The Complete Truth About De-Evolution (rewatch)
Posted by martinteller on February 25, 2012
It may be unusual to review a music video collection as if it were a movie, but there are unifying themes and aesthetics to Devo’s videos. Like the majority of listeners, I was introduced to them via their unexpected and unlikely hit “Whip It” at about age 12 or 13. I bought their albums, and would even mimic the poses from the back cover of the Freedom of Choice album in the mirror (don’t judge me, I was a kid). More than a one-hit wonder novelty band, they had a satisfying collection of songs that were both amazingly catchy and slyly subversive. Their music incorporated staccato rhythms, detuned instruments and unorthodox mixing that often mocked rock music from within. The lyrics were Orwellian, suggesting a society proudly devolving into mongoloids and pinheads, pacified by crass consumerism while government and corporations work against our best interests. Like the Church of the SubGenius (who Devo aligned themselves with) the spirit is one of subversive satire, warning of the dangers of conformity and passivity with sharp humor.
And they used their videos to build on their tongue-in-cheek dystopia. The members are typically clad in a uniform that resembles some sort of corporation-mandated jumpsuit. Popular standards of beauty are uglified, the ugly is celebrated, iconic imagery is twisted and subverted. The “Beautiful World” video is a brilliant collage of stock footage, associating catastrophic horror with the more mundane horrors of media blandness. In “Freedom of Choice” a troop of people clad in identical polyester recruit innocent bystanders with laser beams, erasing their individuality. Devo present themselves as proponents of this dystopia, the willing spokesmen for de-evolution… but of course we’re all in on the joke, and the joke is funny and well-executed.
However, things start to go sour in the mid-80′s for Devo. Gradually their subversiveness drained out of their lyrics, their music and their videos, until they did resemble the one-hit wonder novelty band everyone thought they were. “Peek-a-Boo”, “Disco Dancer” and “Post-Post Modern Man” are somewhat catchy and somewhat funny and maybe a little bit edgy, but a pale imitation of what they were at their peak. And the videos reflect this loss of creativity, relying less on mocking conformist standards and more on… conforming to them. It makes this collection one that starts incredibly strong but goes out with a whimper. I recommend stopping it after the songs from New Traditionalists. Rating: Good