Glamour Boys: Duran Duran in the 1980s (introduction)

Birmingham, England is an enormous city/metropolitan borough that, like many a patch of Earth that has a surplus of mouths breathing within its borders, has produced an impressive number creative people who have followed their passion and cultivated their skill in a desperate attempt to get the hell out of there.  The list of musicians is especially noteworthy, for variety and quality in equal measure.   Black Sabbath, who revolutionized so-called “heavy music” by belching up foul factory smoke; Judas Priest, whose revved-up operatics were almost as influential (and who can still lay claim to featuring the greatest frontman in the history of heavy metal); Led Zeppelin and their too-imitable BASHCRASH; the scummy seconds of Napalm Death; the ludicrous ponderings of the Moody Blues; Electric Light Orchestra’s unabashed ascension from stolid re-imaginers of George Martin as spirit-sipping studio professor to self-effacing re-imaginers of George Martin as Studio 54 DJ.

And there’s that many more.

Such as…Duran Duran.

A quintet of rouged rogues, Duran Duran are as good a candidate as any to represent “the music of the 1980s.”  Their (shrewdly attained) status as pin-up phenoms attracted critical invective, and for a time they were the go-to whipping boys for professional fault-finders.  Duran Duran were a boy band, most certainly, but in the way that the Beatles were two decades prior.  They were not mashed together by some decrepit, decaying svengali nor were they puppets for an assembly line of songwriters.  The Duran boys  wrote their songs, performed those songs, controlled their own image, and drew up their own unique blueprint for world domination.

The original lineup of John Taylor, Stephen Duffy and the erstwhile Nicholas Bates (his rock god nom de plume Nick Rhodes was either inspired by a Greek island or brand of keyboard, depending on which story one chooses to believe) came together in 1978.  Duffy and Rhodes bonded over Kraftwerk and the two Elvises, influences that would reverberate even after Duffy had departed within a year.

Lineup changes were inevitable, but eventually they picked up–and decided to keep–drummer Roger Taylor, who was neither the drummer for Queen or related to John Taylor in any way.  Former TV Eye vocalist Andy Wickett hopped on board, and the four-song “1979 Demo” was recorded.  Two of the songs–vastly worked over, vastly improved–would become classics in the band’s catalog.  

Classics that, of course, would not feature Mr. Wickett.

DD were basically adopted by the Rum Runner club as they shed and grew  their skin, and it was RR barmaid Fiona Kemp who recommended her boyfriend, aspiring actor/vocalist/lyricist Simon LeBon as a possible replacement behind the microphone.  LeBon showed up wearing pink leopard-print trousers, hoisting a notebook of original poetry, and bearing a cool-ass name that was not a nom de plume.  The scenario reeks of sordid legend.

Duran Duran crashed the shores of North America like it was their birthright. They had the tunes, the ‘tude, a highly-stylized substance and a substantive style (New Romantic frills and thrills).  They were garish in all the best ways, pouty Englishmen who glammed their way into the hearts, minds and beds (and couches, and floors, and showers, and walls) of girls the world over.  They were clotheshorses, certainly, and you can even read essays devoted to Nick Rhodes inadvertently inventing metrosexuality if you’re positively gagging on your ennui, but above everything else, Duran Duran mastered pop music.  It was that aspect of the band that enamored me as a six-year-old girl in Western Maryland watching their canny, polished, and controversial videos flash across MTV.  I was too young to comprehend the lupine carnality, nor could I appreciate the art of androgyny other than to recognize as something “different” that I just didn’t see walking around my neck of the woods, careful not to move too fast lest I have another asthma attack.  

As the 80s dissolved into the next decade, my interest in the boys had waned, but their influence never would, hanging in there like the posterized kitty cat.  When they made an unexpected comeback with 1993’s so-called “Wedding Album,” and the singles “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” were dominating radio, it was like revenge–for the band, whose multitude of naysayers had rejoiced at their dwindling sales and concert draws–and validation.  I remember feeling immense satisfaction that a group I was so attached to and entertained by was back on top…and, best, that the music they were releasing actually deserved the success.  

This new wave of Duran inspired me to revisit the music of my childhood (hey, Sonic Youth were between albums).  To my pleasant surprise, so much of the inescapable, alleged “disposable pop” held up to scrutiny (even if their creators didn’t).  No one’s records stood more solidly, chest out and chin up, than Duran Duran’s.  I don’t mean simply the singles, although they are among the greatest pop songs of any era.  I mean Duran Duran actually made great albums.  Their music sold their image, rather than the other way around.

You may say I’m naive.  I say, “Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo doo.”

DD are of course still an active recording and touring unit.  However, their full-length releases of the past twenty years have been mixed at best and dreadful at worst.  Singles aside, even “The Wedding Album” was vastly forgettable.  Thus, this discography review series is dedicated to their first five albums, all released by the band during the greatest decade known to man, the 1980s.  When everything they touched turned to flaming liquid cocaine.

 

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A Peek At “415 101” (Chapter One: Riot Hour)

My debut novel, 415 101, will soon be seeking publishers.  I am immensely proud of the fact that I not only finished a novel, but that it is a quality read.  It’s the first in a trilogy of novels concerning a character named Lucy Wayne, from high school to age 40.  Each book, however, can be called a true ensemble piece.  In fact, the first chapter of 415 101–what you are about to read–features not Lucy Wayne but two peers who will soon play a great role in getting her hopes and dreams off the ground.

Thanks for taking the time to read. (And yeah, I named the chapters in the book.  I love titled chapters, rare as they seem to be.)

The cardinal perched on the steps of Richter’s Deli and Grocery flittered back into the cloudless morning sky as the two girls approached the storefront.  The humble and accommodating nook indicated one end of the block where Kell Fernandez and Tracy Ridenour had lived, along with their mothers and the former’s two brothers, for the past seven years.

Tracy suspected the owner suspected the girls of swiping sundries when they would wander into the store once a week or so—usually, as was the case on this day, on the weekend—but decided not to pursue the issue because a pair of teens shoplifting occasionally was infinitely preferable to staring down a gun barrel as his cash register was being crudely relieved of its relatively meager contents.  She was correct in her suspicion, and five minutes after inadvertently frightening away a bird, they exited Richters with tote bags of candy bars, gum, and one 20 oz bottle of Pepsi.  This final item baffled Kell from the second she saw Tracy snatch it from the shelf.  She bit her tongue for just that amount of time, but for a recent high school graduate who treated her myriad philosophies like passions and her myriad passions like philosophies, restraint was impossible.

“Tracy.”

“Yeah, babe.”

“You don’t even drink soda.”

“Right?”

“So why take something you have no use for?”  Kell had nurtured only one vice in all eighteen of her years, maintained a single hard-fast rule in regards to said transgression:  steal only what you need.  Tracy, who ranked the paying of fuck-all rather low on her list of practiced immoral conduct, stole on a whim.

“Every other week we have this talk, Kell.  Besides…Mom drinks soda.”

“Does she drink Pepsi?  I always see Coke in the house.”

Tracy’s facial muscles twitched.  “Look, okay, I just figured I’d stick it in the fridge and someone would end up drinking it.  Okay?”

Tracy’s slight stature—just over five feet tall, just over one hundred pounds—made her frequent bursts of shrieking laughter all the more jarring to anyone in her vicinity.  (Kell thought it a bit like captured lightning trying to escape from the bottle.)  And as she could not keep from voicing her frustration with carefree criminality, nor could Kell keep her face from reshaping itself a pained grimace.  Kell found loud laughter—the type that attempted to expand a room or shrink the sky, the type that pretended to defuse tension—a sign of immaturity.  Nearly as slender as Tracy, but several inches taller, she was aware of her graceful silhouette and furthermore took pride in it.  Braying like a hyena on nitrous oxide went against this image.  With a great sigh, she attempted to save face.

“Endless studies indicate that female shoplifters of all ages and all social stratum, unlike their male counterparts, steal with purpose.  For instance.  A woman would never steal Old Spice deodorant.  But a man would steal lipstick.”

“You and I both know guys who would have use for lipstick, babe.  Hey, hey!”  Tracy stopped abruptly, as Kell inwardly swore and gave thanks that no one else was on their side of the street.  “You think Jim would let Kayla have this candy?  C’mon!  Let’s go by there.”

Tracy’s sweetly tight-lipped smile would have been hard to resist even without the discernible gleam in her eyes.  Kell wordlessly acceded, and they turned on their heels, walking at the same steady pace in the opposite direction.

———————————————

In 1759, Pennsylvania resident Jonathan Hager purchased two-hundred acres of land between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, naming it “Hager’s Fancy,” in the style of the times.  Three years later, he founded “Elizabethtown,” in honor of his wife, a name that would endure for half a century until official vote rechristened the land “Hagerstown.”

Hagerstown itself came very close to enduring for only half a century.  On July 7, 1864, with the Civil War devastating the country, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early ordered a cavalry of 1,500 soldiers (as led by Brigadier General John McCausland) to invade Hagerstown and collect a ransom in the amount of $200,000.00, plus some clothing, as revenge for the destruction of farms and cattle in the nearby Shenandoah Valley.  If this ransom demand passed unmet, the Confederates would burn Hagerstown to the ground.  McCausland, however, misread the monetary request and headed back with a mere $20,000.00.  A plague in modern downtown Hagerstown was erected over a century later, celebrating the city’s salvation thanks to good old Dixie illiteracy.

For Kell and Tracy, it served another purpose entirely.  The girls could have very simply gone south on foot from their home and bypassed the downtown area altogether, passing little of note but the elementary school and local post office.  Heading west one block, then proceeding south, would send them through the arterial road, Washington Avenue, where they would pass the opposite end of the school and hit downtown in fifteen minutes, crosswalk traffic permitting.

This path was not chosen for the purposes of stimulation, as Hagerstown was long past its 1970s heyday, and was by nearly all standards culturally, socially and architecturally bankrupt.  But both Kell and Tracy had decided that strolling by various Methodist and Lutheran churches constructed of weather-beaten limestone and a depressing array of abandoned storefronts, beat the piss out of the so-called “anchovy apartments”—jammed and stinking—and their perpetually soliciting tenants, hovering like flies around feces, a daunting cast of the addicted, the obese, and the filthy.  White and black, young and old, they occupied the next-to-lowest rung, the one that allowed them someone else’s four walls and little else.  Their discontent fermented bitter venom, and they would bite an outsider just as casually as they would friends and family.  Kell and Tracy had several invisible marks—the latter, especially, with her hair cut page-boy short and dyed cherry-red.  The final strike had come from a morbidly obese woman of middle age (and a mindstate from that time period), a bushel of blonde hair framing an overly and futilely made-up face, her turquoise tank top helpless to hold back the rolling hills of her upper body.  “Get outta here, ya dykes,” she’d sneered, in a voice that had the same nondescript faux-Southern flavor as could be heard in much of the Western Maryland region.  With that, Tracy vowed they would never walk by there again.

The celebratory plague downtown not only reminded the citizenry that they lived where they lived only because some racist idiot couldn’t understand the simple demands of another racist idiot; it let the girls know only one more block lay ahead.

“It has to be eighty degrees already,” Tracy speculated, huffing out a breath to emphasize her point.  “I hope the candy doesn’t melt.”

“Check it.”

“Nah, we’re coming up on Jim’s.  And if it is, hey, Kayla can always fingerpaint with it.”

