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Music Review: Devo — Duty Now For the Future

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Thirty-one years after its initial release, Devo’s second record finds itself back on the music shelves in vinyl form. With their records long overdue for a re-release, Devo still holds one’s attention as an eclectic ‘80s band that stood apart from the usual synthesizer masses of the time. Unlike their previous record Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Duty Now For the Future doesn’t commit nearly as much to jagged punk-themed anthems that made fans fall for Devo initially. Instead, it is apparent that Devo is not only continuing its unique blend of pop and rock but is also willing to experiment with some new ways to represent themselves.

For instance, the opening instrumental of “Devo Corporate Anthem” has an inspirational tone reminiscent of something from King Arthur, which may cause one to think it could have been used for a few corporate training videos in its time. After the more classic Devo-sounding rock track of “Clockout” another instrumental arrives in “Timing X”, which is more than a minute of active synthesizer dabbling. By the time one gets to the peppy “Wiggly World”, the listener undoubtedly wonders where the band is going for the rest of the album.

Speaking of “Clockout”, a fan of Devo’s first record may be disappointed in some of the new rock tracks on Duty Now For the Future. “Clockout” sounds like it wishes to be a louder, confrontational rock song but never really escalates to a higher level. Perhaps it is due to the mid-level guitars or the synthesizer affectations, but it hardly riles someone up like “Gut Feeling” or “Uncontrollable Urge”.

Truthfully, one should actually abandon one’s hopes for the punk similarity to their first record when listening to Duty Now For the Future, but that doesn’t mean the record doesn’t have its strong points. A inspiring musical venture, as well as another aspect of Devo’s foray into a new level of experimentation is the epic “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”. It contains much of the energy and tongue-in-cheek one looks for, but this time it is six minutes long! Other tracks that stand out on the record are “Strange Pursuits” and “Blockhead”.

Of the thirteen tracks on Duty Now For the Future, the one song that anyone might immediately recognize from the record is the quirky cover of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”. If you haven’t heard the cover before, consider what Devo did to the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and you will likely get the gist. It’s a cute rendition that features guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh on vocals instead of his lead singer brother Mark.

So why should anyone be interested in Devo after all these years, especially on a vinyl pressing? I suppose one obvious reason is the uptick in interest regarding vinyl releases, thus giving those a chance to buy records that are recently pressed instead of dog-eared and possibly overpriced. The main reason why someone should get themselves some Devo is a true change of pace. Too often one falls into a rut sticking with one genre and hearing a lot of the same kind of sound. Devo, especially when they were originally around during the ‘80s, defies nearly all categorization. Picking up any Devo record will expand one’s collection outside its usual boundaries.

Duty Now For the Future is a record that sounds better upon subsequent listens. Those expecting another Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! will be disappointed for the most part, but those who are fans primarily of the off-kilter aspect of Devo will certainly find something enjoyable on this record.

Evan Mauser, 1/8/11

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