Friday, February 3, 2012

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52s (Fragment Six Reflects the Soullessness of Modern Man Or Some Shit)

To reflect the convalescence taken by The B-52s after the sudden passing of Ricky Wilson, their guitarist and visionary, this review features the two albums released by Devo after Oh No It's Devo!


The fact that Shout was released exactly two weeks before my seventh birthday peeves me greatly.  

My review of Bouncing Off the Satellites mentioned that albums dependency on the Fairlight CMI, an 80s synth if ever one was made to be called such, and here for the first and only time Devo made extensive use of it as well.  (Also toiling with the Fairlight in 1983/1984 was The Art of Noise, whose debut Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise? showed how to make actual memorable music with the costly monster.)

Alan Meyers would leave Devo after the recording of Shout.  Whether this is down to dissatisfaction with the band's artistic direction (which may or may not have been down to Jerry Casale's drug-fueled control-freakiness) or to devote more time to raising his newborn child is a matter of conjecture.  

Warner Bros. was by this time sick to death of the spuds, whose uncompromising approach rankled the Rod Rooters seeking naught but gorgeous wool to entrap the lambs into the money pit.  The record company refused to provide any financial push for Shout, kiboshing any hopes of a promo tour, and Devo's days sharing the halls with Bugs Bunny were over.

"Shout"--Gratuitous grandeur and hyperbolic gesture weeps from this whole record.  Music by tone-deaf half-wits quite clearly, but whoa, this is Devo, the greatest thing to come out of Ohio since that other great thing I'm forgetting at the moment because I can't be arsed to Google search "Great Things From Ohio," the racket-gang that gave the lucky listeners a handful of fine full-lengths to blast from the studio and water the garden with.  They are not tone-deaf, and if their wit made them seem like assholes sometimes to the ninnies and the twits, at least they were putting their whole ass into it, baby.  So this development is a puzzler.

A clarion call signals the beginning of a laborious journey.  Does Devo genuinely believe in change?  Are they parodying protest music?  Would I care exponentially more about the answers to those queries if "Shout" was halfway listenable? 

"The Satisfied Mind"--This is a good-un, 'cause Mark programmed a tolerable melody for Jerry to bemoan the unexamined life over.  GVC and those super-saturated keys make for a tidy marriage.  Even the vocal effects don't disrupt the connubial bliss.

"Don't Rescue Me"--Stolen from a Taylor Dayne recording session.  

"The 4th Dimension"--I wish they'd spaced the decent songs on Shout out a little more.  'Cause this is it.  "Satisfied Mind" and this one.  Oy.

The Jerry-narrated tale of an adventurous female who decided to use her fingers to facilitate travel across dimensions because she'd grown tired of the planet Earth.  Replace "the planet Earth" with "the album Shout" and now the song is about me.

Nice "Daytripper" nod.

"C'mon"--No.  You c'mon.  Lemme show ya where it's at.  And the name of the place is, goddamn this song is irritating.  If I concentrate mega hard, and visualize a quirky Kirby-style video game, where a cute bright boneless creature makes adorable squeals and whoops whilst leaping higher than the tops of trees and collecting various special power up items hidden in balloons and clouds, maybe just maybe I can tolerate "C'mon."  Maybe just maybe I can forgive the fellas their dearth of ideas and spirit.

"Here To Go"--Cocaine, I have heard it said, is quite the substance.  It's when one attempts to make it a style, however, that the vessel begins to leak.  

"Jurisdiction of Love"--Things in the average American garbage bag that are more palatable to the five senses than the song "Jurisdiction of Love."

--Moldy meatloaf
--Worthless lottery tickets
--Leaky AAA batteries
--Slightly bloodied bandages
--Broken vinyl single of "Love Machine" by the Miracles

"Puppet Boy"--Devo, you be remiss in your artistry.  I would rather hear the sound of my own death rattle than the likes of "Puppet Boy."  Guh!  I think I'll just brew some coffee instead.

"Please Please"--Stagnant water that lures mosquitoes, emits a toxic vapor, and boom.  Tons o' dead bugs.  

"Love comes in spurts," the lyrics tell us.  As opposed to execrable Devo songs, which are hemorrhaging all of a sudden!  

"Are U Experienced?"--Ah well, at least Devo can be relied on to cover up head to toe, cozy and warm.  They're like a Snoopy sleeping bag in that way.  

The video shows that while sonically the fellas were caught in a depressing sludge pit and slowly sinking by the second, visually they were innovative as ever.  The Hendrix impersonator busting out of the casket to play a solo, then he goes back in the ol' eternity box?  Tremendous.


Critics live for moments like this, so if you'll allow me:  Total Devo?  More like, Shit Sandwich.

At least with Shout you couldn't tell it was ass just by the cover.  There is not a thing about Total Devo's art that appeals to my eye.  We will not even start on Jerry's hair, because then we may never stop.