————————————————-

Tracy Ridenour did not marvel over much, nor for too long, but she wasn’t sure when or if she would ever one day step foot into the one-bedroom apartment shared by her brother Jim, his wife Dana, and their year-old daughter Kayla, and not wonder how long three people could continue in such conditions without hallucinating, applying warpaint to their faces, and begin hunting fat kids outside McDonalds in lieu of actual pigs.

There was no real indication that adults occupied the cramped space.  Toys, obnoxious both in appearance and sound, could be found in every room.  A pair of blankets, pink and yellow, were spread out in front of the television set.  The refrigerator held orange juice, grape juice, milk, condiments, styrofoam containers protecting leftover takeout and—in the one glaring indication that “here be big people”—cans of Bud Light.  The cabinets were less full, containing a few boxes of cereal (the brands varied week to week, but Lucky Charms was the one constant); boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese; bags of marshmallows; and pancake mix.

Simply walking the six feet from the doorway to the couch could dishearten Tracy.  How could anyone live like this?  No, it wasn’t a scene of social service-signalling squalor, but it seemed that Jim and Dana had given their lives—their hobbies, their indulgences, any and everything that made them unique—up for the sake of their child.  This, to Tracy, was not compromise to insure the care of one growing individual.  It was sacrifice.  She’d broached the subject with their mother, asking if she agreed that the couple needed to re-prioritize for sanity’s sake, but the certainly older and ostensibly wiser woman had assured her younger child that Jim and Dana were just typical young married parents.

Understanding keenly that the woman was certainly older and ostensibly wiser, Tracy chose to bite her tongue.  At least around her mother.

“Dude, you look beleagured.”

Jim smirked but offered no contention.  He had, after all, caught sight of his reflection in the microwave door an hour earlier when pulling out the breakfast burrito.  His sand-colored hair was still wet from a shower that seemed to have no effect but to make his fatigue presentable for the public.  His eyes were bloodshot and his chin acne-spotted.

“The ladies are out,”  he informed them, leaning against the front door.  (The couch was large enough for only two reasonably-sized individuals, and Jim Ridenour wouldn’t dream of not giving up his seat(s) for a woman, sister or not.)  “Gone shopping.”

“Beats fishing.  You?”

“Yeah?”

“You doing anything?”

“Cleaning.  Well, actually, I was thinking about it.  Talking to you guys now.  Hey Kell!”

Kell let a light smile dress up her face.  Jim and Tracy shared the trait of inconsistent volume control.

“Drinks, guys?”

“Nah, we’re good.”  Tracy knew Kell preferred to be spoken for in these situations, and Tracy couldn’t have asked to feel better at that moment.  Not even the sight of a cereal bowl on the floor—right by the blankets—could faze her.  Let those chocolate-flavored puffs fight to stay alive!  Dana’s not here!  Sucks she had to take Kayla too, but I guess she’s trying to be a good mom and shit.  Oh well—compromise, right?

“Me too, but I’m still thirsty.”  Jim suddenly stepped forward, reached down to pluck a glass of OJ from the checkered table in front of the couch, and then retreated till his back had hit the door yet again.

“I see Rugrats is on,” Tracy said, pointing at the barely-audible TV.

“Yep.  Kayla loves Rugrats.  I still can’t believe the dude from Devo did the music to that.”

“What dude from Devo?”

“Y’know the dude from Devo.”

“Yeah but Jim there’s like multiple dudes in Devo.”

“Well, y’know…yeah, but I mean the dude in Devo.  He did the music.  The dude!”

“Yeah well they all look alike to me.  The hats and stuff.”  Tracy paused, displeased that the barometer needle had scarcely moved.  “And what are you talking about, Kayla loves Rugrats.  She’s one year old, dude.  One year olds don’t know anything about love.”

“Wrong,” Jim protested, punctuating the proclamation with a hearty citrus belch, causing Kell’s guts to perform an gruesome acrobatic routine.  “That’s the age when love is all you need.  Before you get old and forget what you didn’t even know you knew!  All she needs is love.  And food.  She loves cookies, just like ol’ Dad.”  He glanced down to the table, as if expecting to see a carton of cookies, and grew so discomfited when not seeing one that he didn’t hear Tracy’s light admonishment at a 20 year old calling himself “ol’ Dad.”

“I’ll be right back.”  As the girls sat and shared bemused looks, rustling sounds emanated from a short distance away.   Jim had retreated to the kitchen on a cookie hunt.  He returned, furrow along his forehead.  “Well, all I gotta say is, Dana better get some cookies while she’s out.”

Tracy was watching her brother intently, shaking her head at how easily the little boy in him could pop out and beat pots and pans, when she noticed a bluish-purple bruise on the left side of Jim’s forehead.  How had she noticed the bloodshot eyes but not such a nasty knot?

“Dude, ouch!”  She pointed to the corresponding spot on her own head.

“What?  Oh…oh yeah.”  Jim shrugged and confessed, sheepishly, “ I fell in the shower this morning.”

“Does it hurt?” Kell wondered.

“Throbs a little.  I’m keeping an eye on it.”

“You are fucking hardcore, man, “ his sister teased.  Then it was time for Tracy’s guts to do their own synchronized set of flips and splits when she turned her head and caught Kell’s gaze and smile in her direction.

“Nothing compared to you, though.  I’m serious.   On a scale from Billie Joe Armstrong to Ben Weasel, how punk do you feel right now?  Or do you, as a young riotous gal prefer the ‘from Belinda Carlisle to Kathleen Hanna’ scale?”

“Woooow.  Hey Jim, do you remember when you were punk?  Before you had a kid?”

“I do, I do,” he nodded, polishing off the orange juice and proceeding to tap the now-empty glass against his right thigh.  “Those were good days.  I rebelled against Mom, Dad, school, jobs, condoms.  Got me where I am today.  And how is our earthbound mother lately?”

“Fine.  What?”

Jim’s face was stretched in a smile so wide Kell was almost convinced she’d heard skin crack.  The natural blue of his eyes began to outshine the burst vessels around them as he rocked back and forth on his heels.  For a few seconds, Tracy feared the knock on her big bro’s noggin was having deleterious effects.

“I know she is.  I spoke with her on the phone this morning.”  His eyes shot from Tracy to Kell, back to Tracy.  “She says you’ve turned into an animal activist and I should ask you about it?”

Kell’s body began to shake with inhibited laughter.  Her grin, combined with the one still on Jim’s face, could have measured a greater wattage than the bulb used to illuminate the adjacent kitchen.  Tracy glared at her and barked, “Tell him then!  I won’t give him the satisfaction of hearing me tell it.”

Clearing her throat, Kell concentrated her gaze on the man six feet away, his arms now crossed in anticipation.

“Okay, it was last night.  Tracy and I decided to go to the movies with our friend.  Tracy also agreed to drive us all there.  On the way, she decides to inform us that just before leaving the house, she went in the bathroom and dropped some acid.  For just the second time in her life.  She thought that it would enhance the film-going experience.  Maybe it would have.”  Kell chuckled and fought the urge to glance over at Tracy, knowing that doing so would cause a complete collapse into a hysterical laughter that she couldn’t afford to allow.

“We get to the strip mall and before she can even find a parking space, Tracy stops the car.  She’s practically hyperventilating.  Sweating, face as red as her hair.  She jumps out of the Cadillac, literally jumps over the door, and starts running up and down the parking lot, flailing her arms around and screaming.  Then, suddenly, she stops in front of this one empty space.  The lot isn’t very full yet, it’s like 5:30, but this one space just grabbed her attention.  She goes:  ‘No one can park here!’  And then she just stands there.  Like she’s on guard.

“I tell our friend to wait a second.  I get out of the car, opening the door like a normal sober person, and walk over to Tracy.  I ask her, ‘What is happening right now, honey?’  Tracy proceeds to explain that a family of koala bears has gathered within the lines of the parking space, and it is up to her to guarantee their safety until they can be relocated.  Or, as she put it, ‘Kell, if somebody doesn’t stand up and take responsibility, they’re gonna get parked on!’

“Meanwhile the Cadillac is blocking one of the turns into this lot.  Our poor friend just sitting there.  A guy in another car yells ‘I’m calling mall security!’  and Tracy yells back, ‘Finally!’  Then she goes back to the car, gets in, and we park.  We’re ready to go see a movie.  Except for Tracy.  Protecting poor little animal families makes her very tired, you see, and she took a nap in the backseat for the next ninety minutes.”

Jim, who had stood in rapturous silence while Kell told the story, letting his eyes speak for him all the while, could only look over at his thoroughly humiliated sister and shake his head.  “You are a Ridenour, girl.  We handle our drugs.”

After Jim had laughed himself into a coughing fit, a protracted silence settled over the small space.  Kell knew, from experience, that soon one of the siblings would stammer out a half-hearted reason to break up the party.  She also noticed that it would most likely be Tracy to do the honors, as Jim was looking at them with an uncharacteristic friendly smile, as if he was genuinely pleased they were here and speaking so casually with him, and he hoped they would extend the visit.  Briefly she considered the possibility of a wake ’n bake, but remembered just as quickly that Jim had once told them both he never smoked in the apartment.

“All right, Jim.  We’re gonna head out now.  Tell Kayla I said what’s up.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  His face began to fall, but caught itself before crashing completely.

“But, before we do that…”   Tracy dug in her canvas tote bag—plain gray, as she hated the idea of shilling for a brand or having someone notice a name or design before they noticed her—and pulled out a true handful of Kit Kat candy bars.  “A little something for the family.  Sorry it’s not cookies.”

“Kayla will definitely not get to sleep by midnight tonight.  You’re the best, sis.”

Kell and Tracy got up from the couch and approached the door, the latter giving her best aw-shucks shrug.  “See ya, Jim.  Ice that head, dude.”

——————————————————–

“He needs to take care of that thing, seriously, he’ll scare Kayla.  Oh my God!  Kell, when we get back home, please remember to ask Mom about the time Jim cracked his head trying to fly out of the living room window.  Ohhh, why didn’t I remember that back there on the couch?  At least in my dumb story I was on drugs.  He was just an idiot boy.”

A mischievous bastard wind had suddenly materialized on the way home, causing Kell’s hair to fly up from the middle of her back and pile atop of her head.  Every few seconds she would have to shake her head and straighten her hair with both hands while an unencumbered Tracy clucked in semi-sympathy.

“I hate the summer wind,” Kell groused.

“Isn’t that a song?  ‘The Summer Wind’?  From the fifties or something?”

“Probably.”

“There should be a song called, ‘I Hate the Summer Wind.’ But it would be like a loud and nasty song.  Short, but it gets the point across.  Loud, nasty and short, like my brother’s wife!”  Tracy turned her head in the direction from whence they’d came to shout the last sentence.

The hysterical shriek that escaped Tracy’s mouth sent a nearby Jack Russell Terrier from his owner’s living room to the front door.  But it was the words said before that sent a beast of an entirely different sort to the front of Kell’s mind, knocking out all concerns over affection-starved brothers and unruly follicles.  A beast whose shape, size and sounds were no less intimidating for their familiarity.

“Tracy,” Kell said in a measured tone, trying not to show her hand too rashly.  “I’m going to ask your mom about Jim thinking he can fly when we can get home.  Then I have something to ask you.”

“Okay.  Anything major?”

“Not particularly.”  Just curious if you think you can fly.

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs…And the 10 Worst (Part Three)

Pretentious preamble sucks.  Yer gonna smile, sneer or shrug at these choices no matter what.

10.  “Kotton Krown”
APPEARS ON:  Sister (1987)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed

Love song definitely, but what’s the object of affection?  A person?  A city?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?

