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Devo “Are We Not Men?” (1978)

Imagine the scene. The house lights dim on an expectant crowd. It’s difficult to see through the darkness but the swish of heavy fabric announces the stage curtains being drawn back. The spots slowly rise on a stage shrouded in a huge sheet of black plastic which rises to cover the vague shape of a drum-kit. A bright beam of white light picks out movement from under the sheet and flashes off a number of blades which pierce the plastic and slash vicious tears into the black skin. Like a sci-fi caesarean Devo push themselves through, clutching instruments and dressed in vivid yellow boiler suits. It takes a little time to rip the sheet away from the drums before they launch into “Uncontrollable Urge”, but it’s still got to be one of the best entrances ever.

Far more guitar-led than their later releases, Are We Not Men? Was considered radical upon its release in 1978. Much closer to the punk revolution than is realised, Devo savaged the American materialistic way of life and dared to suggest that humankind was de-evolving. From sex related psycho-babble (“Uncontrollable Urge”) to satellites falling from the sky (“Space Junk”), from consumerism (“Too Much Paranoias”) to genetics (“Mongoloid”), this is a very strange and, on one plain, deeply disturbing album. It remains a powerful indictment of the human condition. –Ian

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