Recorded under the auspices of pioneering producer Brian Eno, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was seen as a call to arms by some and became an underground hit. Others found Devo’s sound, imagery, and material threatening; -Rolling Stone, for example, called the group fascists. But such criticism missed the point: Devo dramatized conformity, emotional repression, and dehumanization in order to attack them, not to pay tribute to them.
While 1979’s Duty Now for the Future was another strong effort, the band broke through to the mainstream with 1980’s Freedom of Choice, which contained the gold-selling single “Whip It” and represented a peak in their sometimes erratic songwriting. The video for “Whip It” became an MTV smash, juxtaposing the band’s low-budget futuristic look against a down-home farm setting and hints of S&M. However, Devo’s commercial success proved to be short-lived. 1981’s New Traditionalists was darker and more serious, not what the public wanted from a band widely perceived as a novelty act, and Devo somehow seemed to be running out of new ideas. Problems plagued the band as well: Bob Lewis successfully sued for theft of intellectual property after a tape of Mothersbaugh was found acknowledging Lewis’ role in creating de-evolution philosophy, and the sessions for 1982’s Oh, No! It’s Devo were marred by an ill-considered attempt to use poetry written by would-be Ronald Reagan assassin John Hinckley, Jr. as lyrical material.
As the ’80s wore on, Devo found itself relegated to cult status and critical indifference, not at all helped by the lower quality of albums like 1984’s Shout and 1988’s Total Devo. With the band’s shift toward electronic drums, Alan Myers departed in 1986, to be replaced by ex-Sparks and Gleaming Spires drummer David Kendrick. Devo recorded another album of new material, Smooth Noodle Maps, in 1990, after which its members began to concentrate on other projects. Mark Mothersbaugh moved into composing for commercials and soundtracks, writing theme music for MTV’s Liquid Television, Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and the Jonathan Winters sitcom Davis Rules. He also played keyboards with the Rolling Stones, programmed synthesizers for Sheena Easton, and sang backup with Debbie Harry. Buoyed by this success, Mothersbaugh opened a profitable production company called Mutato Muzika, which employed his fellow Devo bandmates. Jerry Casale, meanwhile, who directed most of the band’s videos, directed video clips for the Foo Fighters’ “I’ll Stick Around” and Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World.” No reunions were expected, but as Devo’s legend grew and other bands acknowledged their influence (Nirvana covered “Turnaround,” while “Girl U Want” has been recorded by Soundgarden, Superchunk, and even Robert Palmer), their minimalistic electro-pop was finally given new exposure on six dates of the 1996 Lollapalooza tour, to enthusiastic fan response.
The following year, Devo released a CD-ROM game (The Adventures of the Smart Patrol) and accompanying music soundtrack, in addition to playing selected dates on the Lollapalooza tour. 2000 saw the release of a pair of double-disc Devo anthologies: the first was the half-hits/half-rarities Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology (on Rhino), while the second was the limited-edition mail-order release Recombo DNA (on Rhino’s Handmade label), the latter of which was comprised solely of previously unreleased demos. In 2001, the Mothersbaugh and Casale brothers reunited under the name the Wipeouters for a one-off surf release, P’Twaaang!!! Casale would introduce his Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers solo project with the 2006 album Mine Is Not a Holy War. It was that same year that the band teamed with Disney for Dev2.0, a band/project/album that involved a set of pre-teens re-recording classic Devo tracks, although some lyrics were adjusted to be more ‘family friendly.’ Devo got back to releasing their own material in 2007 with the downloadable single “Watch Us Work It,” but a new, promised album failed to materialize. In 2008 they returned to Akron for a rare show and in support of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign with all proceeds going towards the Summit County Democratic Party. After deluxe 2009 reissues of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Freedom of Choice sent the band back on the road to play said albums live in their entirety, work resumed on a new album. By the end of the year, it was announced that the band had once again signed with Warner for an album originally titled “Fresh.” An internet campaign where fans got to choose the full-length’s 12 tracks inspired the 2010 effort’s final title, Something for Everybody. ~ Steve Huey & Greg Prato, Rovi
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