Thurston’s interview-speak supports the non-opiate theory (“It’s a fine line between sensuous and sleazy”).  Giving credence to the more sordid take is that a cotton ball can be used to filter the heroin solution just prior to shooting up.  Only one person knows for sure, and it’s possible he’s actually forgotten by now.

Lyrically, I can’t but want to bake it muffins:  “Angels are dreaming of you,” “Your carnal spirit’s spraying,” “I’m a Care Bear.”  Wait…misheard that last one.  But yeah, who the hell writes like that?  This is back when Thurston was a true poet, long before he felt compelled to adopt the affectations of one.  “Angels are dreaming of you” floors me to this day.  I’m serious.  Don’t try picking me up either.

Musically, it’s a roaming zoo packed with pandas and komodo dragons.  2:12 to 3:51 is the aural manifestation of an orgasm having an orgasm.

“White Kross” comes screaming right after “Kotton Krown,” short and sweat-splashed in sharp contrast.  It educes this very unnatural desire in my heart–to escape my body.  First it eyes what would seem the easiest route by attempting to burst from my chest, then up through the throat, and finally it pushes laboriously against my spine.  No such luck, ticker o’ mine.

9.  “Rain King”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  29

Sonic Youth’s most woefully underappreciated song. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics pop up through SY’s version of classic rock like the eternally cool observations of a man who has seen enough to know you shouldn’t see it all.  “Crossfire rain king with his cadillac kid/Marries every dictionary from his trainyard bliss.” Are you fucking serious, Ranaldo?  A writer needs some gelatinous cognitive processes happening in his head and deeply-stained blood rushing through everywhere else to scratch those words out.  Amazing, amazing language. 
I already explained why I chose “Hey Joni” over “Eric’s Trip,” so why “Rain King” over “Hey Joni”?  Letter-chain magic.  Work it just right, and the world will volunteer to be your assistant.
8.  “Hoarfrost”
APPEARS ON:  A Thousand Leaves (1998)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  13
Lee’s best song as a member of Sonic Youth; his upcoming solo album may or may not have a track to better it.  No song, save for the gently falling “Skating” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, evokes winter with more sure-footed vision.  It’s tempting to melt into the nearest surface when “Hoarfrost” fills the room.
With this song and “Karen Koltrane,” Lee shines on what I feel is SY’s best album.  So wherefore art the damn thing then?  On the cusp.  Just “Hoarfrost” is more in my mind these days, is all.
7.  “Starfield Road”
APPEARS ON: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  15
Give grown men zap-guns and they’ll regress in record time.  It’s all fun and games till the spacecraft lands.  The invasion will be brief and devastating, thankfully.  Meticulous planners, those so-called “aliens.” 
My dear Patrick and I were in attendance to witness the reappearance–after twelve long years–of this song in concert.  When Steve busted out the BOOM BOOM PISH BOOM BOOM BOOM PISH, we were hopeless to do anything other than erupt.  Just another memory for the friendliest bank I’ll ever do business with.  
Also?  Best introduction in the history of anything.
“Bull in the Heather” is Neptune, “Starfield Road” is Saturn.
6.  “The Diamond Sea”
APPEARS ON:  Washing Machine (1995)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  3
Stands with “Kool Thing,” “Schizophrenia” and “Teen Age Riot” on the shortlist of songs that can claim the title of SY’s signature tune.  At 19:35, it is the longest song to ever appear on a Sonic full-length.  
It is possible to experience a positive crisis, which seems to be the case for the protagonist of “Diamond Sea,” a lucky soul experiencing the first wondrous days of romantic love in bloom.  Thurston’s words are solicitous and kind, but it’s the extended instrumental section that does the most to quell the anxiety threatening to derail a beautiful journey.  The method so used expresses an entire lifetime spent in thrall to the heart.  Life, to death.   In between, don’t be afraid to share a secret or two.
Before “The Diamond Sea”‘s appearance at the end, Washing Machine’s title track was the longest song on an SY record–nine whole minutes!  Kim rides the blissful memory of sippin’ a soda and rolling her eyes at the future while the jittery kid in the orange/red down vest a few tables over inadvertently makes his mom crush on him.  
5.  “Massage the History”
APPEARS ON:  The Eternal (2009)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
To hear Kim Gordon tell it, you need to really lean in.  Once at optimum position to discern words, she’ll gladly tell your her dual inspirations for “Massage the History”:  Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the dying record industry.  Definitely explains the blood-sucking references, and also why Kim sounds like she’s pale and shaking the entire time.  
Except isn’t about a TV show or gasping monolith.  I mean that’s cute and all, Kim knows how to work a soundbite and make the idiot fishermen happy with their catch, but this song is probably the most personal she’s written since “Sweet Shine.”  
The band make us wait 100 seconds before Kim starts singing. The lead in is a magnificent melding of Thurston’s acoustic and Lee’s electric slide guitar. The resultant mirage melts bones.  
2:51 to 2:54. Three seconds where the best parts go taut against each other. Lee’s mournful slide; Kim’s yearning voice. It seems almost impossible for such a rapturous concurrence of sounds to exist. That it does is testament to the rewards of the journey.
“You’re so close/Close to me.”
If this was the last song Sonic Youth ever recorded…brilliant.  Standing fucking ovation till my hands become raw.
Putting another song against this one isn’t fair.
4.  “Inhuman”
APPEARS ON:  Confusion Is Sex (1983)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  22
And if this was the last song I ever saw Sonic Youth perform live….
How powerful is a blow that breaks your tongue and makes your teeth bleed?   Funny how I even see it coming and can’t (or won’t) stop the assault.  Sick, sick puppies all around.    
Thurston’s rumble-fuck bass instills in me the very mistaken notion that I can dropkick a brick loose from a wall.  
“(She’s In A) Bad Mood” is analogous to “Inhuman” in that both traffic in sketchy menace, but the chick Thurston’s yakkin’ about doesn’t scare me.  She can borrow some of my Midol and deal with it.
3.  “Theresa’s Sound World”
APPEARS ON:   Dirty (1992)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  4
We all know a Theresa; maybe you’re fortunate enough to be one.  In touch with worlds beyond, privy to sounds and visions that escape the limited purview of the huddled masses yearning to be, a gracious host and compassionate friend…even if she doesn’t seem to have a filter on her thoughts.  Her unabashed, uninhibited spirit emboldens some, repulses others, and affects everyone deeply.  
She is not a sex symbol, and cannot be swayed by the crackling come-ons of silly boys.  I like you, “Sugar Kane,” but you aren’t a Theresa.
2.  “Silver Rocket”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  2
Flat-out rock and goddamn roll with patented feedback break, all in the aid of electrical edification.  Flashing, smashing, bending, upending, mighty usurper of gruesome thoughts, “Silver Rocket” tells me that space travel is kinda crap when so much potential exists down here with astral travel still.  
“Teen Age Riot” is a true anthem inasmuch as a self-aware, highly intelligent band will allow.  But it never changed my life.
1.  “Star Power”
APPEARS ON:  EVOL (1986)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  1
Still the champion of my Sonic heart, and always will be.  I’ll put it in writing and notarize that baby. 
“Star Power” isn’t forever linked in my mind with some pivotal life-event, it doesn’t put me in  mind of a special someone–I just fucking love the song.  EVOL was SY’s first album with Steve Shelley behind the kit, and “Star Power” is their first true attempt at “pop,” with the new kid laying down a martinet beat that allows Lee and T to tentatively explore melodic fields.  Kim takes her (then) husband’s words and recites them in a voice that gives the impression she’s several hundred paces from the boy party, reflecting on idol worship with a promethazine passion, somehow sounding alluring despite her deliberate remove.  
“Everything turns black to blue.”  Everything.  Hell, even the truncated acoustic version they recorded in 2009 for some show I don’t care about was dipped in honey.
I have waxed so rapturous over what happens from 1:02-1:16, likened it to shaving mountainsides with nylon strings, claimed it was the closest any of us will get to attaining “sensory sponge” status without the use of illicit drugs, and most drunkenly proclaimed it would be the first song Snoopy played at a pizza party.  I ain’t wrong about any of it.
I know many of you will bemoan that I did not place “Shadow of a Doubt” anywhere in my top 30.  Well, I gotta be in the mood for sexually-charged murder plots playing out on accelerating vehicles.  I am always in the “Star Power” mood.
Okay, on to the controversy.  Why do a “Worst” list?  Well, I’ve written so much about my favorite band, and as their chapter seems ready to come to a close, so is mine.  Writing about SY has done more for me than I can tell you. So if I’m about to call it a day,  might as well cover all the bases.  I’ve never done a “Worst of SY” before (frankly ’cause they don’t have very many bad songs over 27 years of recording music) so this is new territory for me and my pen.   And also, they’re a band of human beings, not the Four Sublime Lords come into Being.  They fuck up sometimes.  Ten times, in fact.  
10.  “Do You Believe In Rapture?”
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)
What a waste of harmonics.  The American people sure as fuck didn’t deserve eight years of aw-shucks Godboy Bush anymore than the people of the world deserved three minutes of soggy faux-protest poetry.  
9.  “Satan Is Boring”
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)
Song is boring.  Drugs make music better except when they don’t.  
8.  “Lights Out”
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)
I swear I don’t hate Rather Ripped; NYC Ghosts and Flowers is still their least impressive album.  But Jesus, the nadirs on Rather Ripped are just jaw-droppingly bad.  It’s okay for Thurston to sing along to the guitar line so long as said line is interesting.  Don’t meander and call it menace.  OOH IT’S LIGHTS OUT FOR ME I’M SO SCARED.  Pfft.
7.  “In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader” 
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
What a waste of an amazing title.  Thurston coulda saved this one by pulling a Gadsby of sorts:  no use of the letter “o” anywhere in the lyrics.  I vaguely remember liking this one when the album was first released, but I was sixteen and easily impressed.
6.  “Peace Attack”
APPEARS ON: Sonic Nurse (2004)
Thurston’s heartfelt desire for a just world is commendable.  Writing songs that bore me a hole allowing me to fall to my death, not commendable.  Maybe an additional verse would have given the track some variety and thus spice and thus life?  I dunno.  When Thurston’s in putrid-poet mode it’s best not to give him any more room.   
5.  “My Arena”
APPEARS ON:  “The Diamond Sea” single (1995)
Advice:  Write sober, edit wasted.  Not the reverse, which is clearly what happened here.  Soft as chow mein noodles.  Quick repetition of the last word in a line helps make any song 25% more “what the hell is this shit?”  It’s befuddling how it starts off with Thurston’s envelope poetry (“You smell like a rosary/And you like a Jew”) and then some Jet Set-style Kim takes over.  Her refrains are mildly pleasing, but go on for far too long.  “Nowhere to go, nothing to do,” and nothing to say atop it all.
“You drunk all my wine girl.”  Yeah, well you clearly got hold of all the crack, my dude.
4.  “Self-Obsessed and Sexxee”
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
Another song where I admire and appreciate Thurston’s sentiments while utterly loathing the overall execution.  The only interesting part of the song is the “party all the time” refrain, which just makes me want to listen to that Eddie Murphy song.  
3.  “Stalker”
APPEARS ON: “Drunken Butterfly” single (1992)
I would rather have a stalker than listen to this song.  “Got me prowlin’ like a police car.”  Dude, how did this happen?  
2.  “Sleepin’ Around”
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)
A promising instrumental chug turned fatuous throwaway thanks to–
“Sleepin’ around/Sleepin’ around/What would the neighbors say?”  
Oh, I have some ideas.  Post-K & T split this song makes me even more squeamish.  It’s enough that their separation has tainted a good song like “Titanium Expose,” but turning this one from piss-poor to crappy is just beyond the pale.
1.  “Small Flowers Crack Concrete”
APPEARS ON:  NYC Ghosts and Flowers (2000)
I have a love/hate relationship with this song.  It’s about as enjoyable to listen to as synchronized puking, but man is it fun to scribble out some parodic poetry in its dishonor.  Give me some aimless hippie drivel and I’ll work like Rumpelstiltskin on that shit.  
Some songs should be accompanied by a list of possible side effects.  “Small Flowers Crack Concrete” is one of them.  “May cause shortness of breath, nausea, rash, drowsiness, loss of appetite, heartburn and narcotic squads to sweep through your poet den.”  Poetry for the sake of poetry, oh ghost of T. S. Eliot won’t you save us from poetry for the sake of poetry!   On the title track, Lee does it right.  He delivers his carefully-chosen words casually at first, then lets the emotion build up naturally.  The end result is an actual song, as opposed to, your band came up with some music, and you threw a poem you had laying around on top of it.  
Now, then…that wasn’t so bad, was it?  

