Devo - Duty Now for the Future Music Album Reviews

Devo - Duty Now for the Future Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a spirited but uneven salvo from the Ohio pranksters’ campaign to reprogram American minds.

Sophomore albums are a doomed enterprise. Caught in the crossfire between the demands of your original fanbase, hungry for more of the same but slightly different, and the knee-jerk antagonism of critics, nursing a masochistic thirst to chronicle your inevitable fall from grace, the endeavor hinges on figuring out who to disappoint while keeping your ego intact. Devo learned this lesson the hard way with 1979’s Duty Now for the Future. Ever the innovative pranksters, the new-wave iconoclasts found a way to not only confuse fans and lose the critics, but shatter their own inflated confidence in the process. Consider this: Greatest Misses, a companion to 1990’s crowd-pleasing Greatest Hits, features seven of Duty Now for the Future’s 13 tracks—a confirmation of the colossal nature of their second-record flop. Even bassist Gerald “Jerry” Casale, usually the band’s most stalwart defender, would later admit it. “Album one is like the Bible—you make your statement once,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “What you do next is produce the goods—that is, show in substance what it’s all about. The criticism on the second album is that we didn’t do that.”

Depending on your love for the band at the time, this disproportionate hate might have been a blessing in disguise. In 1990, when they cherry-picked its tracks for Greatest Misses, Duty Now for the Future was still four years away from reissue, shelved by Warner Bros. until Henry Rollins sought to put it out on his own label. And what better, more perverse—more Devo—way to reward the faith of hardcore fans than to repackage their greatest failure alongside such obvious winners as the superior, gloriously sludgy “Booji Boy” mix of “Jocko Homo”?

Only a true Devotee could embrace this record, where art rock’s finest wore out the punchline on their way to defining new wave’s bleeding edge. To critics and the public at large, Devo got caught lacking on Duty Now for the Future, but the resultant surge of embarrassment was just the lift they needed to leave behind their infancy for greener pastures.

Before David Bowie introduced the band onstage at New York City venue Max’s Kansas City in 1977, calling them the “band of the future,” Devo had already amassed enough subversive cred to fuel multiple careers. They’d opened for Sun Ra at Cleveland radio station WMMS’ 1975 Halloween party, extending their 15-minute slot by jamming “Jocko Homo” into a 30-minute punk-rock riot that got them kicked off stage. The Truth About De-Evolution, the self-produced short film that would open their concerts to wild cheers from their cult-like audience (affectionately known as “spuds”), had charmed critics enough to win first prize at the 1977 Ann Arbor film festival. They’d even managed to update the Rolling Stones’ existentialist masterpiece “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” well enough to earn the approval of Mick Jagger himself. Playing it for the rock icon in a bid to win his consent for its inclusion on their debut, the band looked on as Jagger “stood up and started dancing around on this Afghan rug in front of the fireplace… the sort of rooster-man dance he used to do,” Casale remembered with awe in a 2017 interview. “I like it, I like it,” Jagger exclaimed, prancing across the floor to its dilapidated rhythms and frantic yelps, jumping down from his lofty perch to bounce around with the rest of the underground. 

Born in the working-class suburbs surrounding Akron, Ohio, Casale made a beeline for art school at Kent State University in 1966, eager to leave behind the rubber-factory town’s cultural malaise. “The Goodyear Museum, and the Soapbox Derby and McDonald’s and women in hair rollers beating their kids in supermarkets,” Casale would later groan to an interviewer regarding Akron’s all-American landscape. “Just reaction, without knowing what was going on. Getting fat, getting mellow, getting drugged out, getting married.”

In 1969, Casale sought out Mark Mothersbaugh, a printmaking student who’d made a name for himself by plastering campus with self-made decals. Taken with his drawing of an astronaut holding up a potato, Casale struck up a conversation on the hierarchy of vegetables. “Since we were both from working class families,” Mothersbaugh recalled, “we said, ‘Yeah we’re potatoes.’” We used it pejoratively and also [as] a ‘welcome comrade’ type thing. ‘Hello spud!’” With their long hair flowing free, united by a love of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, the two slipped into a clique of similarly minded art students, working on projects together in blissful ignorance that they were hurtling towards tragedy.

