Home > Music > Devo – Duty Now For The Future (1979)

Devo – Duty Now For The Future (1979)

folderI.E the 1979 “Album for the 1980s”. Duty Now For The Future came out just before Devo underwent their greatest period of commercial success and therefore seems to serve as a bridge between their early starving art student approach and the slicker, intentionally banal approach they evolved towards. Seems to me that the aforementioned straight faced, banal approach was rather popular at the time, at least if this band (and some others, like Telex) can be counted as an example.

Even then, there’s a lot of musical experimentation here that isn’t just based in synthesizer experimentation – even many of the shorter songs here experiment slightly with structure (such as “Wiggly World”), or at least have some sort of musically knowledgeable gimmick (like the 11/8 time verses of “Blockhead”). There’s even a miniature ‘epic’ in “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” that represents one of this band’s rare forays into extended compositions. All of this, though, is subordinated to one of two substyles. The first is a jerky, ‘energetic’ sort of rock music driven very heavily by all four of the band’s vocalists (although some of them are mostly limited to backup duties); the second is straight-ahead synthpop that lifts sounds, but not songwriting techniques from bands like Kraftwerk. Later albums by this band emphasize the latter over the former.

Even with the bits of experimentation, Duty Now For The Future is very simplistic, but given Devo’s detailed backstory and outpouring of manifestos, it’s easy to understand their justification. Either way, the band’s lyrics and performance aesthetic play a much greater role in my appraisal than they usually would – they’re all very goofy. As befits a transitional album, half of the time they’re rather impersonal, which can be a bit jarring when the typical poppy love and sex themes come up. Other times, the band seems to lose sight of that ideal and ends up writing synthpop that’s less subversive than it thinks it is. When that happens, Devo falls into the same trap that a lot of other early bands in that genre did – straight ahead nonsense that relies more on the novelty of its sound than any depth to the writing. Ironically, the production is the opposite of what Kraftwerk or Telex were doing at the time – Good sounding percussion from a live drummer, but weak guitar and synthesizers.

There was a time when I was particularly interested in Devo, and more generally ’80s New Wave (in the language of the laypeople, I believe it is known as 2008), but that seems to have fallen by the wayside a bit. Devo’s early works seem to hold up better, and they follow the standards of that “genre” more closely. My guess is that they had more spirit back then, and that they were overcome by the robotic, mechanical tendencies they were trying to satirize. On the other hand, their next few albums at least pull that off more effectively.

Highlights: “Clockout”, “Wiggly World”, “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”

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