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs…And the 10 Worst (Part Two)

20.  “JC”
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Kim and Thurston each wrote a song to memorialize their friend Joe Cole, a roadie who had slogged it out with Black Flag and later the Rollins Band.  He was murdered on December 19, 1991, shot at point-blank range outside the home he shared with Henry Rollins, victim of a botched robbery attempt.  Both tracks found a place on Dirty–Thurston’s fried-pig squeal “100%” and Kim’s “JC.”  The former was released as a single and remained a perennial live favorite.  The latter was never put out for the public as a digestible representation of the album that was supposed to break SY in the mainstream, and was dropped from concerts after 1993.  
“JC” doesn’t have the high profile, true, but so what.  It squeezes my bones.  You know how infrequently that happens?  For years Dirty was my favorite album, and while it’s actually fallen in my estimation in the twenty years since, “JC” has risen.  
Adolescents think they know anguish, and they do–but rarely as intensely as they imagine. I’m in my 30s.  A lot has happened since I was 14 and playing Dirty incessantly.  My father died.  I had not one but two medical crises, the last of which was just a couple weeks ago.  I can now grasp and visualize a world where I do not exist.  How many teens can say that?  Come on, the world still revolves around your self-important ass at that stage in life.  As you mature, certain base facts of life finally hit and spread out in a sticky web over the brain.  I used to get so into the resplendent anguish sighing out of “JC” that it invigorated me–I thought I could relate!  Ha.  No.  Now I can, and it doesn’t excite me.  
I get why Kim rushes her delivery; she’s taking control by testing the elasticity of her lungs,  heart still aching over an unfair trial.   Or is it the fact that some eulogists need time to compose themselves between sentences, to catch their breath before it leaves forever, to soldier on and “do right by” their loved ones, while still others just want to get the process over with, so they unleash a torrent of emotions, vacillating between blunted desolation, hysterical disbelief, and grievous acceptance.  To hear the usually self-possessed and imperious Kim Gordon reveal her heart like this is still a shattering experience.
Adversely, “100%” is a raucous tribute that gives insight to Cole’s character.  It is distinctly how a guy would see his friend, and how he would honor his buddy for the benefit of outsiders.  
19.  “Orange Rolls, Angels Spit”
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  10
More Dirty, more Kim.  Empirical evidence indicates that this is indeed the very fucking filthiest thing on that record.  Kim told an interviewer way back when that “Orange Rolls” was about “drug craziness,” and given that until a few years ago I understood approximately 8-10 words in the whole damn thing, I could buy that explanation.  The way Kim forces the words through gritted teeth, the revving guitars…it’s craziness, at the very least, sizzling through the floor to collapse in a sweet sweaty heap.  The process is repeated till the Earth’s core is reached.  From that point on–all bets are off.
“Orange Rolls” is just more terrifying a listen than the other Kim “rocker” on Dirty, the classic rock-pilfering “Drunken Butterfly.”  Oh, that one’s a basket of honey biscuits, no question.  I’ve spasmed something silly to it at many an SY gig.  
18.  “I Love You Golden Blue”
APPEARED ON:  Sonic Nurse (2004)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  19
Wow, I sure like Kim.  Yeah, she’s kinda the hero.  
The description I wrote for “Golden Blue” in my review of Sonic Nurse cannot, for my multi-colored money, be improved upon.
Like watching a loved one, or maybe even the loved one, slowly slip away. Before the color drains away completely, before functions cease and respiration expires, there’s the moment when that which animates us,that essence, reaches the pinnacle before continuing on its peregrination. “Is it time to go? It’s a place I know.”

Kim’s voice is barely there and all the more beautiful for it. She illuminates the chilled terror, the hysteria felt whenever caught in that space between awareness and oblivion. “I can’t feel the thrill. I don’t have the will.”

“I Love You Golden Blue” sounds so precious, so fragile. The introductory instrumental feels like a shroud but when it’s finally lifted there’s just even greater mystery shimmering underneath.

“I don’t glitter like the stars above. I don’t glow like neon alone. Don’t blush. It’s just the wind outside. Don’t rush to be by my side.” 
“Golden Blue” is the second in a so-called “trilogy” of Kim epics that were either the ultimate or penultimate tracks of three of Sonic Youth’s last four albums, the others being “Sympathy for the Strawberry” from Murray Street, and “Massage the History” from The Eternal.  “Strawberry” is the only one to miss this list, but I love it, believe me, all red and white and leafy green, just dying to land in some sugar.
17.  “Beauty Lies in the Eye”
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  14
Over calming acoustic strums and scattered lion yawns, Kim captures the echoes of passionate abandon as they ricochet off the walls and recreates them in her divine image.
“Do you want to see the explosions in my eye?”  I’m already hearing them just fine, but…sure.  Why not?
Kim’s other stand-out turn on Sister is “Pacific Coast Highway.”  Problem with that song for me nowadays, when the band brought it back live in the early part of this century, Kim busted out a trumpet for some decidedly non-marching band heroics during the Beach Boy breakdown.  I keep waiting for that on the record, and it’s not there!  Aw man.  You know else isn’t there?  The drums.  Poor Steve!  Wait a second, he just played drums on an early contender for album of the year, poor Steve nothin‘.
16.  “Cross the Breeze”
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Heroes are disposable and promises are broken records, made to warp over time.  There are many methods one can use to soothe the savage beast…music is the just the most popular one.  You can never chase the demon off, though.  It’s as much a part of us as our tongues.  
Hearing both “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze” back-to-back at certain latterly SY gigs (including the Daydream Nation concert in Brooklyn, 2007) was like a fangirl dream come true.  So much time spent cursing my fate in being born too late, and they go and play the whole friggin’ thing front to back.  Some shows I couldn’t stop moving…other shows I seemed to forget how.  “The Sprawl” lives up to its title a little too much, though; “Cross the Breeze” measures out the moods expertly.  Hence, my decision.
15.  “Stereo Sanctity”
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Oh hi Thurston!  I didn’t forget you.  You got the magic, most tall one, and great taste in sci-fi lit.  Reason #23 To Adore Sonic Youth:  one of ’em’ll read a book, hear a song, see a film or a painting that makes ’em write a song, that in turn makes someone else write a song, read a book, shoot a film, splash a canvas, etc.  Gold connections.
For lifting from Philip K. Dick, using the word “field,” and rocking sans any discernible remorse, “Stereo Sanctity” takes the crown over “Catholic Block,” which hits the red just as strongly, but oh man does Catholic guilt kill my girl-chubby.  Thurston’s not even explicit in that regard, but it doesn’t matter, not one whit, man.  Spending your refractory period in sullen contemplation of whether or not your recent orgasm has doomed your soul is the opposite of “sexy.”
14.  “Hey Joni”
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
And look here, it’s Mr. Lee!  
Of the three songs on Daydream Nation featuring Lee Ranaldo on the mic, three of them kick ass.  This one, most fabulously.  Is it about Joni Mitchell?  The ’70s cop flick Mitchell, starring international sex symbol Joe Don Baker?  “Hey Joe”?  “Hey Bulldog”?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?!
You wanna solve mysteries, go find Encyclopedia Brown and tell him Sally owes me money.  “Hey Joni” is both a devastatingly beautiful renunciation of nostalgia and a word-sick embrace of the here and now.  My favorite line in the song is, all of them.  
Moreso than his bandmates, Lee loves to use his songs to reflect on the meaningful fragments people leave behind of themselves.  The line between stranger and friend is thin as floss, filaments tensed and loosened at an almost-unnerving rate.  Some folks detach themselves and watch the process impassively, while there’s some who just can’t help but jump into the fray, frothing hearts and minds, seeking kindred spirits–even if just for a little while.    Even in “Eric’s Trip,” which borrows dialogue from Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, Lee makes it sound like he’s reciting original lyrics, like this dude Eric is his high school buddy or something.  Fooled me, dude!  “Eric’s Trip” is super-beloved by the fanbase as well, and I like it just fine.  I’ve seen it live about, uh, 900 times.  It’s all about the Drifter, dude, can’t forget Thurston bustin’ out that rode-hard-put-away-harder Drifter.  Drumstick delirium.  But no moment in “Eric’s Trip” approaches, even tenuously, Lee’s putting the motherfucking “Hey!” in “Hey Joni.”  
13.  “Sweet Shine”
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
PREVIOUS RANKING:  8
Really thought this would stay in the top ten, but hey, I gotta rank ’em honest.
Another one that’s hard on the heart nowanights.  I’m likely off by several paces in all directions, but “Sweet Shine” played to me like Kim’s reflection on her (then) decade-long marriage to the world’s tallest 12-year-old.  I broke it down on the old list, and I’m sure it was exhilarating for me to write all that out at the time and pull at my brain like so much soda-flavored taffy, but considering revisiting all of that exhausts me.  
Do not let your babies grow up to be cowboys, is all I’ll say.  
Alongside “JC” and “Massage the History,” “Sweet Shine” is part of the what I call my “tearful triumvirate” of Sonic Youth tunes.  Each of them can get my eyes to well up at least, and more than once they’ve been responsible for some embarrassing full-out bawling.  Kim’s voice is far from delicate and soaring, but where other female singers phonate at a level that wins competitions and tops charts, she’s doing what she must in order to serve the soul of the song.  Too many vocalists aim for the skies; Kim knows the truest target is much closer to the middle.
She hits a little lower than that on “Skink,” a lullaby about having sex by an aquarium.  Lotsa blue, lotsa green, lotsa vision gone black to blue, and oh God I hope neither of them kicks the aquarium.  Freedom will kill the fish, you know.
12.  “Rain on Tin”
APPEARS ON:  Murray Street (2002)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Never shall the rot set in, “Rain On Tin” will endure for the ages.  A kind, thoughtful reflection on fragility in the wake of September 11, 2001, Thurston’s lyrical economy is surpassed only by the medicinal effect of what comes after, when the last word vanishes into the polluted air and the music begins its loom work.  Thurston, Lee and temp worker Jim O’Rourke are not showing off; how gauche to assume otherwise.  Yes, it’s all very impressive.  The three of them sound like they’ve been playing together for longer than two albums worth of material, that’s for sure.  But how does it feel?  A stitch in the heart.  A gentle thought for harsh words. Embracing the inexorable as invaluable.  Forward motion always.
“Rain on Tin” dissolves pain.  I’ve needed it so much lately.  And I know, it’s just a placebo.  But as far as phantom treatments go…I’ve never had one go further.
The next album’s “Pink Steam” gets it all back-assward.  Extended instrumental intro, then lyrics.  Oh, the lyrics!  “I’m the man who loves your mother.”  Well, the average woman would want that special guy in their life to feel fondness towards their mother, right?  Makes Thanksgiving much more tolerable, anyway.  But it’s nothing to put in a song!
11.  “Mote”
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  21
I played the liver-loving onions outta this song and “Titanium Expose” in the days immediately after my brother let me borrow his CD of Goo.  Lee’s lyrics never float so high above the listener that we are unable to make out their distinguishing features, just one of the qualities that endears him to fans who bemoan his dark horse status in Sonic Youth.  To pull off such a feat amid a blanket of mosquitoes is another one.
The last four minutes are akin to slurping from a bottle of Makers Mark in between bouts of vomiting into the toilet you’re leaning against lest you get sucked into a wormhole and die.  And yes…that is a compliment.  Wordless debauchery and paranoia for the flawless victory!  
If “Mote” is not Exhibit A in the case for Sonic Youth arranging dates between love and rackets with a proficiency matched by no other sound-makers, it’s comes no later than “D.”  Further down would be “NYC Ghosts and Flowers,” the glaring highlight on the underwhelming album of the same name. Ten years after “Mote,” Lee would put some more vagabond vandalism in front of a wailing torrent.  Although “NYC” remains stirring–again, it is far and away the best thing about the album–it lacks “Mote”‘s motion and color.

