the album wraps it all up with a plastic prettiness.  The bounce is ominous, the alien signal is cryptic, and the spidery guit-fiddle spreads its web in a second flat.

The American worker has rules to abide by:  God, family, fast food, corporate America, trends, friends, slogans, logos.  Even Devo is this.  We are all Devo.  If this strikes some people as contradictory and contrarian, limited and limiting, well, "It's at the top of the list/That you can't get pissed."  But rules get broken as umbrage is taken.

Jerry delivers this all quite carefree, whimsical voice calling forth from a thin mouth turned up in an empty smile.  We're all going to hell, who gives a shit?

Old age will shrivel us all up, exorbitantly-priced desperation tactics aside, but its worse for your soul to beat your body to the punch.  Which is the punch line of this song.  Get in line,  Punch in, punch out.

THE B-52'S


The B-52's do not have a message for you.  If the world really is going to shit, if people really are doomed to get dumber and uglier and fatter and more insensitive, then just try to slow down the regression.  Dress up.  Dance.  Party.  Get together with your friends and be happy.  Bliss isn't ignorance just because you put the world aside for awhile.

Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Ricky Wilson and his little sister Cindy Wilson bonded at some Athens Chinese restaurant over a shared mixed drink called a "Flaming Volcano."  Jam sessions proved funky and fortuitous, and the B-52's played their first gig at a Valentines Day party in 1977.  (So if you think that particular day is just some hokey Hallmark holiday designed to sell more crap and drive lonely people to messy suicide, just think of it as celebrating the first ever live show of a legendary racket-gang.  Works for me!)  Flamboyant and proud, their entire aesthetic was and ever is a beautiful mess.  Like Devo, they visited NYC, blew off heads, and Warner Bros. musta thought they made quite the kitschy coup by scooping up these wigged-out weirdos.

They had no idea.

"Planet Claire"--A Peter Gunn-inspired number that would inspire a like-named rock musical about the B's that debuted in 2002 at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in the city of Frederick.  As introductions go, only "Hello I have money for you" can top it.  Or maybe, "I know where you can go and get a pretzel shaped like Snoopy."

Interplanetary communicative transit translated by stentorian yet still silly Fred Schneider.  The man has a few "Wow, he just recited this word/line the absolute greatest way anyone could ever recite it" on this album, indeed across the band's oeuvre, and his enraged "WELL SHE ISN'T!" is one of them, if not the one.  Good gravy on yer honey biscuits.

"52 Girls"--Conclusive documentation of ball lightning.

Who snatches the show?  Probably Ricky.  With the five strings of his blue Mosrite tuned to EADxBB, the band's resident reticent visionary conjured up one of my favorite-ever guitar parts.  It obeys no speed limits or any other street signs, forgot to shave this morning, had coffee for breakfast and coffee for lunch.  Donuts for dinner.

But maybe it's Kate and Cindy?  Harmonies clashing so brazenly one crackerjack voice melts into the other, rendering most of the words incomprehensible.  In the end, "52 Girls" is less about the names or numbers (they only mention 25 girls, incidentally) and more about that indescribable feeling.

Also, how ineffably cool when they sing their own names in the song.  Remember "Chantilly Lace," when dude introduces himself to the girl on the phone with "This is the Big Bopper speakin'!" ? Something about referencing yourself--even if its your artistic alias--in a rock song is so great to me.

Or maybe it's not this version at all, maybe it's the original cut in 1978 as to the B-side to the original "Rock Lobster."  Performed faster, and in a higher key, thus the lyrics are much clearer. You ain't missin' any vacuous edicts to drink your Ovaltine or anything, but it's still a fascinating listen.

"Dance This Mess Around"--More Martian Morse code.  Lights gone all blue, and dimmed at that.  I can barely see the decor to pass judgment!

Fred Schroeder, I mean Schneider, busts out the toy piano for some further ambience, and finally a mean green shines down on Cindy.

