DEVO TOIL THROUGH SADNESS AND ADVERSITY TO BRING THE SPUDS SOMETHING ELSE FOR EVERYBODY

Bastardizing the cover for Something For Everybody, Devo once again poke fun at themselves while delivering cutting room floor songs. Cover photo courtesy of Devo Obsesso

Bastardizing the cover for Something For Everybody, Devo once again poke fun at themselves while delivering cutting room floor songs. Cover photo courtesy of Devo Obsesso

This may be one of the saddest reviews I’ve ever written about Devo. This upcoming February will be the four-year anniversary of the death of Robert Casale, better-known to Devotees as Bob 2. Devo have named his live performance replacement as Josh Hager. While Hager may possess certain self-destructive tendencies, and feels free to use them onstage with the band, no amount of broken limbs will replace the every day contributions Robert Casale made to Devo. He was more than just the fourth member of Devo. He was instrumental with instrument sounds. Programming patches (voices) on keyboards, being of service not only to Devo, but also Musika Mutato, Mark Mothersbaugh’s commercial music production company.

But even more disheartening, Devo, at its core, is formed by the combining of two sets of brothers and a drummer. Robert Casale’s brother is bassist, vocalist and co-pioneer, Jerry Casale. The other brother duo is lead guitarist extraordinaire Bob Mothersbaugh, and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist/visual artist/film maker/eye glass designer/painter/cultural wunderkind Mark Mothersbaugh.

The add-a-drummer position is alternately filled by former Nine Inch Nails and current Vandals drummer Josh Freese. When Freese is unavailable (we can most likely presume from prior commitments), Devo call on Jeff Friedl of Ashes Divide, Filter and two Maynard Keenan groups, Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. (Is it me or does that band have a revolving door in its rehearsal studio? Friedl, Freese, Troy Van Leeuwin of Queens Of The Stone Age, James Iha formerly of Peter Pumpkinhead’s band Smashing Pumpkins, Danny Lohner ex of Nine Inch Nails and Tim “Herb” Alexander of Primus. Makes me think Maynard J Krebs is as big a douche with Billy Howerdel’s Perfect Circle as he is with his other  band, Tool. Grow yer grapes Maynard, stick with your vineyard and let all the musicians you suck into your quagmiric vortex do meaningful things with their lives… Like play in Devo!!!)

The late Bob Casale doing what he did best. Being the utility player hopping from keyboards to guitar. Photo courtesy Commons.Wikipedia.com

Perhaps we should take another approach. The sad, angry venting approach is too laborious on my spriit. Let’s instead go for the angle the band put on their cover: Let’s look at the “Unreleased demos and focus group rejects” aspect. One of those demos wound up to be a very powerful track in light of the current eroding state of municipal police departments across the country. “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man)” is a lighthearted track about trying not to become the next fatality of the U.S. police state. I use it as reference in many posts on Facebook groups like CopWatch, Policing The Police, and more.

But I would kill or be killed to have been a fly on the wall of THAT focus group or groups. To see the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America listening to tunes like “Throw Money At The Problem” or “I Luv Ur Gun”, oh the disdain! ‘This doesn’t sound like “Whip It”…’.

Considering that this is a release from 2014, it better not!

Another exciting aspect of this particular review (and part of its delay) was the fact that I have upgraded my listening/reviewing environment. Before, I was using conventional RCA inputs from my disc player into my surround system. When we got our Apple TV, we found that when streaming a concert (for example) through the optical digital output, the sound was breathtaking! This being my first foray into optical digital cabling, I am now all on-board and have replaced those RCA cables with an optical one. The separation and surround signal is astounding. Let’s see how Devo come through, I am really looking forward to this!

I can just imagine the faces on Mr. and Mrs. Middle America as they are told ‘This first track is called “Monsterman”… But with a couple of synth drums and blips we are off to the races. The intro quickly adapts a patented Devo feel, yet somehow new at the same time. And by off to the races, I mean this track migrates its way from intro to verse to modulation bridge to descending chromatic downshift (with really cool panning of the vocal delay sample) in a mere 30 seconds.

For this ‘reject’, the spuds aren’t fooling around.

At the 31 second mark a breakdown ‘rap’ verse sneaks in. OK, maybe this is where they rejected this song. So let’s stick a guitar solo here. What the hell, right? But a real barn burner from Bob 1! Only now, we go into a fresh new part. Listening over and over, I get the distinct impression that there has not been a repeating part in this whole song.

I do like how, halfway through the part after the solo, it splits from guitar to synth. But with a few more meanderings in the arrangement, we are back to the familiar intro.

Here’s where the arrangement realigns. Perhaps the innate comparison between monster as in ‘AAAuuggghh, I’m a monster’ and those of us with afflictions that make us different is where the focus groupers lost the plot. Yeah, I can say that, I’ve taken a lot of crap on the playground, I earned my stars.

