Dusting Off… DEVO’s Freedom of Choice
What is it?
Released in 1980, Freedom of Choice is the third album from post-punk / new wave band DEVO. Hailing from Akron, Ohio, DEVO were one of the most unique and unusual bands of their era and of all the New Wave bands from the late 1970s / early 1980s with a political message, DEVO’s was one of the most radical and, over time, has become one of the most enduring and frighteningly prophetic. The band espoused the idea that the human race has in fact reached - or even passed - its peak of evolutionary development, creating a society that is geared towards de-evolution. In other words, we have created a world where our reliance on technology and mass-produced goods has, instead of liberating us, enslaved us in a world of convenience and consumption where our ‘progress’ is actually taking us backwards.
If that makes them sound like a bunch of beard stroking philosophers, you wouldn’t know it to look at them - in fact, the image most often associated with them is one of their often ludicrous outfits, characterised by their ‘energy domes’ - pyramid-like hats that they claimed redirected positive energy back into their bodies. The juxtaposition of their comic appearance and the politically-motivated themes in their lyrics ad their music is a paradox if ever we’ve seen one, but despite the apparent silliness DEVO were making smart, angular post-punk and blending in electro and synth pop decades before the likes of Hot Chip.
Having recorded their first album with Brian Eno, their debut Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are DEVO and its follow-up Duty Now And For The Future saw the band establish themselves as a fairly popular alternative act, but Freedom of Choice brought them their first mainstream hit in ‘Whip It’, largely thanks to the rise of MTV and it’s bizarre video that suggests the song is about sado-masochism, even though it isn’t.
Other highlights from the album include the title track with its lyric about whether choice is what we actually want as a society, as well as ‘Turnaround’, which Nirvana fans will recognise; the Seattle band covered the song and included it on their 1992 compilation Incesticide.
Why should I revisit?
DEVO were never as popular as they might have been and part of this is due to the fact that the band were so far ahead of their time, with many missing the irony of their stance. In much the same way as acts like Steely Dan, DEVO were just a little bit too clever for their own good.
Despite that, their cult following led to a reunion and even a new album, Something For Everybody, in 2010 and even then the band were doing things differently, allowing their loyal fans to choose which tracks would be included from a long list of material.
DEVO were hugely influential on later generations and, sadly, following the recent deaths of two of their founding members in drummer Alan Myers and guitarist Bob Casale, we’ll probably never see another album from the Ohio oddballs.
These days however you can find the work of vocalist and guitarist Mark Mothersbaug on soundtracks and scores to films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, while Gerald Casale works on music videos and TV commercials, including the recent Coors beer adverts (the ones with Jean-Claude Van Damme talking about his nipples, you remember…)
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re a fan of indie-electro acts like Hot Chip and Metronomy, this quirky band will be right up your street and Freedom of Choice is probably their most accessible album, so it’s a great place to start. Gerald Casale once described the band in a a TV interview as ‘a musical laxative for a constipated society’, and as weird as that sounds there’s an energy and a level of freedom about this record that makes that statement seem completely accurate.