DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE
In the ditch, police found five hazmat suits and an Englishman who insisted he was a quark. He was asked to perform a funny walk and upon refusal, was beaten viciously.
In the studio, Devo were skater tots under the auspices of General Boy (producer Ken Scott acting as his stand-in, most days) with neither boards nor ramps in sight but an insistence on safety nevertheless, for one never knows when one (or more) may be called into duty.
“Devo Corporate Anthem”–The first of two Mark-ed up instrumentals, both clocking in under 90 seconds. Perfect for making a roller derby team feel real important, but I say shoot higher! Plastic people in a plastic world all gather at the Devolympic Games, where medals of tin, lead and chrome are handed out to the athletes who managed not to quit, pass out or die during competition.
“Clockout”–Raw, to be kind; underproduced, to be accurate; missing heart muscle, to be mean. Alan Meyers was the band’s secret weapon, “The Human Metronome” they called him, but there’s a big difference between “stealth” and “timid.”
Shame, ’cause Jerry always piles the relish on the dog extra high when attacking the big-wig fat-cat son-bitches who hated on him and his boys for having the balls to use their brains and the brains to use their balls.
“Timing X”–Not much to this, the second of two Mark-ed up instrumentals. It’s nice if no coffee’s handy.
“Wiggly World”–When Patrick and I saw Devo live in DC, 2005, we were even more excited than could be normally expected, as the spuds were including “Wiggly World” in their setlists alongside the other “hits.” Dub-dub is bike rack ‘n’ roll, a simplified “Jocko Homo” that jacks lines from Shadduck’s tract outright (“Wear gaudy colors or avoid display”) in aid of making the classroom a more welcome environment for those students who may be freaked out a bit by descending chords but don’t mind the occasional stormtrooper beam fight. Outstanding!
Then Josh Freese had to fuck up his wrist not enough to cancel the DC show, but just enough to drop the rather demanding “Wiggly World” from that night’s set. Which wouldn’t have happened if he’d used his hands for praying, like a good Christian soldier.
I’d rather live in a wiggly world than not; it’s movement, leastways. I can be still when I’m dead.
(I am the only human being in the history of Earth to hear Bob2’s super baritone here–“It’s never straight up and down!”–and be reminded of Danny Wood’s spoken turn on “Step By Step” by New Kids on the Block.)
“Blockhead”–Oh shush, I’ve always been a ravenous fan of music. The crap, the credible, the dull, the delicious, it’s all passed through these doors. Furthermore, the way I’m wired, more of it sticks for me than for the average absorber.
Another 7/8 martinet jam, written by the bros ‘Baugh.
Now that’s a true blockhead; none of this perfectly rounded Charlie Brown nonsense.
“Strange Pursuit”–Beserk damn bursts of regenerative voltage. Beepy-boopy to haunt the pizza-fueled nightmares of a sleepy Snoopy.
Nerd love. It’s no secret. “Intersecting love lines drew us closer every day.” Shit, dude likely has graphs and charts crafted, sketches, a one-act play of how their first date should (no damn it, will) go if he ever goes beyond the crying wank stage and actually approaches this girl about maybe going out and having some pizza and garlic dough balls, or maybe a movie or something.
The last lines shouted by Mark in the throes of tumescent torment beg for the lyric sheet.
Darling i’m dazzled
But you know i’m too frazzled
(Jenn hears: Dialin’ up the afterbirth, cadavers in the frazzle)
I’ve taken my mind apart
And lost some of the pieces
(Take apart the afterbirth and put it on a pizza)
It never gets tough
When you’re gettin’ real rough
(It never gets tough when you get into her bra)
The ending is no joke. It’s a heartbeat, yeah maybe even a love beat, denting the sternum as the moment of truth nears. What happens next…is anyone’s guess….
“S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain)”–Superheroes suffer, too. But while a lame-ass band like Five For Fighting will take that neat-o concept and turn it into a sappy, spineless, queasy and quivering ballad about how even uber-men need hugs too, Devo looks into the idol’s head. Literally.