Having brought in ex-Sparks skinman David Kendrick to replace Alan Meyers, and now entrusting Enigma Records with releasing their increasingly cringeworthy spurge, Devo chucked the Fairlight and buddied up even closer with a longtime pal named Roland.

Fuck that motherfucker.

Roland sleeps with the people you care about and doesn't even consider their emotional and physical needs.  Roland is a selfish whiny bastard whose corpse will be found wrapped up in a Persian rug that was stuffed in a refrigerator that was thrown off of a bridge.  It's Roland's fault that Devo's sound was suddenly stripped of its birr!  It is Roland that transformed these exciting and vital young men into the node-ridden taters we see hear and taste before us!

Damn you Roland.

"Baby Doll"--Bilge.  Devo's obsession with their toys killed their music.  They made a big deal out of being "Kraftwerk with dicks," but there is nothing remotely sensual on this album. 

"Disco Dancer"--Released as a single, and singularly hideous.  I care not about the Disco Boy and his shriveled mirror balls.  He's the literal anti-Booji Boy.  Where did Booji Boy go?  Roland, what did you do with our Booji Boy?!

"Some Things Never Change"--Sad but true.  Also depressing yet undeniable is that some things do change.  From frantic harbingers of inevitable doom to fetid bedpans.  Well done.  I applaud Bob1 for his valiant attempt at quality via the ever-shrinking guitar.

"Plain Truth"--I'm torn.  I mean, the keys are pretty much queasy off all the takoyaki they stuffed themselves sick with…but listen to Jerry actually singing!  No no, not at all Statue Jerry, I mean actual melody comin' outta that motor mouth!

But then there's what he is in fact saying--"Who are you and who am I?"  Sigh facepalm.  And do I detect superfluous female backing vox?  

"Happy Guy"--Garrison Keillor is a more riveting storyteller.

"Don't Be Cruel"--This is, as you may suspect, a cover of the Elvis classic.  You may also, based on history, expect it to be another typically quality Devo redo.  It is not.  It is most assuredly butt-cheeks.  A crap cover?  Devo is dead.  Cheap Trick also did "Don't Be Cruel" the same year, released it as a single, and had a big hit with it to boot.  Drive that salt home!

"The Shadow"--Proof that you can jack T.S. Eliot poetry for your chorus and still come off shallow and empty, and oh yeah wait for it, hollow.  Reciting them over music reminiscent of the credits sequence  for a 1980s drama series produced by Stephen J. Cannell doesn't help the cause of coherence much either, spudlings.  

"I'd Cry If You Died"--"Molten pools of mockery" was not taken from an Eliot piece.

We continue on our shit-boat trip through the disorient, and if you look to your other left, you'll see this overlong beam of invective directed towards a formless enemy which is supposedly undercut by the chorus.  Makes sense; in The Princess Bride (the novel) Buttercup's parents made their verbal sparring literal sport by keeping score.  When the father passed away, his wife followed him into the dark not long after.  The consensus among their friends and acquaintances being that "the sudden lack of opposition" was too much for her to handle.  Hate and love cannot be recognized and valued without each other.

"Agitated"--That's one word to describe me, yes.  Well done.  I'd call this run-of-the-mill New Wave except I wouldn't trust these dudes with the run of a goddamn shithouse.  

"Man Turned Inside Out"--Ah yes, they called him "Inside-Out Man"!  He was disgusting, what with his visible intestines.

Devo just did not care at this point.  About music, about themselves, about an ever-dwindling fanbase, about a deteriorating world.  So what happens, you end up with this--Mannheim Steamroller conducted by Boney M.  No thank you.

"Sexi Luv"--If Alan Meyers hadn't quit the band by this point, believe that "Sexi Luv" would have torn it for him.  How could it not?  Is he not a man?  He woulda stood up from behind the kit, let his sticks drop unceremoniously to the floor, and with a voice unmarked by any discernible emotion announce to his erstwhile bandmates, "That's it.  It's been real.  But honestly I'd rather spend the next month's worth of mornings cleaning up baby spew from my shirt than be in a band that permits a song called 'Sexi Luv' to be placed out into the public."  

"Blow Up"--My advice?  Watch the movie.  

Mark's vocals were pitched down here, so he sounds like Bob Casale doing a Bill Cosby impression.  That sounds like it should be funny.  Sounds like.

Next review, the B-52's come back (literally) and Devo continues to manifest their destiny.  

1 comment:

  1. Once again KUDOS for an absolute spot-on review.
    I remember getting SHOUT and only liking (and I use that word very very loosely) the same songs as you do. THE SATISFIED MIND being the "best" of the bunch.
    When TOTAL DEVO was about to be released I was excited to hear how the would sound after SHOUT.
    Unfortunately it was a TOTAL BAG O' SHIT. Miles and miles away from their prior releases on so many levels. I don't think I would even use it as a coaster.