Devo

Tagged: Music

US art-rock group, founded in the 1960s by Gerald Casale (1948-    ) and Bob Lewis (1947-    ). Their first album took the first part of its title from the cry of the beast-men in WELLS's Island of Doctor Moreau (via the 1933 film Island of Lost Souls): Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978). It is a spiky and exhilarating piece of music which often succeeds in wrong-footing the listener, as with the anthemic song "Jocko Homo", in which the album's titular question and answer is chanted over and over (in live performances sometimes for half an hour, or more). The band's name is a shortened version of the word Devolution, and much of their early work included songs about regression, satirically or playfully styled; one performance persona for the band was the ape-like de-evolved Booji Boy (pronounced "boogie boy"). But de-evolution did not remain the band's sole theme. Duty Now for the Future (1979) is an inventive post-punk portfolio of songs concerning a techno- and corporate near-future world; the band's deliberately jerky rhythmic choices, angular, electronic musical style and wittily ironic lyrics are perfectly suited to the subject matter. 1980's Freedom of Choice has a smoother, more robotic sound, although the songs are mostly concerned with contemporary affairs. New Traditionalists (1981) is a less playful set of songs balancing dystopian satire with glimpses of utopian possibility. Oh, No! It's Devo! (1982) and Shout! (1983) are only glancingly science-fictional and index a decline in quality in the band's output; the group were dropped by their record label after the latter release. Comeback releases appeared at irregular intervals through the 1980s, though none capture the jagged brilliance of the early material. That said the self-styled "post-post-modernism" of the band's last album Smooth Noodle Maps (1990) achieves, amongst its vanilla dance-electronica, at least flashes of genius. [AR]

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