The B's penchant for songs that sound like a Captain Beefheart cover band at a beach blowout invaded by little green people just as the dance contest is about to start glows here.  Ricky was like a guitar-wielding robot programmed to play the best possible parts at the best possible times, not a note too much, not a second too late.  Code:  CFxxFF.  That acknowledged, this song belongs to his baby sister.  When Cindy completes her semi-sultry lamentation of love leaking vital fluid, the boisterous blonde (or whatever wig she had on) waits for her big bro to prepare the piqued crowd with a wicked smirk that says "Oh you have no idea what you're in for."


(For the first few years of my fandom, I heard this line as "I'm not no limber girl," which confused me, 'cause uh honey, I think that kinda answers yer question.)

Fred and Kate join in as the dance contest is suddenly back on, this time with the little greenies on the judging panel.  Fred mentions "all 16 dances," but again, who's counting?  Me.  And they only mention nine.  That leaves seven unidentified.  So I have decided to fill in the gaps by naming them all after me and my six siblings.  How does one do the Jenny Lee? Oh wouldn't you love to know.  I personally want to know the moves behind the Aqua Velva or the Shy Tuna.

"It's time to do 'em right!"

Damn, there's Fred again barking at us, 'cause apparently quite a few partygoers screw these dances up more often than not, then again you see how frequently white folks futz up the Running Man, what hope can there truly be.

"Rock Lobster"--Seven psychotic minutes (at 180 bpm!) guaranteed to separate your party into two distinct groups:  the cool and the frigid.  Enter the Ricky Robot Code CFxxFF and watch the room divide.

"Rock Lobster" is a legendary song whether you like it or not--the song or the status--and it proves the rule of "the dumbest and/or least demanding work of an artist will invariably be their most popular."  So it was that a gleeful Ricky Wilson explained his mood to Keith Strickland with the fateful words, "I've just written the stupidest guitar line you've ever heard."  Splash on--don't just sprinkle--maniacal keys, the blatant Yoko-lations of Kate and Cindy, Fred's demented storytelling and you got pure beach blanket bombast that sure beats a bomb blast.  Leave that to them other B-52's.

The final two minutes of this virtually-illegal song are beyond the pale.  I am appalled at how fucking well it holds up after 30-plus years.  Ricky revs it up, the girls decide their throats are now the enemy and the larynx must die, and what the lobster dip is now in the air on the floor and you know what if there's still chips left in the bag...smash 'em!  AHAHAHAHAHAHA!  This is the best thing I've ever let myself listen to, you can't possibly improve on this, wow I--


Ahhhhhhh!  He did it again!  I'm hungry!  We gotta glue the chips back together!

Henry Rollins once called Fred's exhortation one of the greatest moments in rock music, and dude was not being facetious, nor was he lying, thereby trying to turn you into him.  It, and the entire song, is for the ages.

"Lava"--It's west of Java.  But I'm sure you know that by now.  Also, humans do not use only 10% of their brain.  That's an urban legend.  Just thought I'd throw that in there while debunking is happening.

Fuck the lyrics, the guitars alone are a sex metaphor.  Pour it on me, thick and gleaming.

Why does Fred pronounce lava two different ways?  Mysteries of history.

"There's a Moon In the Sky (Called the Moon)"--Earth is so special.  Other planets moons have names, like Jupiter's Io and Saturn's Rhea--but our moon is THE MOON.  If I get a dog I'm going to name him or her "The Dog."  I understand that's a lot of pressure for one animal to deal with, but I want it to grow up feeling unique and confident in its exquisite exclusivity.

The B-52's sure wear those shoes well.  They skip craters along the rivers of Mars.  They name all the other planets!  There's a triumphant "one of us" attitude that's very sincere and caring, like all the freaks are welcome.  Gay subtext?  Possibly.

"Hero Worship"--Lyrics by band buddy Robert Waldrop for Cindy to tear into her all by her lonesome.  Let go of her hand Mama, your girl does just fine.