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs…And the 10 Worst (Part One)

Damn near a fistful of years have elapsed since my last attempt to rank my personal 30 favorite Sonic Youth songs.  Times change, tastes change–thirteen songs from that initial compilation are absent this time ’round, including three from the top ten.
To set this new list apart from the last, I’ve dropped the “highlight” section.  After each review of the song I chose, I’ve added thoughts on why I chose that track over another, similar one (often from the same album).  This hopefully illuminates my thought process and swings some shine on other songs that weren’t fortunate enough to get a number in front of them.  For me personally, it elevates this entire endeavor from enjoyable to ecstatic. 
None of which should suggest this task was easy.  My initial list of songs for consideration was 64–more than double the allotted spaces.  Some genuine gems had to be excluded.   Much easier, however, was determining the ten worst songs in the SY oeuvre.  Indeed, only eleven tunes were even up for consideration. That speaks to the quality of the artistry far more than any scribe alive ever could.
But we try anyway.
30.  “Wildflower Soul”
APPEARS ON:  A Thousand Leaves (1998)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not included
Love effects the spirit, which in turns effects the body, which naturally transfers to…the guitar?  A peculiar squall kicks off what is actually a gorgeous ballad.  Of course, Sonic Youth never forget who they are, and take care to stretch their limbs.
Thurston Moore was four years into the fatherhood thing by the time A Thousand Leaves was released, and nearly every song on said record that he voices evokes warm domesticity.  To his credit, these offerings are sweet without being cloying and palliative without inveigling the listener.  “Snare, Girl” treads much of the same plaintive pathways, but never unravels.  It’s self-containment is superb, but the puffs flying in “Wildflower Soul” are an unforgettable sight.
 29.  “Flower”
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)
PREVIOUS RANKING: Not included
“Support the power of women
Use the power of man
Support the flower of women
Use the word:  fuck
The word is love”
Forget that these lyrics are courtesy of a dude, in this case, uber-dude Thurston. Kim brought them to fierce life, and that’s what matters most.  You can discover Sonic Youth, order all of their records you can afford at once, and boy aren’t you in for a treat, buuuut….if the FedEx fella doesn’t get it to you at all, much less in a timely manner, you aren’t going to enjoy the experience of holding vinyl/tape/CD in your hands, thumbing through booklets, examining visuals and aurals simultaneously.  You’ll have to make do with mp3’s of shady bitrate and JPEG scans of varying resolution.  
In other words…it’s down to the delivery.
“Halloween,” which buttresses “Flower” on the DGC reissue, is certainly a boss number.  (I mean, Mudhoney covered it.)  The woozy sensuality oozes back into the cracks quick as it came out.  “Flower”‘s petals are sharp to the touch, and draw blood.
28.  “Doctor’s Orders”
APPEARS ON: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  11
Half-life as so many women knew it then, and to this day.  Kim’s breathless tale of mama’s li’l helpmates is made twice as arresting with the lilting menace behind her blunted language, creeping studiously until finally it breaks the fifth wall (the one separating the performer from themselves) and treats the audience to the spectacle of a party of one being crashed.
Jet Set is Kim’s album whether she owns up to it or not, and this isn’t even her finest moment.  Neither is “Bone,” which suffers in comparison simply because of structure.  “Bone” is maelstrom to blues to back again.  Perfect for Kim’s bipolar delivery.  But the sustain of “Doctor’s Orders” is what convinces me it’s best to adhere to medical advice.
27.  “Anti-Orgasm”
APPEARS ON:  The Eternal (2009)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not even born back then
Inspired by a German film called The Wild Life, which featured among other scenes a hippie radical suddenly struck impotent, so immured he was with society’s conspicuous over-consumption.  A friend cracks that he must be “anti-orgasm.”  Now that’s source material. 
Thurston, Kim and Lee singing on the same song is in fact pro-orgasm.  “But, but, ‘Renegade Princess’!”  Okay, but that song doesn’t send my blood rushing through my body.   Hell, it doesn’t even make my blood walk a little bit faster.  “Anti-Orgasm” rocks out with everything out, and if that sentiment seems hoary, it’s also true.  To bear ear-witness to such crackling urgency and insistent force coming from a band 27 years into their recorded life is equal parts inspiring and intimidating.  
Of course, the lyrics are obtuse and quotable, as hell to both.  The unison grunting could been super off-putting but thankfully SY have made the air too thick for such a misstep to occur.
All three vocalists reunite for “Poison Arrow” later on in the album (albeit only Thurston for the verses).  Another clear-cut winner amid eleven other champions, but it doesn’t cause me to misplace my shit.  “Anti-Orgasm” does.  Helps me find it again as well, ’cause I’m just a loop cat, and the process makes me wanna purr.
26.  “Expressway To Yr Skull”
APPEARS ON: EVOL (1986)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not included
So not only does Rolling Stone omit Lee Ranaldo from their 100 Greatest Guitarists list, they include Thurston, and they cite “Expressway” as an example of his exemplary work!  Lee is responsible for 90% of everything that sounds interesting on that song!  The other 10% is of course that cloud-combing blow-out that the song is best known for, and maybe what the editors had in mind, but that’s pretty stupid if you ask me.
Enrapturing as that torrent of noteage is, the name of the game is slide-work, and yep that’s Lee during the chorus, puttin’ in that time.  “We’re gonna kill the California girls” is a great opener–and even greater misspelled on an official shirt–but really, the guitars are the tenacious voices in their heads telling ’em they should fuck and kill in the first place.
Fellow bookend “Tom Violence” has the sharper lyricism–arguably my favorite set of words to a Sonic Youth song, maybe I’d put “Rain King” above it, but that’s it–but it’s not precisely compelling (!) enough for me to forget my dreams are empty ones.  “Expressway” fills the holes to capacity.
25.  “Cinderella’s Big Score”
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  18
Thurston’s behind-the-bridge action fools trolls and trolls fools.  I can hear new things or things in a new way with nearly every listen of this underappreciated mini-masterpiece.  Every element on display burns underneath the magnifying glass:  Lee’s chopper blade gut, Steve the lunatic gentleman at the kit, Kim’s disillusionment over and disgust at the habitual misbehaviors at someone who may or may not represent her troubled older brother (the video seems to support this interpretation), you’ve never seen an accusatory finger pointed so poignantly.
Kim G. voices a more positive tribute on “Tunic (Song For Karen),” a sympathy call to the late Karen Carpenter.  But however much one of the most nuanced voices of 20th century pop deserved canonization, it’s almost a little too reverential, even dare I say a bit trepid.
24.  “Intro/Brave Men Run”
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  12
Kicks off SY’s second full-length and also signaled the start of their concert of Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn last August, which may or may not have been their last North American gig/last non-festival gig/last show in New York, oh the potential designations are multitudinous.  I will from now until the day I abandon this cumbersome shell o’ mine associate this song with the sight and sound of an overjoyed young man just in front of me at said show, gripping the top of the stage barrier, leaping up and down and shrieking in glee, “This is my favorite song ever!  Oh my God!”  
A song the band had not busted out in a live setting for 25 years, a song that may very well be older than that deliriously happy fan.
The “Intro” piece deserves its titular status, featuring glistening arpeggios that musta shocked fans of Confusion Is Sex and that albums dank experimentation.  In context, “Intro” marked a turning point for the band.  “Brave Men Run” continued the inaugural proceedings:  inspired by the work of an artist in another medium (the paintings of Ed Ruscha) instead of just citing the same rote influences; a simple but brilliant bass part that anyone could play but not just anyone could think up; and a hesitance to leave the playground even though the sun is setting and dinner’s steaming on the kitchen table.
I don’t want ’em to leave either.  Come on guys, one more game of tetherball.
Of all the songs on the cusp of inclusion for this list, the one that hurt the most to leave out was the one that ranks no. 31–“I Love Her All the Time.”  They also played this one in Brooklyn, and unsurprisingly it added three years to every attendees life.  
How do you turn a hazy declaration of love hopefully everlasting into an outright apotheosis of the beloved?  “I Love Her All the Time” could be difficult to swallow nowadays, given what transpired some 26 years after its creation.  I won’t fib, a few Sonic tracks are hitting me in a very bittersweet way recently…but not this one.  I think that’s down to Thurston’s unconventional word choices.  It’s not transparently romantic to say you don’t comprehend the words coming out of your lovers mouth; it’s actually closer to honorific.  Imagine being with someone who has you instantly transfixed and intoxicated by dint of their presence, who can turn the world into frost and sparks by being next to you.  Such a sensation is ephemeral, but electrifying.  
23.  “The Wonder”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
The beginning of SY’s beloved “Trilogy,” I separated “The Wonder” from its siblings because, um, I play favorites.  (You can’t fathom my process!)  
Shit gets mad pachyderm-y in the middle, which is when I adore it the most.  Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite’s grandson, who was a squeegee man at the time.  To hear those who were actually there tell it, NYC was much dirtier, scuzzier, wilder and scarier in the late 80s, that period of time that served as a midwife for  SY and their ballyhooed baby.  “Your city is a wonder town.”  And I would say, as a frequent visitor, it still is.  Stop by Otafuku if you don’t believe me.
So why “The Wonder” and not the others?  Well, “Hyperstation” isn’t hyper in the least bit, and “Eliminator Jr.” is too fuckin’ short.  Also, I respect the songs as individual entities, although I acknowledge their seamless connection on the album.  It’s absolutely the same as when I eat a Mexican meal at my mom’s, and I start off  with the lusciously decorated taco, go to the sublimely stuffed enchilada, make my way over to the perfectly cooked rice, and finally bite into a hot buttered tortilla.  (If you aren’t hellhound hungry after reading that, that’s the real wonder right there.)
22.  “Shaking Hell”
APPEARS ON:  Confusion Is Sex  (1983)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  26
There are a handful of genuinely skin-prickling moments on Sonic Youth’s first full-length but none more chilling than–“Shake!  Shake!”  I sure hope Kim Gordon isn’t actually unaware of why people tend to be intimidated in her presence.  I mean other than her being bracingly intelligent and eternally stylish.  
“Shaking Hell” is either the prelude to a lust murder or a snapshot of your everyday subjugation within an ostensibly loving relationship…either way somebody needs to get the fuck outta that house.  
Kim also provides vox to “Protect Me You,” a scary story that features Lee Ranaldo on the bass playing a rather Gordon-esque pattern of notes.  That song is akin to an ice cube sliding down your back.  “Shaking Hell” is the blade of a knife taking the same path.
21.  “Candle”
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not listed
Candles give light where none existed before.  They can be symbols of sober remembrance when held in one’s hand, or a lovely decorative piece when in the home.  No matter where they are, or the purpose they serve, candles give light where none existed before.   The solace they provide, however, ensures their impermanence.  
Nothing on Daydream Nation is really like “Candle,” so I’ll use “Total Trash” as an example of how all over the place Thurston can be lyrically, and still not come off like a goddamn lunatic who uses ketchup packets to write poems on Burger King Whopper wrappers.  “Candle” is the marriage of light and mist; “Total Trash” is not that.  How you go from “Keeps me up awake/A crystal cracking” to “It’s a natural fact that I’m not now cow” is amazing to me.  That’s Sonic Youth.  Aptitude, attitude, and altitude.

