Review Summary: Cold robotics and Human quirk.
Out of all the bands to come out of the late 70s Devo were one of the most imaginative, original, funny and socially conscious. No album quite highlights this like Duty Now For The Future does. Of course, you could rebuke everything I said, you could say "imaginative, since when are synth tones and minimalistic chord changes imaginative?"
, "Original, tell that to Kraftwerk and Frank Zappa!"
,"funny, I'd have to listen to the lyrics for that.....uh, nope
,"socially conscious, didn't they write a song mocking people with Down Syndrome?"
, and yeah, you'd have a point, but your point slightly misses the point. For lack of a better phrase. Devo needed these slight imperfections to make them so unique, the fact they weren't virtuoso's, the fact they did have some obvious musical debts, the fact a lot of their lyrics slightly miss the mark and the fact they made fun of people with Down Syn....and the fact they could appear to be insensitive. The point is that they could be imaginative with music in a limited context, they could take what they were influenced by and still sound utterly singular and that most of their lyrics really said something and did so with a dry wit and sense of absurdism.
What needs to be realized is that Devo were first an art project- a performance art group to be precise- and this never quite left them. Anyway, on to this album. As stated earlier, this album really seems to highlight all of these facts about Devo. Of course, most people prefer Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
and it is a superior album, however, this is a much more idiosyncratic album. It's quite an easy album to dismiss however, first time hearing it your reaction is likely to be "what's with the weird singing, lack of melodies and dated keyboards
, otherwise it could be dismisses as too paranoid and not particularly fun. This is wrong however, although not obvious at first, this album does contain many melodies, the synth tones are awfully dated but this only adds to their charm, they do have a helluva lot of personality that was missing from subsequent albums. The singing does also have a cartoonish quality, but that once again adds to the personality. Duty now certainly does contain a cold atmosphere, but it's a cold atmosphere without becoming bland and strenuous to listen to.
Let's get the most obvious flaws of the album out of the way. As stated prior it is dated, and whilst some will be able to get over this others will not, but that's their loss. The album doesn't really have a good flow to it, it definitely seems like it could of been assembled better. The album does seem awfully samey, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of different type of songs, but oddly they still seem overall to have the same feeling, for someone naturally inclined towards a band like Devo (eg. nerds who can't get their hand to sleep with them) but for someone trying to get into the band it can get a little...boring would be the polite word. Sometimes the personality of the band can become a substitute for a decent hook. The final and largest flaw is "Pink Pussycat". Don't get me wrong, I actually do enjoy the song but it's ANNOYING as hell (some say hell contains torture unimaginable, I say it's annoying), and there's been more than one occasion where the skip button on my ipod has been pushed. Blame Mark Mothersbough. He just sings it in such a high pitched, irritating manner, this was probably intentional, take that as you will.
The world is a negative place though and we need some positive thoughts, otherwise our brains will weigh us down, weighing the earth down and causing as to plummet into the sun. First of all, every song (except "Pink Pussycat") is brilliant. They're all creative, they all feature something to differentiate them in an album that overall doesn't have much variety. Want a really speedy song with a melodic bassline, jaggy guitar riff, quirky vocal melody and lyrics satirical of the American workplace and it's shortcomings, try "Clockout", want a song about stress that sounds really anxious featuring synthesizer as the main instrument playing something really interesting and almost dark wavish keyboard licks but with an overall cartoony feel, try "S.I.B (Swelling Itching Brain)", want upbeat new wave powerpop with twisted lyrics, try "The Day my baby gave me a surprise", want a new format for describing the songs, me too! "Timing X" sounds like it was played on a toy keyboard but it's really energetic and has some nice, odd guitar playing later on. "Wiggly World" predates LMFAO and features the line "Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle", it's also ten times better than anything LMFAO has done- but then again, so is herpes. "Blockhead" is a really menacing song, and the vocals don't really sound like anything else in their catalog. It's quite slow paced and the main riff seems to descend and is kind of clunky, I'm not a musician though so any guitarist can tell me if I sound like a creationist talking about dinosaurs.
I could describe every song on the album but that would be boring, the point is that withing a strict paradigm Devo manages to not really have any of the songs sound the same, you'll find really interesting vocal melodies, a variety of silly (yes, silly) keyboard sounds and almost rock and roll guitar playing in a completely foreign environment. The highlights of the album includes "Strange Pursuit", which is about stalking, and "Smart Control/Mr Dna". Man, anybody who thinks Devo is a wussy keyboard band needs to listen to that track, okay, it ain't exactly hard rock but it still rocks pretty well, and the lyrics are excellent, they define the Devo ethos as well as "Jocko Homo" did. It only has one main verse and it's sung first by Mark, then Gerald Casale and then Bob Mothersbough. Then there's "Secret Agent Man", an old rock and roll song with tweaked lyrics sung by Bob Mothersbough.
So that's pretty much it, not the best but in many ways the ultimate Devo album, featuring odd slightly avant-garde, slightly kitschy, slightly punkish music mixed with Kraftwerkesque keyboards and exaggerated singing, with lyrical themes such as paranoia, stress, potatoes, rape (Triumph of the Will, apparently), satire and de-evolution. Sure, they've started to become a bit too
keyboard reliant, but at this point it just adds character and doesn't define them. It's definitely not the first Devo album to check out but it shouldn't be the last.