DEVO: Smooth Noodle Maps US DLX CD 
- Stuck In A Loop
- Post-Post Modern Man
- When We Do It
- Spin The Wheel
- Morning Dew
- A Change Is Gonna Cum
- The Big Picture
- Pink Jazz Trancers
- DEVO Has Feelings Too
- Post-Post Modern Man [macro post modern mix]
- Post-Post Modern Man [neo post modern mix]
- Post-Post Modern Man [ultra post modern dub]
Well, this has been a long time coming. I’ve only entertained notions of hearing this in the last year or two. For 23 of the last 25 years, I have been content to sit this one out! The appearance in the bins of “Smooth Noodle Maps” while browsing in Lunchbox Records was the point to no longer stay my hand. I would now finally hear the DEVO album that had scared me off of them for many years back in 1990. But the drama began first with the single released from this album.
The CD single for “Post-Post Modern Man” came down the pike in advance of the album itself in 1990. I bought it as I was glad to soak up domestic CD singles in a world where $10-12 imports were the norm. I was only happy until I listened to it! Seven interminable mixes of a song that overstayed its welcome the first time one heard it! It sure sounded like the band had been boning up on their folk music canon with this knockoff of the hoary “If I Had A Hammer!” At the time, I wrote a scathing, writing-them-off review of it in the fanzine I was putting out with a friend. I never bothered with the album. This changed last week.
It began inauspiciously with “Stuck in A Loop.” The bright, glaring digital stacked digital synths and strictly by the numbers bass synth loops and drums may have been commentary on the title of the song, but the overall vibe clearly illustrates why DEVO began losing their luster at a precipitous rate once they found their new voice on 1980’s “Freedom Of Choice” album. That album was a fresh sound of 1980 but a decade later, almost all pop music had appropriated its clean, plastic mix of synths and dance beats. Until Mark Mothersbaugh began singing on this track, it could have been any contemporary dance pop of the time. Let’s say… The Jets. Generic R+B/new jack swing/ whatever the hell they called it back then.
With the compositional modus operandi having been adopted far and wide, the only way that this one time confrontational band could differentiate itself was with their once-provocative artistic point of view. Unfortunately, apart from the conceit of the title “Stuck In A Loop,” which referenced programming techniques extrapolated to describe emotional states, that was as good as things got here.
The pedestrian guitar solos that closed out this song also pointed out to how the mighty had fallen. Where they once used heavily treated guitars to bracing effect, the tired riffing here was an embarrassment to the once innovative group. Both times I have listened to this song I have checked the playing time around the 3:00 mark because by that point it really sounded as if the track had lasted twice that time. When it seemed to finally end at 3:51 it belied the tracks actual brevity.
Elsewhere, the LP version of “Post-Post Modern Man” at under the three minute mark, seemed to just end with an abrupt edit like some half-finished song they couldn’t be bothered to complete. “When We Do It” was a truly banal song from these once-sexually frustrated geeks. The morse-code synths that drove this song, were the first urgent sounding thing here; too bad about the lyrics! The rest of the track’s sound design was just as tired as the lyrics.
The nadir must have surely been the obvious cover song, “Morning Dew.” It sounded like a late 60s West Coast Psych song but I was shocked to find out that one Bonnie Dobson had recorded it in 1976; a good nine years later than it sounded, from the lyrics. Everyone from Lulu to The Grateful Dead [let that sink in good and hard…] have covered this song. I can’t imagine why DEVO felt the need. It stuck out like a sore thumb here, that’s for certain! The faux harpsichord does it no favors.
The one slightly odd thing here was “Pink Jazz Trancers,” which had a queer varispeed vocal hook and a jazz piano middle eight that managed to sound slightly inspired to break the increasingly rigid DEVO mold. There’s a brief bit of dialogue between Mark and Gerald prior to the annoying “Jimmy” which takes aim at a far smaller target than this band once made their stock in trade. The refrain of “Jimmy’s in a wheelchair and I don’t care” coupled with a truly annoying synth hook just conspire to lie on the ground like a dead opossum, reeking in the mid day sun. The closing “Dawghaus” was the once proud band descending into novelty material.
Adding insult to injury were the three [long] remixes of “Post-Post Modern Man” added to the brief running time of this typically scant album by the band. they add over 15 minutes of filler mix amounting to almost a 50% increase in the disc’s running time! A scandal. The fact that this album can make the anemic “Shout” sound like a proper DEVO album in retrospect illuminates the crux of the problem here. By 1990 they had given up trying to get their point of view across, and instead they were trying for another freak hit like “Whip It.” Much like yesterday’s artist, Thomas Dolby, when unexpected hits nip at the heels of performers who have perhaps envisioned a less hectic fringe existence, the unexpected taste of success has a way of corrupting the act to their detriment.
It took Thomas Dolby nine years until he gave up attempting to achieve another freak pop-funk quasi-novelty single and returned to his natural songwriting voice. It would take DEVO another 20 years before they could finally leave the debacle of this career-killer of an album behind and release the “Something For Everybody” album in 2010 that reintroduced them to a new generation of sarcastic wiseguys and malcontents to whom the band rightly should have been seers. But that’s an album I’ve yet to hear. Still. So after this album, I should make obtaining a copy a “sooner rather than later” phenomenon.
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