Songs 20-11 will be up on Tuesday; 10-1 on Wednesday; and the Worst list on Thursday.

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52’s (Fragment Nine Means Our Journey Is At Its End. So Long And Thanks For All the New Wave)

FUNPLEX
3/25/2008


Pitchfork gave this a 6.6.


Whereas Cosmic Thing was a comeback from a devastating loss suffered several years prior, Funplex was a comeback from a crappy album unfit for man or beast released sixteen years ago.  Is it an improvement?  Yah.  Is the band still terminally incapable of making a decent album cover?  Yah.  Where’s the coked-out dog Whammy! dog when you need him?

The impetus for a new album was the band’s desire to play some new material during one of their many many live performances.  They weren’t satisfied being a “hits” band you go see for some reliable diversion, and I admire that in any artist.  When Keith Strickland heard New Order’s Get Ready, he was sufficiently moved to contact the producer, Steve Osbourne, and offer a spot behind the boards.  Osbourne accepted, and the result was Funplex, the tightest B’s album eva.

And, yes…welcome back, Cindy Wilson!  Your body language speaks for so many of us, honey.

“Pump”–Like Devo, the B-52s (superflous apostrophe dismissed, you will note) had stayed in the hearts, minds and wallets of fans by remaining a steadfast presence on the concert circuit.  “Pump” not only kicks off Funplex, if you go and see the B’s these days, it will likely kick off their live set.  First heard (seen?) on The L-Word, “Pump” is appropriately club-prepped, with drums that echo off your chest wall, but the vocals lack the unique qualities long-time fans can reasonably expect.

The lyrics, yeah, I don’t, pfffft.  Peanut butter on naan bread makes more sense.

“Hot Corner”–Sexy as Brooks Robinson.

“Ultraviolet”–“Spread your seed on fertile ground.”  Okay band, you know what?  I won’t be doing that.  I would like to do Kate’s fantastic “Wooo!” at 1:12.  Aw, the B-52s can still make me smile.

Fred exclaims his little cadre of freaks should “hit the G-Spot,” and that was just deliriously hilarious to my silly little brain till I sussed out he was talking about a club.  I wonder if said establishment is equally as annoying for people to locate.  You know, the accessibility of the G-Spot, indeed the very question of the said spot’s existence, is a serious issue facing America today.  Such a controversial, relevant subject calls for a panel.  Of five men.  Some of whom are pastors.  Yes.

“Juliet of the Spirits”–Fellini’s domestic drama inspires an iridiscent gem forty-odd years after its release.  That’s what art does.

Juliet is in song as on screen, a once-stifled housewife now in blossom, freeing herself of fear, and allowing herself to dream clear as crystal vines twisting around thick white stone pillars.  ‘Cause clutter is declasse.

If I’m talking crystal, you know this is yet another inimitable Kate and Cindy extravaganza.  It’s four-and-a-half minutes long, and wouldn’t have been hurt at all if it had decided to soar a little longer.  But, it knew when it needed to land.

“Funplex”–The first single, and easily recognizable as a B-52s song, which not all of these tracks are.  Circular riffage and silly-ass chorus.  The overall tautness of “Funplex”–both of them-mighta thrown some folks accustomed to shambolic party-rock, but not far enough that they couldn’t get back up and dance.

Fred and the gals play three distinct characters connected by mall culture.  It’s inconsequential and fun as hell.

“Eyes Wide Open”–This, on the other paw, is detail-deficient and bland.  Cornball imagery can sometimes be salvaged by a not-shabby intergalactic soundscape…but not here.

“Love in the Year 3000”–The very possibility, no matter how remote, that this may have been somewhat inspired by an old Conan O’Brien bit is enough to keep me from hating it.  But believe me, no Nebraskan field is as corny as this song.  “Robots, bootybots, erotobots”?  Er.

“Deviant Ingredient”–Which is probably also Fred’s email.  The lyrics reference “delirious experience,” and oh it is.  Nirvana not quite achieved, but my fingertips at least brushed against it.

“Too Much To Think About”–Typically not a problem with the B-52s!  I didn’t intend that as a slight, either.  It’s nice to have records that you can slap on and never have to worry about that one song that will likely send you scampering into the bathroom for a good, semi-cathartic crying jag.

“Dancing Now”–Caterpillar New Wave, this.  Non-intrusive enough to argue politics over.

“Keep This Party Going”–Appeared in a Season 2 episode of True Blood (produced by Alan Ball, a gay man from Georgia, I mean really now y’all).  Lafayette would love the shit outta Funplex.  


Dirty glasses runneth over with cheap beer the hue of infection-indicating urine are all over this song.  Just like with “Cosmic Thing,” the B’s are all about taking this shindig to the capital.  “Things are gettin’ dirty down in Washington.”  (I often wonder how successful the Occupy movement would have been if motherfuckers had just started dancing with their signs.  How’s a cop gonna pepper-spray somebody doing the cabbage patch?)

Fred Schneider announced in 2011 that Funplex would be the B-52s’ last studio album, but more recently has retracted this statement.  Indefatigable, thy name is the B-52s.



SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY 
6/15/2010


Devo took a well-deserved break after the unmitigated horror of 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps.  They had been recording and touring, after all, for a dozen years, and the last half of that period sucked, so a hiatus was in order certainly.

Mark and the Bobs took their sick creative minds to Mutato Muzika, a music production company started by Mark the year before Smooth Noodle Maps was named as a registered sex offender in every state in America.  Scoring films (e.g. Rushmore, Happy Gilmore) and television (Rugrats perhaps most famously; Pee Wee’s Playhouse most fabulously) left little time for tending the potato garden.  And anyway, isn’t it all just another slumping body on the devolutionary chart?

Jerry Casale, I imagine, continued to fuck at a Dubersteinian pace.  He wasn’t starved for creative release, either, directing videos for bands like Soundgarden and Rush.

It was inevitable that Devo would reunite.  The idea and the band that sprung from that idea are simply too singularly amazing to keep dormant for too long a period.  In 1995, they reconvened to re-record “Girl U Want” for the Tank Girl soundtrack.  January 1996, they played at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.  A well-received Lollapalooza run followed.  From 1997 to 2009, Devo would operate–albeit erratically–as a live machine.  But no new music seemed imminent.  (Which irked Jerry especially; interview after interview, dude got asked if and when some new Devo would make its way into the world, and he would invariably point the finger at Mark for holding up the flight.)

Finally, twenty years after what many feared would be their departing sonic debacle, Ohio’s finest announced an album of all-new material.  They named it Something For Everybody, but it was hard for me then to imagine the guys making an exoteric album, as it always seemed Devo were born for the niche of “best kept secret,” even when they slipped into the platinum pit that one time.  That said, Devo is most assuredly a band that is also a brand, distinguishable and distinguished, and they took it right to the people with this one–well, in their way.  Satirical focus group videos popped up on YouTube, SXSW panels were held, and most intriguingly, a “Song Study” was announced.  This was an interactive online asking participants to listen to snippets of sixteen songs the band had recorded, and to cast votes for their twelve favorites.  The most popular dozen tracks would comprise the forthcoming album.   (40,000 spuds answered the call.  Duty now.)

The very impetus for the record ended up not making the final product, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Right now, let’s examine Devo’s comeback…retail version.

“Fresh”–Performed at the 2010 Olympic festivities, where the fellas got to show off their new blue energy domes (the dress du jour along with, alternately, the intentionally half-realized “Everybody Face masks”) and more importantly, a new song.  Lyrics and music aside, “Fresh” is hopeful just by dint of not sucking hard enough to dislodge a wrench that’s been buried in mud. There’s guitar, first of all.  That’s enough right there to let us know that pancakes are for dinner too.

Not a return to form, ’cause Devo were/are/ever amorphous, but this is high-quality rock n’ roll.

“What We Do”--Then this happens.  Shout all over again.  Brain-dead all-around.  This cannot be what Devo does.  If it is, then  de-evolution has hit them harder than they think.

“Please Baby Please”–Written by the Bros. Casale, which I believe is a first, “Please Baby Please” is New Traditionalists in a blender that breaks two seconds after you hit the “Start” button.  Flubberous blabber, this.

“Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)”–This could have gone very noodly, but they reined it in pretty good pretty quick.  Then that stupid repetition of “Don’t taze me, bro” ends it all.  Why not just sample said semi-classic soundbite and play it over and over?  Woulda sounded less desperate for forced relevance that way.

“Mind Games”–Women play mind games with devious relish ’cause if and when we try to engage in the physical games, we kinda sorta get pulverized.  The rules are there, and if you want to bitch about them fine, I sure do, but it comes down to–you either complain and change, or you just complain.  Take your side and proceed accordingly.

“Human Rocket”–Mark can be quite inspired lyrically when he cares enough; “Human Rocket” is definitely no “Speed Racer.”  He rides the swelling itching sound wave with impressive panache. The terrorism of everyday life is the subject, and the outcome is sadly predictable.

“Sumthin’“–I am a querulous fan, at times.  With songs such as this, it ain’t hard to figure why.  “Sumthin'” should go die on the side of the road.  Whatever it is.

“Step Up“–Says nothing about even less than that.  Nothing here to taste or chew, mouth your mouth along.  Devo, damnit, you had me going there for a minute.

“Cameo“–I would like to say Devo never plumbed the depths of Total Devo once on Something For Everybody, but here comes Cameo to prove me wrong.  I didn’t use quotation marks, ’cause Cameo is actually a person, a dude, a Native American with Elvis hair who kills white people.  “Cameo” is also a song, an abomination, and it makes me want to rip out my hair and kill people, free of prejudice.

I am far from alone in not liking “Cameo.”  It was not selected by the fans for inclusion on the record, yet Devo used the veto power guaranteed them by the Doctrine of Bob and put it on the album anyway, explaining “It is is the new Devo and will prevail in the end.”  Don’t brainwash me, bros.  That is not what I want to hear.  Change is inevitable, change is necessary, yes.  But there is the type of change that furthers and galvanizes legacies, and then there is the type of change that stunts and tarnishes legacies. Devo came to the spork in the road, and started digging a hole. 

“Later Is Now“–Final Fantasy and Castlevania meet my hippocampus and the collective decision is reached to grab a sandwich, maybe some chips.  Each second is savored , ’cause everyone knows how fragile the peace truly is.

“No Place Like Home“–Didn’t make the cut either, and Jerry took vocal umbrage:  “They don’t want to see Devo being real,” he huffed, referring to the fans.  Personally, I like “No Place.”  It wouldn’t be an ideneous fit for a Devo album thirty years ago, but that was then.  This?  Is not then.  This is this.