Still the connotation here is there is a different form of being among the normies. Especially the part where the ‘man’ in the delayed/panned section gives the effect a “gossipy” feel as it bounces from speaker to speaker (in certain surround sound systems, the simulation circuitry, or modeling for the techogeekologists, makes the sound bounce from front to back).

That brings us to another off-the-cuff question I have about the focus group set-up: What was the listening environment like? Were a bunch of people herded into a meeting room and the disc played on a laptop, a desktop with speakers, a boombox, a stereo with cheap-ass speakers, a really good stereo with really good speakers (or a variance in-between) or were they in a surround-sound friendly environment? Because if not, they missed a lot, at least in this song.

We wrap up “Monsterman” with another of the solo breaks with less guitar solo into a couple of quick see-ya-later notes and they’re gone.

The next track, “On The Inside”, talks about exactly that in the modern context (more modern now than four years ago it seems). It refers to what goes on inside yourself day-to-day.

Sure it starts out sounding like a light-hearted rocker, an even grungy (which says a lot for Devo, they were grungy before grungy was cool) tune. Then the trademark Devo synth comes in before the intro lead notes. It jumps into a tight bridge with regimented lyrics: “Left right left, left right out, life is tough I know, left right left, left right out, now let it go”.

This hops to an ascending built inviting the listener to some sort of private oasis ‘on the inside’. Getting all kinds of meaning out of this one. Maybe it was too smart for the focus group.

After a vocal ad-lib break (nice way to say Mothersbaugh holds out a ‘woo’) and a snappy guitar solo pops up.

We head into a bleak second verse-type structure. And more Beatle-esque ‘woos’. UGH! Then there is some pondering the next adventure waiting on the inside. A tiger pitched synth runs into the left right left break. Right through the climb to the ‘on the inside’ to yet another ‘woo’.

Have to make note of the drumming on this track. It is open and quick and shoves the song along to its one-two-three-four end.

“Should-a Said Yes” starts of with some some harmony sustained guitar notes (that sound really cool when you reverse the disc on search mode) that lead the intro into a really catchy spot where the rhythm track will drop under the lead to create a really nice tension. All while the lead maintains it’s edge.

Well if you think that’s edgy, wait until you get this! The verse is chromatic in nature with some variations of course, it wouldn’t be Devo otherwise. But the lyrics are of strange interests. A guy pining over a gal who jumps out of bed and bails over something that the guy should have said yes to.

Hmmm…

Having said ‘it wouldn’t be Devo…’ I have to say, when this song cuts to the chorus you can barely recognize this band. All guitars, wailing drums, and heavy, heavy sound from the speakers.

The next verse is similar, there is a healthy break to an intro to calm things down after the raucous chorus. The lyrics detail retracing back to the memory of the dance he said ‘a-n0-no-no’ to.

A quicks solo brings us to a tempo change break. The words describe a parallel universe with a different outcome.

OK this one was too esoteric for the focus group, got it.

Right back to the intro with a repeat of the first verse almost. Details the realization he couldn’t provide what the gal wanted.They break from the usual chorus bridge, to repeat JUST the chorus bridge (“she jumped out of bed, threw her coat on and said…”) to lead to the chorus. to the breakdown bridge, repeated, twice with vocals, once without as an end to the song with a lingering lead guitar.

Definitely a turn-off to the focus groups.

Fuzz guitar and synth drum start off “Think Fast” with time for some lead slides up the neck. But when your lyric starts off with When an Amtrak train, is closing in fast”, you have to wonder what fantasy world does Mark Mothersbaugh live in? I live on the East coast. Grew up near NYC. There are rarely times (anymore anyway) when Amtrak trains closes in fast. But to have the lyric line answered by a sitar with a syncopated rhythm track gives the lyrical Sophie’s Choice verses an almost hypnotic backdrop.

The chorus urges quick thinking verses the chance to attain the ultimate in superstardom. But sometimes chances fail as is the case in this instance.

The guitar solo intro pops up again and I must again point out the very interesting percussion track, mostly synthesized sounds.

When I heard the lyrics for the second verse, about a child chasing a ball into the path of a speeding SUV, would you save the child and be killed or let the kid become roadkill… Gee… I wonder, why didn’t the focus groups go for this one?

A repeat of the chorus, then the lead intro but from there into a change-up. After the lines about playing games and game playing, we get a very iPhone-like flourish of synth notes and a sitar solo…??? Who the hell let George Harrison in here??? Back into the verse but stripped way down to guitar and percussion only.

But I’m not going to even address the third verse. Psycho kills my mother or my brother… Do I get to watch?!?!?!

Another chorus, another intro only once. And I do mean once. We’re done here.