Whether it’s the external pressures of keeping the world from collapsing into a Caligulian chasm, or the internal pressures caused by a further mutation of the very same demented force that transformed them from mere man to something other than, the noble freak cannot persevere. Saved so many, just to lose himself in the end. We’re all devo, then.
“Triumph of the Will”–Rapist or just really horny guy? Why does Jerry Casale sing like I imagine a statue would sing, emotionless face tilted up just so, chin jutting out, eyes fixed on some grand sunset in the distance? The line “It is the thing females ask for/When they convey the opposite” (or as Jerry Statue says it, “Op-oh-sit”) has me thinking this is the POV of a sexual assault master who never learned the subtle distinctions of human interaction and the agreed-upon rules of communication between procreative creatures.
Statue Jerry ain’t a bad guy at all, really, just has some things he wants to get across, unsavory as they may be. I don’t judge you, Statue Jerry. We all have our stories to tell.
“The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise”–I dunno what said surprise was. That anyone would ever love a mutated freak? Oh the 70s, what a time you must have been. John Merrick would get so much poon flung in his direction if he had been unveiled in this viral age.
There’s a real 50s feel to this one, though, a real “let’s race for pinks!” vibe about the whole shebang, especially Bob1’s buried-alive guitar line during the verse and Mark’s elastic “ah-hoo”s. Only the wavy synth dates the track definitively. Wall of Sound melted down by gamma rays.
“Pink Pussycat”–Spoiler alert: this is not about an oddly-colored feline. In case the stated desires to “sleep inside you,” “lick you clean,” and “mess you up” were just too tenebrous. It would be sexy if Mark weren’t singing with mouse guts in his yawp, but somehow I feel that wasn’t the intent anyway.
Maybe fun definite fact: Mark borrowed the word “stroft”–to mean, a combination of strong and soft–from a toilet paper commercial purporting the product to be just that.
“Secret Agent Man”–Ooh, swing and a miss. I prefer Johnny Rivers’ version if only because he made it sound like the title was “Secret Asian Man.”
“Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”–Devo’s second and final medley. Perhaps they realized what happens when you try and follow up perfection. (That’s why perfection isn’t really a very desirable state to attain. You literally cannot improve on it. What fun is that?)
Clock in,…out…left right left right…in out in out….duty now. We must repeat. Poor Bob2, why’s he always the janitor in these secret complexes where revolutionary plans are being developed?
Wait? What’s that? What’s that? The Great Pumpkin? Shit no, stupid! It’s Mr. DNA, aka Mr. Kamikaze, the altruistic pervert! Tomato juice for the Smart Patrol, what good young men they’ve been! Superheroes must maintain all of their strengths. Superheroes must be willing to die for what they believe in for life to go on. Strap on your helmets! Lower your visors! Preserve the strands!
“Red Eye”–Whew. Well I wouldn’t blame “Red Eye” for being mediocre coming after that dazzling celebration of conscription but it’s actually a lot better than just that. Music to chase rapidly accelerating transit to. Love can dumb us down to the point where the irreversible laws of physics are ignored if not outright disrespected.
Devo’s sophomore record was anything but a retread of what had done so well before, which earned them not only big points for guts, but also rewarded the listener with an album that, while far from flaw-free, hit its targets with deadlier accuracy.
Wild Planet is not a rehash of “The Yellow Album,” but it doesn’t wander off too far from that pylon-ed path. (When you consider that several of the tracks had been in the bands repertoire from damn near the beginning, this is a less vexing sin.) There are missteps. There are songs that can be confidently classified as among their greatest. There is also the definite sense of, “How much longer can they do this?”
“Party Out of Bounds”–The descriptor “party band” is often intended as a reductionist label, but the B’s embraced that tag for its essential truth. Devo wrote songs about a band of young suburbanites using science as the weapon in the ultimate fight to save the world; “Party Out of Bounds” concerns the unique problem faced by inveterate party crashers who have bumrushed one shitty shindig.
Both songs are greater than tacos. And tacos…are pretty damn great.
