New Traditionalists (Deluxe Edition)

New Traditionalists (Deluxe Edition)

“We go where we go,” said Devo co-founder Jerry Casale during the tour for 1981’s New Traditionalists. “Otherwise we’d still be dressing in the yellow suits and playing that crude, edgy music.” On the group’s fourth album, the ever-restless Devo indeed found a new way forward. The first album self-produced by the band, New Traditionalists moved the band further than ever from “rock music”—fewer guitars, and more synths and drum machines. Instead of trying to replicate the completely unexpected success of 1980’s Freedom of Choice—and its monster single “Whip It”—New Traditionalists finds Devo blooping and pulsing its way toward a darker, more robotic stomp. The result is the group’s moodiest album—one that finds Devo abandoning the approach of its first three records, which often found the band members doing a tightrope dance with irony. Instead, New Traditionalists finds Devo making direct appeals to the misfits and mutants in their audience. Singing in a steely deadpan, vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh lays out the party platform on the opening track “Through Being Cool”: “If you live in a small town/You might meet a dozen or two/Young alien types who step out/And dare to declare/We're through being cool.” It’s a song that espoused the “Hip to Be Square” philosophy well before Huey Lewis and the News made it a mantra. The single “Beautiful World,” meanwhile, is as gorgeous as misanthropy gets, with Casale convincingly laying out a utopian fantasy over multiple verses—only to twist the knife once the chorus arrives: “It’s a beautiful world…for you.” Mothersbaugh had become absolutely enamored with the evolving technology in sequencers and synths by the time work got underway on New Traditionalists, and you can hear machines overtaking men in synth-pop androids like “Jerkin’ Back ’N’ Forth” and “Going Under.” And on the single “Love Without Anger,” the men of Devo—always frustrated romantics—harshly examine the innate human emotions we can’t control: “Why scream and cry when you know it’s through?/Why fall in love when there’s better things to do?” Devo had always been pop geniuses with a fiery core of cynicism and distrust—a group of outsiders who made listeners feel like they were part of a misfit tribe. And New Traditionalists is the group’s most clear-eyed collection of anthems for nonconformists and geeks of all stripes.

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