Yes! It’s about time these two records were available again! When are they going to reissue Live: The Mongoloid Years? Although the internet has made all three of these releases, not to mention the collection Recombo DNA, easy to procure, having the physical representation is so much more satisfying! First of all this is the first time these records have been released on vinyl and Devo have also re-released them as a two CD set as well. Secondly they slightly changed the names. Both of these were released by Ryko Disc in 1990 and 1991 under the names Hardcore Devo Volume 1: 1974 – 1977 and Hardcore Devo Volume 2: ’74 – ’77 respectively. Why they chose to condense the names, I don’t know. Furthermore, if I’m not mistaken, the originals came with liner notes that are not included in these. So that’s kind of a bummer.
In the years following their release, along with the aforementioned Live: The Mongoloid Years, getting a physical copy for less than a month’s rent was damn near impossible. Now, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t need the whole rundown on Devo. These are the early basement demos from 1974 – 1977 and it’s fascinating to listen to this stuff in its own right because it makes you wonder how many other weirdos across the world with equally bizarre ideas about art and music were making their own basement recordings that are now sitting collecting dust and will never be heard by the public because their bands never busted out into the mainstream. I mean, except for the Residents and Jandek of course!
But anyway, the two main early Devo lineups are represented on this pair of records; you’ve got the one with Mark Mothersbaugh on keyboards, Gerry Casale on bass and vocals, Bob Mothersbaugh on guitar and Jim Mothersbaugh on electronic drums and the more popular one with M. Mothersbaugh as lead singer, keyboardist and occasional guitarist, B. Mothersabaugh (a.k.a. Bob 1) on guitar, Bob Casale (a.k.a. Bob 2) on guitar and keyboard, Gerry Casale on bass and vocals and Alan Meyers on drums.
When they were initially released, Devo felt these recordings were too esoteric for mainstream consumption; and therein lies the rub because they wanted to be accepted on their artistic merits yet also “spread the gospel” to as many people as possible which, as you well know, resulted in some of Devo’s lousiest albums. I’ll let others debate whether it was Freedom of Choice or New Traditionalists that was the last good Devo album. We’re here to discuss some demos, dammit! So quit stallin’, okay? First of all, Hardcore Volume 1 sticks to the 15 track sequence of the original release while Volume 2 is a double LP that expands up on the original’s 21 tunes with four bonus tracks!
Any Devo fan worth his/her/its salt will notice that Vol. 1. includes five songs that would find their way onto official Devo releases; “Social Fools”, “Soo Bawlz”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Jocko Homo” and “Mongoloid” really don’t sound very different from their later released, studio counterparts barring that “Social Fools” and “Soo Bawlz” are played at a slightly slower clip thus “de-punking” them a bit. Speaking of “punk rock”, why on god’s green earth did “Uglatto” not appear on any official releases? That song is fan-friggin-tastic! It’s just a two chord punk song in a weird time signature of which I didn’t take the time to count out but is not standard 4/4 yet still makes you want to bop all over the dang room like a wrap-around shade, skinny tied punk of yesteryear.
That leaves nine other songs of weird squiggly noises, 12-bar boogie riffs and other assorted, tinker toy oddities. The immediate reference point will undoubtedly be the Residents but this stuff is still a bit more accessible than what the eye-ball boys were dishing out. The songs are very catchy and weird, mind you. Opener “Mechanical Man” begins with that part from In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution, where the individual Devo letters flash like “D-E-V-O” as a synth goes “baow-baow-baow-wooo” for each letter before the actual song comes in and Gery Casale sings it with a hilarious computer voice effect. “Golden Energy” sounds like sleazy bachelor pad music from some retro-futuristic 70s sci-fi movie with that awesome moog synth melody. “Midget” is, um, funky. It’s all good stuff if you don’t mind the borderline novelty, kiddie music feel and deliberate quirkiness of these songs.
Vol.2 is the better deal since it contains two LPs – 25 tracks total! – of the same kind of stuff. There are more songs that were never released on any of the group’s albums and/or singles while four of the songs were not on the original release of Vol. 2. The three songs that would be re-recorded for official releases are “Be Stiff”, “Working in a Coalmine” and “Clockout.” Aside from “Be Stiff” and “Clockout” being a bit slower than their single and Duty Now for the Future versions, they went pretty much unchanged.
I’m listening to Vol.2 as I write this and noticed the wonderful opening verse to “Bamboo Bimbo.”
“He got his first whiff in the jungles of ‘nam
That slanty-eyed catfish tasted better than mom
Every night, she drops that big bomb.”
Wow! Yeah, they had some pretty dirty humor and un-PC sentiments on their actual albums but, come on! That’s gross and racist! Thankfully it’s sung in such a mocking, smug tone, rendering it absolutely hilarious every time I listen to it. Okay, maybe not “hilarious” but you will catch me giggling every time this song comes on.
Ya know, they might have been right about many of these songs being too weird for normal people. Listen to the absolutely annoying “Goo Goo Itch” with its cutesy “itchy-itchy-coo”s. What normal person would want to listen to that? Also, did I mention un-PC, racist, gross and funny? Check out “Fraulein”, “Chango”, “I Need a Chick” and “I Been Refused” – “took a couple back views/took some up front/three tries, wallet size/I was looking at that cunt” – uh yeah.
If you’re looking for catchy hooks and melodies, Vol. 2 has ’em; “The Rope Song”, “All of Us”,”Baby Talkin’ Bitches”, “Bottled Up”, “Fountain of Filth” and “Let’s Go” all rule in this fashion with less of the novelty feel. They’re solid yet quirky rock tunes. Actually “Let’s Go” really gives me that retro-future Death Race 2000/Rollerball “death game show” feel. Don’t ask me why this would be the case.
In terms of that gross humor, I’ve read the Devo book. I know it’s inspired by modern art with its mix of the high and low brow, which is what Devo was all about. But maybe that’s why they felt “normal” people would not understand this early material. That and the songs which sound like quirky, synth, robot Kraftwerk music minus the “pop” sensibility if you get me.
So what about the four new songs?
“Man from the Past” – awesome fuzz-guitar filled, rock song, reminds me a little of “Boris the Spider” with that driving bass line.
“Doghouse Doghouse” – acoustic, folky rock song with “funny” dog noises? Hmmm…
“Hubert House” – sounds like a quirky Devo song with the tape warping. It’s not your turntable. It’s the song.
“Shimmy Shake” – non-ironic, 70s boogie rock? Okay…
I suppose the last four don’t add that much to the Devo canon but with Hardcore Vol. 1 and 2 back in print, how can I complain?