Record Review: DEVO – Hardcore DEVO Vol. 1

The Limited Edition in all its glory…

The Limited Edition in all its glory…

DEVO: Hardcore DEVO Vol. 1 LTD US CD [1990]

  1. Mechanical Man
  2. Auto Modown
  3. Space Girl Blues
  4. Social Fools [ver. 1]
  5. Soo Bawls [ver. 1]
  6. Satisfaction [ver. 1]
  7. Jocko Homo [ver. 1]
  8. Golden Energy
  9. Buttered Beauties
  10. Midget
  11. I’m A Potato
  12. Uglatto
  13. Stop Look And Listen
  14. Ono
  15. Mongoloid [ver. 1]

When this CD first appeared 23 years ago, I was taking pains to avoid DEVO following the absolutely horrendous “Post-Post-Modern Man” single that was so bad, that to this day I have never heard the “Smooth Noodle Maps” album that its from. Keep in mind, that from 1982 onward, DEVO were skating on thin ice with me. I skipped 1984’s “Shout” at the time, and when I finally got the Infinite Zero CD used in the new millennium, I found out it was with fairly good reason. After that album stiffed, it looked like the spud boys were gone back to Akron, but they managed to release 1988’s “Total DEVO” album after getting signed to Enigma Records that I actually enjoyed quite a bit.

But the lead off single from their followup album was so lacking, I completely ignored DEVO for a good decade. That means that DEVO’s Rykodisc catalog following the CD release of their legendary “E-Z Listening Disc” went completely under my radar due to bad feelings about the “Smooth Noodle Maps” material. When the band ceased to exist in the early 90s, I felt it was probably for the best at the time.

I saw this CD at the record show I went to last weekend and, truth be told, I felt that missing these early recordings on Ryko was probably short sighted of me at the time, and I resolved to buy them if I could ever come across affordable copies of these out of print albums. Listening to the first volume of Hardcore DEVO now just points out how singular ahead of the curve these wise guys were in the milieu of 1974. It was unusual for what can best be described as a satirical conceptual art project to have evolved into an actual rock band, for lack of a better career path at the time. That they managed to actually sell records and have a holy hit single is thoughtfood for future scholars of pop.

The usual cover

The usual cover

The collection of music here were all 4-track demos recorded in Akron when no one was listening. Some of these songs have stood the test of time as DEVO classics. To this day, they probably don’t do a show without the attendee hearing “Mongoloid,” “Jocko Homo” and their great deconstruction of “Satisfaction.” I recall Brian Eno [who produced their debut album] complaining that the group were so doggedly determined in the studio to follow the template of these demos that he found the experience of working with them somewhat exasperating.

On the other hard, when reviewing his achievements as a producer in a talk at the 2011 Moogfest, Eno singled out DEVO for their startling contribution to the tapestry of rock music. He has a good point there. The conceptual subject matter that 70% of their material deals with is fairly unprecedented for rock. How many other musicians in 1974 were tackling the really big subject? Being, the fact that the human race is only a hair’s breadth away [in the cosmic scheme of things] from being cave-dwelling primates content to throw their feces at their enemies. Of course, the other 30% of their material dealt with being horny nerds who couldn’t get laid! In that respect, they kept more than a toe in the traditional subject matter waters of rock and roll!

“Mechanical Man” sports two intros and the second of which will be instantly familiar with anyone who has seen their classic video for “Jocko Homo.” It’s jarring not to hear the intro to that song instead of “Mechanical Man.” “Auto Modown” is a queer quasi-reggae-on-synths number whose lyrics I can’t begin to decipher.

Some of these tunes would get re-recorded as B-side material. “Social Fools” and “Soo Bawls” will be familiar to longtime DEVOtees who managed to grab the early singles. I have to give full sympathy to Brian Eno, who was tasked with recording his own version of “Social Fools” as used on the UK “Come Back Jonee”…and failed. This demo is 90% of the later B-side. The band knew exactly what they wanted to achieve in the studio; they just wanted professional quality. Poor Eno! Had he known that he was working with a band incapable of playing in the studio, he might have never signed on the dotted line.

“Midget” is a funky little number well known to any fans who are familiar with the group’s brilliant home videos. The master sounds like it had developed binder squeal a bit before it reached the elves of mastering. I don’t recall the song as heard on the “We’re All DEVO” classic home video as having that particular artifact. While some of the tracks here push the anti-rock envelope with lots of synthesizers, some tracks show the band as having almost climbed aboard the rock and roll train, lyrics notwithstanding.

“I’m A Potato” actually sounds like something one might hear on the radio, apart from the batty lyrics. Clearly, by the time of recording this, the band had crossed the line between dabblers and practitioners. “Uglatto” is another surprisingly catchy number if heard in the background so the even stranger lyrics are not focused on. Whoever compiled this collection had an editor’s eye, though. The proportions of avant to pop elements in the selection is acutely balanced, and the running time seems sprightly even for an unusually long 43 minute running time, by DEVO standards. In this new century, DEVO’s ideas seem more prescient than ever, so I’d better not dawdle any longer on the second [and third] volumes in this series.

 – 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Record Review: DEVO – Hardcore DEVO Vol. 1

  1. JT says:

    The second volume is almost twice as long with 20-ish tunes. There are some real gems on the second volume, but also a few misses. Overall, it’s less even than Vol.1, but well worth the investment if you liked the first one. Vol3. is all live material and is a fascinating document of their early years on stage, but it’s for, erm, hard-core fans only.

    But don’t forget the Ryko Hand-Made series offering from Devo, “Recombo DNA”. This is more of the same sort of material as on the Hardcore series, but this time it is pulled from their Warner and Enigma years. Again, some amazing stuff there for the serious Devotee.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Yes, I really should get that Recombo package but it’s out of my price range. Maybe I’ll get lucky again… 20 years later. But at 70, I’ll probably be more concerned where my next meal is coming from than with collecting New Wave.

      Like

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