Okay, now that the mother's gone...this song is about blowjobs, right?  "Jerking motions won't revive him/Mouth to mouth resuscitation."  Yeah?  I mean Cindy for all her ass-smackin' kinda treats syllables like she's molasses and they're popcorn and it's time to make the balls.  Oh God I didn't even intend that pun.

"God give me his soul."
"I hero worship/He deserves it/I preserve it!"

I'm kinda scared still, in a way I never was as an innocent chubby-cheeked li'l lassie, so I'll just conclude this by saying "Hero Worship" has the best guitar tone and structure on the album.  Bye now.

"6060-842"--Actually, this may have been the stupidest riff Ricky Wilson ever came up with.  And guess what, it's also golden.  Stay playboy.

Predates 867-5309, with less Jenny and more Tina.  It takes all three vocalists to tell the riveting tale of a number written on the bathroom wall.  Kids these days don't know not thing one about the time before smartphones.  Can you imagine not having all the goddamn answers and options easily accessible, and having to wonder about things, and use your ingenuity?  Do they know about the apoplexy one feels in the face of a heartless operator?  We coulda had something special!  Alas.

"Downtown"--Jus' like Devo, the B's cover a well-worn tune but nowhere near as spectacularly. Cindy sounds a bit English here, and not the refined accent either.  It sounds like a house band playing the customers out of the club as the place shutters up.  Compared to the vital original material before it, "Downtown" is imminently skippable.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Introductory Fragment)

Submitted for your approval:  two bands, quintets at that, as similar to each other as the Spanish and Italian languages, yet as dissimilar as the classic contrast of fire and ice.  Devo.  The B-52s.

Both were formed, as were so many good things, in the 1970s, and hailing from parts of America that are virtually worlds away culturally from the artistic capitals of New York and California. Devo sprouted up in Akron, Ohio, snotty college kids who were forced to stop fuming on the periphery and jump into the fray after the tragedy at Kent State in 1970. The B-52s came together as weirdos in a weird land, the one the only the Athens, Georgia (that's GA to them).  The B's had in their ranks one pair of siblings; Devo, two.  Devo espoused the revelatory concept of human de-evolution, which averred that hirsute bipeds are doomed to move backwards, growing dimmer and dimmer, falling apart with each successive generation.

Both released their debut albums outside their home country, in the latter part of their birth decade, with noted names behind the boards.  Both were signed to Warner Bros., feted by famous David B.'s.  The dominant color for each album cover was yellow.  

Yet while Devo challenged the status quo, the B-52s were the self-proclaimed "tackiest little dance band in Georgia" (which allowed that there was an even tackier one somewhere out there).  While both bands fit neatly into the burgeoning "New Wave" subgenre, Devo were jagged, dark and robotic, a jarring alternative to the B's and their surf-rock game-show Beach Blanket Mothra aesthetic.  And, it must be said, whilst the five men of Devo were documented pussyhounds, all three males in the B-52s were openly gay.

I discovered each band almost simultaneously.  Severe asthma kept me from going outside to engage in the raucous play typical of young children, so I stayed inside and absorbed universes.  I watched television, played video games, watched movies my brother taped off HBO, read magazines and books, and oh yes yes yes, listened to the cassettes and vinyl records scattered all over the house, reflecting the vast tastes of my six older siblings.  One sister in particular was the New Wave fan, and it was a big deal when she brought Whammy! home.  But, I will save that remembrance for that review.  

Devo I caught onto just a little before, via their constant presence on MTV.  Their videos for "Satisfaction" and "Whip It" were just made to imprint on the brain.  I didn't delve deeper into their catalogue until well after the B-52s were practically family in my record collection.

Now it has come to pass that I've seen Devo live twice, the B's never; the odds are virtually guaranteed that this will not change.  Yet I don't know if Devo can ever mean to me what the B-52s have.  I don't know that it should be held against them.  After all, both bands are more than worthy of this project which takes over my blog for this week, a full discography review of both bands, two albums per day except one day when it's three for the sake of symmetry.  The very first of these shall be up later this evening.  

It's my wish as always that you will check in, hop in, strap in, and enjoy.