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Review: Devo’s Freedom of Choice March 28, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Review written in exchange for a Netgalley advance e-read.

I still remember the day in 1980 when I bought Devo’s Freedom of Choice album. They were one of my favourite bands at the time, and this was a definite breakthrough album for them. The success of “Whip It” took everyone, including Devo, by surprise. (For what it’s worth, my favourite songs on this album are the title track and two others, “Gates of Steel” and “Snowball.”)

Evie Nagy’s book on Freedom of Choice is a solid look back at the point where everything changed for Devo. As 33 1/3 books go, this is one of the more straightforward ones, built on research and interviews with a lot of the key players, looking at the album’s creation and its place in Devo’s career, It’s a good read, and Nagy gets Devo’s mix of nerdishness, humour, and serious political intent. Unlike a few books in this series that keep an extremely tight focus on the album at hand (or go spiraling off in unexpected directions), this one provides history on the band, leading up to and following on from Freedom of Choice.

1980 was a strange time. New wave had caught on enough, and Devo had trimmed out some of its experimentalism enough, that the band that was too weird for a lot of people a year before was suddenly just weird enough to be a cool, fun party music band, like the B-52s. But the Reagan era was about to start, and Devo struggled with being expected to produce another hit record while also wanting to wanting to push their messages to an audience that seemed to miss the point entirely.

Nagy does a solid job bringing together new quotes from Devo members, others involved with the album, other people from Devo’s circle over the years, and other musicians as well as bits from contemporary articles to tell a story that’s well worth reading for anyone interested alternative music or 1980s pop culture.

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