There’s a plaintive quality here missing from most Devo tunes, and while musically it’s not stunning, and while yes there are bromides a-poppin’ in the verses–Jerry really makes it work.  He usually comes off relentlessly cynical, but remember, a cynic is a disillusioned romantic, so when pressed those folks can conjure up a soup equal parts sweet and sour. 

In one promo interview, Jerry elaborated:  “I don’t like people who do things in a spiritless way….If you’re going to bother doing it, try to do a really good job.  Concentrate, and be there, and try to really be good at what you do.”  If those words come off hokey to you, they don’t to me, but I guess that’s the hillbilly in my soul.  Jerry’s unleashing some mother wit right there.  Although I admittedly find the majority of Something For Everybody dire at worst and unrealized at best…I don’t doubt their conviction.  Maybe with Shout and Total Devo I did have my suspicions about their collective passion, but not here. 

“March On“–I love that Devo asked for fan opinion and then still did whatever they wanted to anyway.  Any Devo-tee worth their peeling skin had to know that would be the outcome, so how could anyone be surprised or upset?  But in the case of “March On,” just like with “Cameo,” the band should have heard our anguished cries.  ‘Cause this is terrible.  It was “undervalued in the study” because the song itself is underfed and underwhelming.  “No Place Like Home” would have been a strong closer for a weak album.

There was, of course, a Song Survey version released; MP3 only, via online retailers.  It is there we get to the heart of Devo’s recorded return.

In 2007, Dell asked Devo if they could feature “Whip It” in a commercial.  Sick of companies asking for the same song over and over, Devo replied, “Hey, how about a new song?” 

Dell was gobsmacked.  “Y-you have a new song?”

“We will.” 

Devo recorded a handful of new tracks, and Dell selected “Watch Us Work It.”  I dunno how many computers it ended up selling for the company, but it is absolutely successful as a fucking stand-alone song, the best Devo has done since “Explosions” in 1983.  Driven by a percussion track jacked wholesale from “The Super Thing” (one of my favorites from New Traditionalists) and a nasty boot-lick, it is a testament to the above-average intelligence and good taste of the fanbase that “Watch Us Work It” was deemed album-worthy. 

But…Devo said no go.  And when you think on it, their decision makes a certain artistic sense.  By 2010, when the album was released, the song was three years old.  It had nationwide exposure.  It was out there, known, it was possibly old dome.  It went against the Devo ethos in that way and thus, had to be shunted aside. (Also, lest we forget, “Cameo” now for the future, and all that garbage.)  So why did they even put it up for consideration on the song survey?  ‘Cause they’re dicks!

The other two tracks picked by the fans were “Signal Ready” and “Let’s Get To It.”  Both of which harken back to the more fun and natural spirit of Devo and of course they were doomed.

But there’s more!  A third version of Something For Everybody was released, a Deluxe edition that included all sixteen songs.  And all that showed anybody is no one–not the band, not the fans–no one fucking liked “Knock Boots.” 

Pitchfork gave this album a 6.6.

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52’s (Fragment Eight is Lonely and a Liar)

GOOD STUFF
6/23/1992

It took the B-52’s three years to follow-up the quadruple-platinum Cosmic Thing.  In that time, the rigors of touring and the magnetic pull of domestic responsibility caused Cindy Wilson to take an indeterminate hiatus.  The B’s survived the permanent loss of one Wilson; would they be able to take the temporary loss of another?

The answer turned to be a big ol’ “negatory.”  You have track after track of insipid music stretched minutes beyond tolerability, Fred Schneider is inane without also being lovably insane and thus salvaging his whole shtick, and while Kate Pierson is an undoubtedly technically amazing vocalist, without Cindy to take it hip to hip, it turns out that’s all she is.  The dual vocal modulation helped make the band so damn distinctive in the first place, and its absence guts Good Stuff.  Not to mention there’s so many guest musicians the record might more accurately be attributed to “The B-52’s and Friends.”

“Tell It Like It Tis”–“Doin’ it right/Day and night.”  See, that’s what I mean by inane.  Doing what?  Dancing?  Fucking?  Drinking Kool-Aid?   I know the B-52’s have never been the deepest band around, but at least they gave you something to grab hold of and dance with, some abstract and engaging bit of nonsense that left you feeling delighted if not enlightened by the end.  This is just empty…and it’s just the start.

“Hot Pants Explosion”–This bowl of milkless cereal was released as a single, amazingly.  My English friends would call this song “pants,” and I’d agree.

Fred is talking to a pair of hot pants.  I don’t really want to hold on to that.  Doesn’t pique my interest even slightly.  Also, is there bass anywhere on this album?


“Good Stuff”–Lies, motherfucker.  Six minutes of aimless lies.  Keith sparks off some shallow sparks on the guit-fiddle, and the bridge makes a valiant attempt at flight with ultimately broken wings, but by and large, the title track is useless as a quality way to pass the time.  It starts off with over a minute of rash-inducing skit-skat, then the lyrics actually come in.  Oh honey.  “So how about joinin’ my lovin’ session?” Fred asks faux-saucily at one point.  Hell no!

“Revolution Earth”–Arguably the fan fave of Good Stuff, “Revolution Earth” was co-written with reliable old chum Robert Waldrop.  Save some erratic vox from Fred, this is a Kate multi-track extravaganza in honor of the big blue marble and all its wonder (the litany of glories excludes the actual denizens  of said orb, understandably).  I love Kate for many things–her wigs, her magnificent voice that managed to make an absolutely ridiculous Iggy Pop love ballad somewhat listenable, her affection for the black-capped chickadee, and hell, even her steadfast belief that the human body does not need protein has a certain “girl you in danger” charm.  But “Revolution Earth” is little more than an excuse for vocal pyrotechnics.  Mind you, it’s far and away the best song on Good Stuff; the definition of “dubious honor.”

“Dreamland”–Provide surcease from the pain, please!  We are entering Shout levels of unlistenable here!  Reminds me of Information Society’s “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy),” which is a far better tune.

“Is That You Mo-Dean?”–The chorus is a treat, playful without knocking over the next kids sand castle in a delirious fit of puerility.  Who is Mo-Dean?  He is “the interdimensional outer space being,” of course of course!  See, this is why it’s hard to fall out of love with this band.

“The World’s Green Laughter”–Former NBA superstar Charles Barkley hates this song, y’all.  Told me straight up one day, “Jenn, this is song is turr’ble, just turr’ble.  Put Wild Flag back on.”  This is an instrumental, which would seem harmless enough, but for putting me in mind of Tim Curry’s superbly hideous “Anything Can Happen On Halloween” (as seen in the 1980s basic cable flick The Worst Witch) I got to agree with the Round Mound.

“Vision of a Kiss”–Nile Rodgers played guitar on this.  He also played guitar on “Dress You Up” by Madonna.  Guess which one is better!

“Breezin'”–“We got to get it together.”   Oh sweeties.  Too much unadulterated Kate yet again reveals what Cindy Wilson took with her upon departure:  soul.

“Bad Influence”–Let yer Frankenstein flag fly.  Eh.  You could listen to “Bad Influence,” or you could snort salt off the kitchen table.  Life is about choices.

So, there it is.  It took ’em thirteen years, but the B-52’s finally released a piece of crap.  It took Devo six years to do that!  Mind you, this album did go gold.  A massive drop-off from the sales of Cosmic Thing, but a certification nonetheless.  Which is one thing the B’s have over Devo, unfair as it may strike some of the dedicated spuds–record sales.  

And Now…For Something Completely Different

So I’ve been in the hospital dealing with some shit that needed to be dealt with, and the New Wave discog has been delayed.  It will finish this weekend, I promise.  Till then I wanted to use this space to share some of the fragments and segments I scribbled during my time away.

SPLASH AND SOAR
Little squeaking leads to nowhere
Walls were made to test our buoyancy
Louder than the wailing blue
Deeper still, some still scared to search
Dry dreamers
Little squeaking softly crying
Strength in numbness
It is vital to snap apart, diverge gently
The sky will always be my weakness

ELEVATE
To pass the day–treatise on elevators
Later, deed signatures forged for food
Upon reveal to the world within the world within
That tempts a wrinkle over such nonsense
The street I live on will be renamed in my honor
It goes both ways
Go green, and make my dreams come true
Come green, make my dreams multiply
Buzz my heart till I can’t say no anymore

PEN AGAIN

This piece is entitled “Pen Again,” a pithier version of my expressed desire to one day hold a pen again.  See, they don’t trust folks like me in places like this with pens, so we have to make do with 1/2 pencils.  Luckily, it’s the half that has the fuckin’ lead point at one end.

So, just a sampling.  The best work I did was the title piece of my forthcoming poetry book. Lyrics For Monster Movie Music, which I got out in one sitting with one session of revisions later in the day.

The Space In Between Is the Place: The Music of Devo and The B-52’s (Fragment Seven Is Unequal By All Quantifiable Measures)

COSMIC THING
6/27/89

In the history of rock and roll music, has there been a comeback story as heartwarming as the B-52’s returning with Cosmic Thing?  Has a band deserved to sell four million copies and have back-to-back Grammy-nominated Top 3 hits more than the B-52’s?  Conventional wisdom stated that it was impossible for them to recover from the loss of Ricky Wilson.  The band members themselves may have at one time,  however briefly, believed such as well. 

Then they jumped back in the ring and sunset flipped everybody.

It was Keith Strickland’s fault, really.  He had by now completely abandoned the drums for the guit-fiddle, and the decision proved fortuitous, as jangly soundscapes owing more than a little to his late musical mentor’s influence began flowing out, until he couldn’t help but share them enthusiastically with his erstwhile bandmates.  The flame thus born, the gang of once five now four reconvened and began jamming together, just like way back when (probably not too dissimilar a scene from that depicted on the album cover).  Replete with renewed confidence and fresh tunes, the B’s hired Don Was and Nile Rodgers to work their shiny shiny production magic (not as a team, mind you, although one tingles to think).  Cosmic Thing sounds clean as palace marble, but nowhere near as heartless.  The theme is warm reminiscence, as the members go wistful but never doleful, honoring their departed friend simply by being the band they were meant to be.  None of the songs can be educed as sorrowful, and this is less avoidance of pain than assimilation of spirits.  Just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean they aren’t there with you.

“Cosmic Thing”–Best euphemism for booty ever?  Maybe.  “Biscuits,” as heard in Digital Underground’s “Doowutchyalike,” is pretty good too.

“Cosmic Thing” kicks the parade off in sublime fashion from line one:  “Gyrate it till you’ve had your fill/Just like a pneumatic grill!”  Love to this day how Fred spaces out “pneumatic.”  But what about the ladies, those wigged wonders of warble?  Oh the voice is still strong in each, but now those lustrous harmonies sparkle rather than sear.


“Dry County”–Sweet and warm biscuits washed down with a cold and sweaty soda.  I bought Cosmic Thing the week of release–all of 12 at the time, I was–and I thought “Dry County” was just the bee’s knees with extra cottage cheese.  Goofy yet somehow riveting.  Now, I regard it as goofy and enjoyable, but not unmissable.  In other words, if Cosmic Thing is a party I just arrived at, I won’t go out of the way to greet “Dry County” when I see it in the corner drinking punch.  (But I will take a running leap at, say, “Channel Z.”  Big ol’ hugs and all.)

The squonking music may do it in for most people, evocative as it is of a Dr. Seuss character in the throes of heatstroke.  For me, it’s Keith’s wacked-out angel food cake vocals.  The chorus absolutely works, though, at a Doozer-like level of dedication. 