In a 2020 Rolling Stone interview commemorating the 1970 Kent State Massacre, Casale refers to the killings as the “beginning of my red pill moment.” Hundreds of students, including Casale and Mothersbaugh, had gathered on the university commons to rally against military expansion into Cambodia. Also among the crowd were Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, two first-year students who Casale had guided through registration as part of his work-study program. Claiming that they feared for their lives, Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on the unarmed protestors, leaving Krause, Miller, and two other students dead as ambulances arrived to attend to the nine wounded.

Casale walked away, spared from the hail of bullets but stripped of his idyllic dream of academia, or anywhere, as a safe haven. “I confronted the vast, illegitimate authority that pervaded American government and institutions of ‘higher learning’,” he later said. “Any illusion that the squeaky-clean idea, the ‘white hat’ exceptionalism of the brand known as America, had much truth to it was wiped away. I felt like I had unwittingly been complicit in the big lie.”

Slowly, Mothersbaugh and Casale assembled a patchwork ideology to expose it. Piecing together anthropology and psychic spillover from a motley of sources—The Beginning Was the End: How Man Came Into Being Through Cannibalism, a pseudoscientific book that theorized that homo sapiens had gone insane after consuming the brains of their Neanderthal forebears; an anti-evolution pamphlet titled Jocko-Homo Heavenbound; and repeated viewings of the 1932 sci-fi film Island of Lost Souls—Devo’s crusade to expose humankind’s regression to its most savage instincts slowly came into focus. Lyrics about a decaying world were joined with Casale’s blues-based bass riffs and Mothersbaugh’s experimental synthesizer playing, a mess of sci-fi squeals and squelches designed to imitate “V-2 rockets and mortar blasts and ray guns.” “De-evolution” became their gospel, and the band solidified into a razor-sharp quintet with the arrival of jazz-trained drummer-turned-human-metronome Alan Myers, followed by Bob 1 and Bob 2, the brothers of the band’s founders, on lead and rhythm guitars.

Devo’s bracing cyberpunk stomp quickly wormed its way through the underground, turning all the right heads as they began recording their soon-to-be-classic debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, with no less than avant-pop kingmaker Brian Eno. Eno’s utopian “studio as instrument” sensibilities would be almost entirely shrugged off by the ascendant band, relegated to background harmonies on “Uncontrollable Urge” and one or two splashes of synthesizer, but Devo’s intuition proved to be spot on: Audiences ate it up. Whether live, where eager crowds could be heard repeating “Jocko Homo”’s call and response chant night after night, or on late-night television, their message was spreading.

Though critics would lag behind in appreciation—in an essay about Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, perennial hater Lester Bangs couldn’t resist getting in a few digs at Devo, calling them a “shrill hive-multitracked voice of appeasement, like giggling mosquito larvae”—the band’s ballooning popularity assured them that the tipping point for de-evolution to reach critical mass was near at hand. So in early 1979, they set up in a Hollywood studio, ditched the lofty Eno for the hands-off Ken Scott (known for his work with Bowie and Supertramp), and got to work making good on Casale’s promise to NME: Devo were “getting the broom out to make way for the ’80s,” one year ahead of schedule.

No moment in Devo history captures the awkward hubris at the heart of the band’s messianic project better than Duty Now for the Future, the album that those sessions yielded. From the moment the nauseatingly cheesy triumphal march of “Devo Corporate Anthem” comes blurting out of the speakers, Duty Now reveals itself to be exactly the sort of half-baked provocation you might expect from a band of art students positioning themselves as the vanguard of a revolutionary movement to reprogram society via rock’n’roll—the kind of album made by and for people who would go on record saying, as Casale did in Melody Maker, with a straight face, “We are simply the only people really creating new music,” and, even more audaciously, “Pop music needs a big enema.”

