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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.

enoise May 7, 2009

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Brian Eno: Before and After Science

Brian Eno: Before and After Science

E. Noise. Eno noise. Doesn’t rhyme with Eloise.

Lou Stathis in 1980:

In the world of rok — and by that I don’t mean the tuna fish that you get on your radio — all that was authentic to the seventies can be summed up in about four words: Roxy Music and Sex Pistols.

Okay, you can stop twitching and yelling. I did not say that these two bands were responsible for the only decent music to come out of the last ten years. only that most anything interesting created during that time was built on groundwork laid either by these two bands, or the seminal groups of the sixties, such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, the Soft Machine, Iggy and the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground.

[…]

[Roxy Music’s Brian] Eno probably was/is the most important figure in seventies rok. I suppose I could go back and amend the opening of this column to read that the seventies could be summed up in three letters, but that would be too much for even me to take seriously. I’ve heard it said that Eno’s “Seven Deadly Finns” single of 1974 was singlehandedly responsible for the new wave — that too is just a bit much. […] As a direct result we have dozens of groups mining territory today that Eno showed was worth diddling around in — bands like the Cars, Magazine, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, Wire, Devo, the Residents, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, XTC, and a whole crock of others (all of whom will swear on Elvis’s grave that they were playing that way long before they ever heard the limey wimp’s name). To say nothing of the rehabilitation job he did at the Old Folks’ Studio on Fripp and Bowie.

That’s from his inaugural “muzick” column in the January 1980 issue of Heavy Metal, “the adult illustrated fantasy magazine.” His February column ended with something that was almost a shopping list for me: “Duty Now for the Future: The 1980 Future-Mutant’s Core Record Collection” listed necessary records by Brian Eno (“The Man. Anything. Period.”), Devo, David Bowie, Ultravox, Magazine, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, Bill Nelson’s Red Noise, XTC, Talking Heads, The Contortions, James White and the Blacks, the Urban Verbs, The Normal, the Silicon Teens, Cowboys International, and Pere Ubu.

I had already discovered Bowie, Devo, and Numan by then. Within the next couple of years I had albums by Ultravox, Magazine, Bill Nelson, XTC, the Urban Verbs, and Cowboys International. In years since I’ve gotten more stuff by them and by the Talking Heads, the Normal, the Silicon Teens, and Pere Ubu.

A lot of this stuff, which Stathis dubbed Enoise (i.e., Eno-influenced postpunk incorporating electronics), was in some sense a cross between the Sex Pistols and Roxy Music. Nearly 30 years later, I still love those sounds and those bands. Their influence is still around, as various subgenres and revivals over the last few years like disco punk and the postpunk revival demonstrate. Eno himself is still around, too, still doing ambient music installations that generate albums like Compact Forest Proposal and Kite Music and collaborating with a everyone from Paul Simon to Coldplay and U2. He’s more an elder statesman than a revolutionary now, but he’s still capable of creating interesting music. Many of the people in the bands Stathis listed are still doing great things, too.

Lou Stathis went on to other things, including editing some of DC’s Vertigo line of comics. He died of cancer in 1997.