“Deadbeat Club”–Originally titled “There Is a River,” which sounds far more fitting for Phil Collins than the B-52’s, “Deadbeat Club” is an ode to the carefree days of salad in Athens, where the band and their peers wore nightgowns in broad daylight and danced to the music threaded in the wind while waiting for the streetlight to change.  This is the closest the album gets to a mournful song, but thankfully “Deadbeat Club” avoids nostalgia, which is almost always a kiss of death for artists and was–lest we forget–a recognized medical condition in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Then again, the American Psychiatric Association had homosexuality on the books as a mental disorder all the way up until 1973, so…fuck doctors.

Cindy and Kate save the vocal histrionics  (such as they are) for the straightforward chorus, with some help from the deadpan club of Fred and Keith.  Elsewhere, the duo is measured and enrapturing, stretching syllables and telling an extraordinary story.  The “We were wi-i-ild girls” bridge vise-grips me every time.  As does “Anyone we can/We’re gonna find somethin’.”  I don’t care if you belong to a club of just one, that line right there is real talk.

I only recently learned that Normaltown is an actual neighborhood in Athens.  This whole time I thought they just made the place name up as a gentle jibe at the straight and narrows who couldn’t make neither head nor hair of those “strange” kids. 

Love Shack”–Gay nightclubs, breeder weddings, seedy karaoke nights–“Love Shack” is inescapable.  As the song that brought the B’s back into the public eye, I respect the song forever.  As an overlong Mr. Potato Song (the single edit is better than the original) it is one of the most divisive pop tracks of the past thirty years.  I’ll never forget the Spice Girls being asked by Rolling Stone what their most hated tune of all-time was, and the one that ended up marrying that football/soccer player replied, “‘Love Shack.’  I’d say it to their fucking face, I don’t care.”  REBEL REBEL!  Damn, trim the claws, kitty, ‘fore ya hurt somebody.  I get giddy thinking about what Fred Schneider would have said to any of the Spice Girls in their collective disgusting face.

“Love Shack” is so overplayed that its unique quality is now almost completely ignored.   The verses are abnormally structured compared to most songs that were played on the radio not just in the late 1980s but in any decade.  After the intro, with Fred and Cindy, the band firmly settled into a nice chicken scratch groove, we have verse one.  Five lines in toto, Cindy starting it off and then being joined by Kate halfway through.  Fred takes over with his auto braggadocio as the girls GPS it up behind him, until we hit the first instance of that hay-jumping chorus. 

Verse two is eight lines:  two for Fred, two for Kate, and Cindy singing both of her lines twice.  Chorus, then verse three where Fred has a quartet of lines for us, including the “whole shack shimmies!” breather, after which everyone starts moving around and around and around and are you carsick yet?  Kate and Cindy come back in to bookend Fred before Keith’s mini-solo, which is just an excuse for everyone to frug.  Fred repeats, with slight variation, his very first parts on the song, before the refrain hops back in and then dooooooooowwwwwwwn….dooooowwwwn.  Okay, it ain’t as cool as the “Rock Lobster”…anything, but “Love Shack” must be admired for its unpredictable momentum.  (The only song in their canon comparable to it by this standard is “Devil In My Car,” way back on Wild Planet.) This song was truly the result of a catch-as-catch-can jam by a band apart back together again just pleased as pickles to be making music together.  Shit happens.  Sometimes people yell “Tin roof!  Rusted” and it doesn’t mean anything other than they were having a ton o’ fun.  No one was trying to concoct a smash hit, ’cause only a mad alchemist would think this formula was can’t-miss.  And the B-52’s are not mad.  You grant that.

“Junebug”–Second-most notable nugget about “Junebug” is that it was used in a Target commercial, another thing the B’s have in common with Devo.  Most notable nugget, “Junebug” was the first song the band wrote after their hiatus.  I love the infectious insect groove, but it’s ultimately gormless pop.  Is Fred trying to seduce a bug?  I dunno.

“Roam”–The second smash hit, with lyrics courtesy of their old pal Robert Waldrop.  (Is that a call-back to “Dirty Back Road” in the first verse, then?)  Also popular for commercials.  Just like “52 Girls” in that Kate and Cindy will command your complete attention for minutes using nothing but their natural voices.  That last minute is kinda sorta heavenly.

Keith Strickland is no Ricky Wilson, and he shouldn’t be.  Ricky’s playing had a jagged edge, a rawer tone, and while Keith sounds for lack of a better word “smoother” than his school chum ever was, he shares Wilson’s ingenuity with the instrument.  His guitar is a true partner with the girls here, an aid, an abettor. 

“Bushfire”–Sex.  Homo, hetero, all of it.  In one not-neat shit-hot package.  Kickin’ up sawdust and saying the word “field” frequently, I approve!

“Channel Z”–The first single.  Didn’t set the world alight, but it’s far better than “Love Shack” and just a bit superior to “Roam.”  Showcases the politcally/socially/ecologically-concerned B’s, as all three take turns hurling crap at the mass media’s fever for frivolity.  Shit ain’t changed.

Fred barks out, as he is wont to do, a litany of unpleasantries in the world then and today:  toxic fog, “laser bombs,” ozone holes and space junk.  Wait, space junk?  Wasn’t that a Devo song?  Well yeah, but that’s a general term for debris in outer space.  Fred actually says “space junk” three times in the song and the second time (2:47)  he delivers it in direct imitation of Bob Mothersbaugh.  That nasally tone is an unmissable mimic/tribute.  Fuck yeah, Fred! 

“Topaz”–Ah, a world without Channel Z.  Topaz is visible, sure, but azure and cyan as well.  Might be a little too much cyan, actually.  Hmm.  Kate and Cindy are fertility goddesses.  Keith and Fred still the Deadpan Club back there.  That flourish of synth and guitar when the “cities by the sea” come into view, wow….

“Follow Your Bliss”–Anti-climactic instrumental (well, the women do provide a couple choir practices) that always put me in mind of a trip to the grocery, pushin’ the cart around, wishing things weren’t so many calories.  Sigh.

SMOOTH NOODLE MAPS
JUNE 1990

The CD version of Smooth Noodle Maps features a fold-out that shows the band members emerging from a computer simulation of Jupiter.  Which is a cosmic thing, indeed.  But where the B-52’s went artistically and commercially right, the Spuds had their breathing apparatus malfunction and their satellite break apart and descend at a deadly pace back to Earth, where it hit some chick named Sally in an alley.  Circle of life.  See, Devo thought space was the place–maybe that literally riotous show they played with Sun Ra before making it big had something to do with it–but the B-52’s knew that the space in between was far more crucial.

I heard once, and liked to believe, that the title refers to the texture of the human brain.  Other sources cite a nutty mathematical system.  I would research it more, but mediocrity only deserves so much of my time.  Or yours, for that matter. 

A Swedish proverb begs, “Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I really need it.”  When I listen to Smooth Noodle Maps, all I can think is, Man, I love Devo so much right now

“Stuck In a Loop”–This is a Kim Wilde throwaway, you sons o’ bitches.  I wanna get stuck in a loop, I’ll go read Artemis Fowl or watch an episode of Misfits. 

“Post Post Modern Man”–My fella spud Patrick loves this track.  Straight-facedly thinks that had it come earlier in their career, it would have been a fair smash.  I think it has purge fluid leaking from its nose.  Although Jerry and Mark singing together is always kinda cute.  Jerry’s all down in the canyon, Mark’s all in the hot air balloon.  They ain’t no K & C Show, though.

 “When We Do It”–Oh yes it’s sexy sex time.  Sexi luv?  Shut yo’ cupcake hole!  Thank you Devo for taking the most fantastically fulfilling activity that can be enjoyed by two or more human beings at one time and strip it of everything that makes it fantastic and fulfilling.  “When We Do It” will kill impending orgasms faster than the thought of a fully-clothed Ann Coulter.  I can, after I’ve cleaned up the vomit and popped a breath mint, appreciate the theme of the track, the importance of mutual sexual empathy.

“Spin the Wheel”–Spaces the great potato-shaped wheel, once spun, will never land upon:

–Clever Phrase
–Nifty Idea
–Insightful Observation
–Humorous Remark
–Memorable Melody

“Mountain Dew”–Cover of a folk ditty by Bonnie Dobson.  Remember the version of Devo that did good cover songs?

“A Change is Gonna Cum”–Remember the version of Devo that did good songs?  From Shout on they’ve just been a shitball rollin’ down that hill, gathering greater momentum and more shit, building into a gigantic fecal reminder of how far they’ve wandered from the path they once traversed with equal dollops of intelligence, irreverence and passion.  I mean, “cum’?  Even Prince would have said “U R lame” for that one.  What’s sad is the only thoughtful lyric of the entire album can be found on this song:  “Every in-between time looks like a perfect picture/It seems to last forever/Because it’s standing still.”  That’s good.  Really good.  Too good.  I think it was “borrowed.”

“The Big Picture”–If you, like me, believe in the possibility of alternate timelines where different versions of ourselves live out variations of our lives based on the decisions we did or did not make, you may understand “The Big Picture” as Gary Numan in a timeline where he had no talent, taste, or shame.

“Pink Jazz Trancers”–Are you trying to brainwash me, Devo?  I thought you loved all the good spuds!  Or has disillusionment turned us all into ninnies and/or twits in your eyes?  Did someone clone Mark and Jerry and those clones have been writing and producing the last three albums?  So much query!

“Jimmy”–Jimmy is a vituperative shithead.  People who can accurately be described with such words tend to inspire good songs.  I would not call “Jimmy” good, either as a song or person, but held up to rest of Smooth Noodle Maps, it comes off smelling like “Sunshine of Your Love.”

I mean, it’s funny.  Which is important. If you’re not gonna worry about making music that’s shrewd, carnal, or challenging–and clearly Devo by 1990 had watched the ship sail, then torpedoed it–you may as well elicit a chuckle or two.  I told you about Jimmy already.  First sentence.  Well, that asshole got his and somebody else’s to boot!  Jimmy won’t ever beat his wife, torment his child, kick the dog, or torture his employees ever again, ’cause he is in a wheelchair and Devo don’t care, which is convenient ’cause of the rhyming thing.  Or maybe it’s just Jerry who doesn’t care.  I mean who is he to speak for everyone else?

“Devo Has Feelings Too”–Y’all had talent once upon a time as well.  Y’all once possessed the ability to discern between what made a song good and what made it bad.  You understood the difference between a toasted bagel and a burned one, and that no amount of cream cheese could salvage the latter.

“The king’s been dead/They chopped off his head in ’63.”  Again with the JFK obsession.

“Dawghaus”Please don’t start off the song by barking.

“Owwwwoooooo!”

GODDAMNIT.

Written and recorded too stultifyingly for me to even wail on uselessly about the willful misspelling.  Bob1 pulls off some Sesame Street-style string yanks, but nothing can salvage this ugly Ohio terrier.

But, but…this guy is in the “dawghaus”!  Courtesy of his woman!  ‘Cause he was out all night!  I bet he used to party with Jimmy!  Doesn’t he know what happened to his bygone buddy?  He’s non-ambulatory and five dudes in ugly pastel suits could not be any less concerned.  Why have you not realized by now that “Jimmy” is a metaphor for Devo’s recording career?  






As the eighties give way to the nineties, the B-52’s and Devo are antipodes of each other.  One group is riding massive success, the other sputtering out into museum-status.

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!
SHOUT
10/9/1984
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.
TOTAL DEVO
5/1988
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.