Duty Now’s pop-music enema is indeed the work of a new-wave clean up crew. The brooms, however, are aimed squarely at their own past: Regardless of Casale’s taunts about creating new music, many of the album’s strongest songs are relics from their earliest days. Taking up their guitars like they never would again, Devo do their due diligence, codifying these well-worn favorites for the fans before they vanish beneath their Freedom of Choice-era energy domes. The versions here hit harder than anything on their Eno-soothed debut. The tight, explosively twitchy “Wiggly World” is the best of the bunch, leaping off the turntable and into your chest. Myers’ drums heave forward with a breathless immediacy, colliding headlong into the explosive growl of the Bobs’ guitars. Mothersbaugh sounds utterly fried, shouting one of Devo’s earliest mantras at the top of his lungs: “The fittest shall survive, yet the unfit may live!” This kind of bracing punk squall never goes out of style, but the prophetic skewerings of a vicious corporate hellscape—the deadpan portrait of a bumbling cog in the machine on “Blockhead,” “Clockout”’s swaggering mockery of “the biggest little business down on the block”—glow with a particularly inspired timelessness. Devo may be bidding bon voyage to an era of laser-targeted cultural criticism, but when they stay on message and turn up the amps, they simply can’t lose.

Duty Now’s fatal flaw is their insistence on expanding the juvenile sexual comedy of Are We Not Men?’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’).” The band’s at times breathtaking immaturity surges to the forefront, a minefield of cringe-worthy, unevolved schoolboy horniness that makes a full-album listen a lesson in patience for even the most hardened spud. Ahead of Duty Now’s release, Mothersbaugh claimed that it would contain “love songs,” but that’s a frightening way to think of “Triumph of the Will” and its leering misogynistic analysis of how “females” never know what they want. Equally dreadful is “Pink Pussycat,” where a chittering, disconcertingly violent lust to “touch your fur” and “tear your little ears off” manages to turn a perfectly great riff/turnaround combo incurably sour.

The band’s greatest crime, however, is sandwiching the exultant power pop of “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize” between the two offensive duds. Energized with the same sparks that would ignite Freedom of Choice’s hypnotic populism, Mothersbaugh soars with otherworldly sincerity between crushed guitars and theremin-like keys, summing up an idyllic sci-fi romance with a crooning one-word chorus. Dropping from these heavenly surroundings into the muck of “Pink Pussycat” feels more than a little deflating. Devo may have claimed to be cleaning house for the ’80s, but Duty Now catches the band in the middle of vomiting up its worst impulses and preserves them in mid-air, like a freeze-frame, still hurtling towards the pavement.

Before the surprise success of 1980’s “Whip It” could lead Devo up the charts to become synth-toting new-wave icons, the band had to learn to play the damn thing. Duty Now for the Future was the crucible for Devo’s much-anticipated reinvention; a heated sparring match in preparation for their showdown with the future. On their first album, synthesizers served primarily as humble punctuation; here they learn to sequence in full sentences. For every “Triumph of the Will” there’s a “Strange Pursuit,” sputtering along to a jerky, slightly-too-fast pulse that Devo would distill into the sharper, more refined “It’s Not Right,” minus the vocoder. “Devo Corporate Anthem” ends mercifully fast, but “S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain),” an eerie ode to the cranial cannibals of their founding texts, stretches out to become Duty Now’s most atmospheric work and most dynamic synth workout, its criss-crossing swarm of keys playing out like a tutorial for the coordination they’d need to reanimate dense tracks like “Girl U Want” for a live setting.

Devo always knew they’d be a band for the ’80s, presciently describing themselves as an “eighties industrial band”—a tag repeated in the same Melody Maker review that saw them take responsibility for flushing out the rot of the ’60s and ’70s. Duty Now for the Future is their greatest miss by virtue of being their greatest, most necessary mess. Fumbling through their own de-evolution, Devo shed just the right amount of ego to claim the future for themselves.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Devo - Duty Now for the Future Music Album Reviews Devo - Duty Now for the Future Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 04, 2022 Rating: 5


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