Robot Ricky Code BADxG#C# produces a sound that Patrick once likened to the No Wave movement which had supernova-ed in its own special patch of stars a few years prior. I had never thought of that before, but there’s definitely some James Chance in those spiked slashes.
“Dirty Back Road”--Robert Waldrop returns to write more thinly-filmed nastiness. J.G. Ballard took the car/sex metaphor to an extreme, but here it’s nothing more than some anal on the beach. Why crash the whip when you can whip some ass? Best of all, in a group with three gay men, the girls sing it. Why not, though, Kate and Cindy were pretty much born to rub their voices together.
The unequal-yet-free two-note to three exchange between keys and strings is proof that kissing is really the best part of the whole experience though, and should not be overlooked.
“Runnin’ Around”--After screaming out of the gates with peerless precision, the band stumbles. A dopey “baby” song saved entirely by Ricky Wilson’s never-standard angles.
“Give Me Back My Man”–Then they bounce back so hard the sky snaps. Cindy solo turns would become hallmarks of B-52s albums, and it could be argued that this forlorn love song twirls prettiest of all. The lyrics go from mellow yearning to imploring to potential hopelessness, drowning in found sound all around. No song with the chorus “I’ll give you fish/I’ll give you candy/I’ll give you-hoo/Everything I have in my hand!” should qualify as heartbreaking. But here it is. Even the way Cindy sings said chorus is soul-rending; there’s a sense she’s stretching those syllables out just to buy herself more time, that maybe just maybe there’s still a chance, all she needs is time.
“Private Idaho”–Given its due as one of the greatest songs of the 1980s by Pitchfork Media, and covered surprisingly poorly by the otherwise sure-handed Sleater Kinney during select live shows in 2002, “Private Idaho” is still likely best known as the inspiration for Gus Van Sant’s Your Own Private Idaho.
The details are irrelevant in this case; the fact that it remains known is all that matters. A seamless example of what made them a great band: Fred’s barking, Kate and Cindy’s cloud-shaming harmonies, Ricky’s singular guitar style and Keith’s workmanlike drums giving no hint that he was, along with his old high school buddy, the group’s sonic visionary.
When art this fully realized hits your life, that life is spun but good. “Private Idaho” is the red velvet cupcake of rock and roll, ludicrously tasty and irresistibly fashioned to boot. The guitar is so inventively placed and played, the vocal interplay so effortlessly vivacious, the lyrics so goddamn Dada you’ll cry for your mama. There are people in my life who don’t like this song and those are people I consider “acquaintances.” Even my mother likes this song.
“Devil In My Car”–A longtime live favorite gets immortalized. Too bad it’s damned!
The burn is slow in this one, indeed, but the switch-ups are just enough to keep the lactic acid at bay.
“Quiche Lorraine”–Fred has this poodle, ya see, and oh does he love that poodle! She’s so little and fashionable and did I mention green, and her name is “Quiche Lorraine” or “QUICHE LA POODLE!” Every day they pound the streets, owner and pet to us, but equals to each other. It’s really so wonderful to see…to see…Quiche Lorraine running off with a Great Dane! Oh Fred. He’s crestfallen. Have you ever seen a boy so sad? Uh oh, now he’s bitter. Such rancor! Fred, you can’t mean those things, didn’t you and Quiche have such wonderful times together? Remember the park? The ice cream social? Fuck you too, asshole, I hope you can’t sleep for a week because you’re haunted by visions of your precious little two-inch tall poodle getting rammed by a big ol’ Great Dane!
“Strobe Light”–A perennial fan favorite that I just don’t dig on that much. Ricky’s “solo” is again the highlight. I get why people like this song, it’s classic sexy-silly, but Fred as Casanova is too funny to stand.
“53 Miles West of Venus”–Ah, this is more like it. A not-quite instrumental, this is Ricky showing the keybs around the town they both like to pretend is Neptune in a silver Cadillac they both like to pretend is a rocket ship. Sampled to great effect by underground hip hop group the Arsonists some years back, “Venus” is by turns spooky and loopy, and unforgettable.