Songs 20-11 will be up on Tuesday; 10-1 on Wednesday; and the Worst list on Thursday.
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
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?”
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.
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 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
Little squeaking softly crying
Strength in numbness
It is vital to snap apart, diverge gently
The sky will always be my weakness
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
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.
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
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:
“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.
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.