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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Review: Devo - The Complete Truth About De-Evolution DVD

I love Devo. I also think they recorded some really crappy albums. The Devo story is one of context and it's complicated. Take this review in context too.

There's no way to keep this a humane length except to focus on the bitter, insecure and nonsensical Gerald Casale, bass player and co-founder of Devo. The DVD is a transfer of an old laserdisc that's so not complete there should be a lawsuit. It's cheap enough and loads of fun, especially the running commentary by Casale (pronounced "Keh-Sally") and Mark Mothersbaugh (pronounced "Mothers-bah"). If a film about Devo is ever made they'll have to get Dave Thomas to play Casale. Underneath his cowardly rage he might be a nice guy but there must be 4000 topics that set him off into rages of spittle spewing.

My first encounter with Casale the neurotic came in this book. At the time I wrote "It's obvious he was the driving force behind "De-Evolution" and religiously beat a fun gimmick into a tired dogma. He's a smart fellow but his nerdish rage might have tempered his impact. You get the impression he has less to show for his work than he might or should."

This recent interview shows he hasn't mellowed one bit. To think he still talks of de-evolution as real. Listen to the commentary and marvel at how Gerald wants it both ways, how he makes up band history as he goes along and rages against the machine of corporate music he sought and signed with, both eyes wide open. He talks about Devo in the third person like pro athletes do and comes up with pseudo-intellectual run-on sentences when not name dropping artists and philosophers. While the video for "Freedom Of choice" plays Gerald notes "We outfitted the surfers in clothes from The Gap. We always thought at that time that The Gap kind of represented this kind of soft core neo-fascist uniform of American middle class." That's innovative and arty?

He talks of both high art/low culture and commerciality/anti-commerciality as if Devo succeeded in melding these. What a crock. Their sexual references were the most juvenile ever put on video. Skateboarders, breakdancers and roaming packs of dancing kids made their videos silly, dated and ineffectual as political statements. For all the talk of new video technologies their use of blue screen frankly blows, creating visual errors that rank near amateur.

The commentary hits a high of a low point when "Disco Dancer" is discussed. It's a horrible song yet Casale asserts the record company killed it. What a delusional self-image. Remember this exchange from Spinal Tap? It applies to Devo and the trouble they got into with the "Whip It" video:

Ian Faith: They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover is sexist.
Nigel Tufnel: Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean there's no...
Ian Faith: Sex-IST!
David St. Hubbins: IST!

Devo is a cute nostalgia act with a great and geeky history that goes back to the very early 70s. Some of their catalog is the best of their genre, and yes, Devo was a punk band too. Casale's just blowing smoke out his fat behind when he stamps his feet and flaps his yap about attention that must be paid (my pretentious Death Of A Saleman reference was brought to you by Devo). Devo sold out bigger than anyone. Keep that in mind whenever Devo tells you the story of Devo.


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