“Raise Your Hands” is about literally that, the action of raising one’s hands and the various implications that simple act has on communication, expression, et al. If I need to get all compare-y, I would put this at Duty Now For The Future vintage with modern recording technology.

A very tight synth and guitar melody opens the track, but are quickly joined for the vocal. The rhythm track kicks in before the ‘arms out’ or second verse.Then comes a change behind the lyric ‘then he reaches for the sky’, leading to a bridge. Then after a repeat on the last lyric line, a chorus of raise your hands repeats three times into a new verse.

Uber stripped down to synth, guitar and percussion. Only this time the lyrics are about the direction of focus of a young lady, and what the various interpretations may be, but only delay repeating the word ‘afraid’. The change this time has the young lady looking towards the sky.

The next chorus details how chances choices and situations can rule your life. Another raise your hands chorus with ad-libs and a new bridge dropped into the middle of both with one at the end.

So that one was confusing for the focus group…

Now, you’d think Mr. And Mrs. Middle America would take note of a song like “Message Of Hope”

Drums and eventual guitar start off “Message Of Hope” and from my vantage point it is entertaining as hell! I have both instruments dancing all over the 5.1 spectrum in time with their vibrato speed matching the speed of the movement of the signal. Good pair of headphones and this might be mind-blowing…

Once the rhythm track gets settled in, a very Black Keys style solo, only with some synth accompaniment.

The verse has interesting vocal effects put on the vocal dynamic duo of Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale. Mothersbaugh’s has a distortion filter on it, somewhat like the ones Trent Reznor made us all hate. While Casale’s return vocal is hard left and right just underneath Morthersbaugh’s stereo mix.

The lyrical concept is that of the big star, top of the heap kind of opportunity. You know, as in, he’s the shit.

While I like the continuing melody that goes through the song (over a pounding rhythm track), I can already see where this one might get lost on a few people. Again, they have Mothersbaugh’s vocal through a filter and for some reason it seems unintelligible. Even the catchiest melody won’t hold the attention of the lowest scorer on the Wonderlic test with out words to go with it.

Does no one watch Married, With Children???

After a couple of go-arounds with the melody more catch phrase call and response work. When the guitar kicks in, the Casale vocals get washed out. But the next chorus that comes up, the lyrics are more intelligible before the ‘message of hope’ line.

Then the strangest bridge I have yet to hear… on the left vocal, Casle says one thing, on the right vocal, Mothersbaugh says another. With the lead guitar note slide right up the middle.

When we get back to our structure, it seems the vocals have been upped for dynamic as Mothersbaugh’s lines are clear all the way to the ‘message of hope’ lyric. This leads into an outro bridge with Mothersbaugh repeating the ‘hope’ to an octave split of ‘tell us something’ interjected in between. The solo word ‘hope’ is the ending.

A mock circus synth and an attempt at growl start off “Big Dog”. Okay, yes I know, cliche. Once the song kicks in though, it is Devo’s tribute to Kraftwerk’s tribute to Devo. The lyrics are throw-away, a day at the dog park for what it’s worth… A dominance themed chorus leads us back to the beginning to go over again. The second verse is about a dogfight. After the second bridge run through a stop into the staccato ‘pay back’ section. Some chord hits lead us into verse three. It is a repeat of the first verse, into the chorus into more of the ‘pay back’ breaks with those accent notes again. I like the last note as you can hear the snare drum ring.

A little human touch.

A little Shout meets Are We Not Men vibe happening with this next track. The verse at first is all sixteenth notes on the guitar with double note full band hits behind the vocal. When the band kicks in for the second half of the verse, the dynamic rises up to meet it. Then when you start to question is this really Devo, a synth, perhaps right from the very sessions that recorded …Men,

A bridge comes over warning of false bravado, absent strength and just how long one can live in a delusional state. Nothing like a Devo album to make you think. Or give you a headache. Everyone on that focus group must have been given free Tylenol after hearing this. At this moment, the image of an elderly woman making sour lemon faces at the sound of that trademark Moog synth in the song washes over me.

Overall this is a driving rhythm track with that modulation ring patch lead all over it. The break is a call and response with ‘Can you juggle’ being the call. Verse three is more of the same big-business-buzzword-bonanza. Back to that bridge up to the juggle chorus.

Now, just when you hear a title like “Can U Juggle?” from these guys, you think, okay, gonna be a circus theme. Incorrect. That was a trick question as you KNOW Devo are far too through being cool to let their song titles become too obvious.

A guitar solo comes in before a juggle chorus with more Moog synth. The track is brought back in dynamic for another repeat of verse one. To the chorus for one time and over.

Now let’s see, how do I describe “Throw Money At The Problem”… A tight techno track with Casale and Mothersbaugh trading lines back and forth with the title being the call to the responses. Some techno for a measure and a stop, drop and exclaim the title break leads into the intro before verse one.

