Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

On the band’s landmark 1978 debut album, New Wave trailblazers Devo made some of the most captivating rock music around—and did so by inverting practically everything rock music stood for at the time. Hip-swinging grooves were replaced with nervy stiffness, flamboyant fashion was replaced by hazmat-suited anonymity, and screaming bouts of emotional self-expression were replaced by a guy literally singing a Burger King jingle (“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce/Special orders don't upset us”). Fleetwood Mac told you to “Go Your Own Way,” while Devo implored you to “Shrivel-Up.” It was protest music, but done with a satirist’s pen and a Dadaist’s sense of pranksterism. And it would would have a seismic effect on alternative rock, music videos, and, eventually, advertising. Devo started out in the early 1970s as an audio and visual project out of Akron, Ohio. The group eventually sought to make “outer-space caveman music” that mirrored their tweak on the theory of “de-evolution”—a semi-satirical outlook rooted in the idea that society was regressing instead of advancing. A fave of such tastemakers as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp, and Neil Young, the band recorded its debut in Germany with sound sculptor Brian Eno, and were eventually signed to Warner Bros. All 11 tracks on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! sound like the pop music from a dystopian novel. Together, they form an arch critique of the 1950s dream, played through the amplifiers of 1970s punk rock: “Jocko Homo,” originally the B-side to the band’s self-released debut single, is a mission statement of sorts, with its disorienting meter, a vocal chant that tweaks the grotesque 1932 horror flick The Island of Lost Souls, and synthesizer bloops that sound like a misfiring laser. The band’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” famously removes any traces of sexual energy, leaving only lizard-brain urges and unfulfilled tension on top of a perplexing rhythm. And tracks like “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Too Much Paranoias,” and “Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)” speed along in the taut, robotic man-machine frenzy that would help define the pulse of New Wave and the textures of synth-pop. In the years after Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, the band would find greater commercial success on MTV. But Devo was never more visionary, angsty, or gnashing than on this game-changing debut.

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