Sorta of prophetic that this was released in 2014 and today there are wildfires raging all over California, while the lyrics refer to the world being on fire. Even better, the chorus bridge is about corpulence and not being able to see the ground due to a big belly. Also how that leads to an end game, whatever that end game might be, and it being too late.

I lost 40+ pounds in 2017…

Back to the call and response beginning only no verse, a very squelchy solo to a break of back-and-forth chords with lyrics about solving problemos by making more problemos. But, how would that work… More squelchy synth and guitar notes, with a new verse seemingly talking to Donald Trump in reference to the world situation, as if they knew then. But Devo were always ahead of the curve, musically, artistically, socially…

Maybe too many in the focus group could see themselves in these situations.

We go back to the call and response, ‘throw money at the problem’ verse structure. Only this time, after the techno notes, the exclaimed ‘Throw money at the problem” lyric is the end.

“I Luv Ur Gun” is perhaps one song I can do without. I was turned off right at the beginning lyric “I like you brand new song, but I love your gun”. Frankly the bass synth part sounds like it was ripped off of Styx’s “Too Much Time On My Hands”. They want to take it to surf territory. Close but no cigar.

The bridge describes her learning to shoot a gun. The verse is about how much fun shooting is. Then another verse about loving the gun.

One saving grace is Bob Mothersbaugh’s twisted guitar solo. I wanna party with that cowboy…

Next is a negligible bridge with dribble about her wearing tight black leather pants, how the shooting range was strange, yada yada. Then there is the I love your gun repeat break. UGH! A repeat of verse one. Up to the second half where it splits that the protagonist is suddenly chuffed about teaching her to shoot.

Thankfully that song is over. Ironically, it blends in nicely with the next track, “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man) Polysics remix” as this starts off with the words ‘Don’t shoot’. It’s a hoot!

I’m gonna give this a shot, and that is explaining who the Polysics are. Somewhere over in Asia (Japan?) there is a Devo tribute band that branches out into originals, remixes, and they are Devo sanctioned in a way. No they aren’t a look-for-look copy, but they do Devo’s music justice. They treat it with reverence. As they have done here.

Drums bring in the track which melts down to a guitar only track, with some techno instruments and live bass added. The lyrics are about merely trying to survive day-to-day functions and not get caught up in any crossfire. Seriously this is of a major concern today! You hear of children being shot for getting caught in the crossfire of a drug war. Never mind the firepower and number of snipers being employed in Times Square this New Years Eve…

A snappier rhythm track keep the beat pulsing with a wayward sounding synth mixed in. Once that mixed in synth does its job of intruding the next verse, it dies.

The second verse details how every city in the world has the same problems. That’s having too many problems. Easy to see. Another return to the chorus, then a break that has guitar, snare (?) drum, and Mothersbaugh’s voice distorted al a Reznor again. About wishing for a greater lot in life.

Don’t waste your time.

Another ‘don’t shoot’ break with wayward synth on it. Then the vocoded ‘don’t shoot’ replies. This goes on right into a new break, about police ‘psychology’ and how they have to take control of the situation, being dominant, yada yada. You know, that’s why all the police brutality videos online.

We return to the chorus twice then a change with a new lyric added “don’t tase me bro” four times into a delayed ‘don’t shoot’ for an end to both the song and the album.

Devo apparently didn’t listen to the focus group on that last one as it was released as a single and did something. Enough to warrant a video being coopted on YouTube. But just how prudent is it to rely on the opinions of people passing in the street? Types who have no concept of art, or what is valuable in terms of art, at best you’d be lucky to pull in someone who has marketing experience (if those people are not prevented from such groups) or a musician (again, if applicable), someone who might have a clue as to what is good or not. Now my reflections as to how the focus group felt were purely speculation. I could most likely look it up (all sorts of info on that computer web) but I just don’t care.

This may seem arrogant but I count my opinion as being valuable. Why? Because I play instruments, because I went to school for marketing, and I have been reviewing to the populous since 2005. Longer if you count print media (which nobody does). My opinion is, focus groups to judge the quality of music are stupid.

Just like toil is stupid.

What do I have to say about the album overall? I see many songs that may have had a different future or further mutations (if you will). Now with the loss of Bob 2, how much time can be paid to these revisionist resurrections? But the music of tight, of course. The songs are imaginative and inventive, maybe some of the songs could have used a tweaking or further examinations, hell some may have had to be held due to ironic coincidence to real life.

There have been some subsequent releases after this one. I would suggest you google Devo and find either their site or Devo Obsesso. They have a lot of info on the band. If I ever see the top of my desk again, I may have to get some of those releases.

Theirs and countless others.

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