Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was the 1978 debut album from quirky New Wave pop group Devo. It's more of a rock-oriented album than their later, more popular works, but it still maintains their utter quirkiness (some would call it geekiness). The album was released in July 1978 on Warner Bros. and totals thirty four minutes and twenty four seconds.
At first Warner Bros. appeared to be interested in pushing the band to the moon, as their debut album was produced by one of their top producers at the time, Brian Eno. This is surprising, because up to this point the band had only released three singles, two on their own label and one for British indie label Stiff Records. This is even more surprising considering it's, well, Devo; they're one of the more unusual pop-rock groups to come along. Of course, the label's attitude would later change, but the band got very nice treatment for their first album.
The album opens with Uncontrollable Urge (3:08), a song about having an extreme case of pent-up sexual frustration, which is really appropriate considering this was a major theme throughout Devo's music. The song features a great guitar hook and, as always, Mark Mothersbaugh's distinctive vocals.
The sexual frustration theme continues with a cover of the Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (2:38). The group puts a slightly uncomfortable twist on it, turning it into a song of sexual near-desperation. Mick Jagger once called it the best cover of the song he'd ever heard, and that's saying a lot.
Praying Hands (2:47) uses some surf-style guitar and just a hint of electronica on this song about masturbation and how it's socially frowned upon. Yes, again, there's that theme coming through.
Spack Junk (2:13) is a rather obscure song about, apparently, things falling from the sky. Whether this is literal or metaphorical I can't tell, but the song does have some nice electronic guitar work.
One of Devo's best songs is the fifth song on this album, Mongoloid (3:42). In this odd track, a tale of an individual with a genetic handicap who hid his deficiencies very carefully to be accepted into normal society, the music uses a "whipping" effect almost like what would pop up on their biggest mainstream hit, Whip It. The single version is much more stripped down and perhaps preferable, but this song somehow gets across the paranoia and fear of the situation they're describing much better. This song is an example of why Devo is a much, much better band than they are often given credit for.
If there is a Devo anthem, it is this one. Jocko Homo (3:38) features some very unnerving repeated notes and a guitar playing the scales to create an eerie effect to start with. Add in the lyrics about de-evolution and the mechanical repetition of the line "We are Devo" in the chorus and this song is spooky in a very odd way. Yet, somehow, I find myself singing along.
Too Much Paranoias (1:56) uses what sounds like monster movie samples in this song with a very distinctive set of repeated notes on an electric guitar. Obviously from the title, the song is about paranoia and fear of almost everything. The breakdown in the middle is a little unusual, but the song comes off well; the middle third of this album is the best.
Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy) (4:54) is probably the most standard rock-pop on this album. It's about having a gut feeling that a relationship is going down the tubes. The secondary title seems to be a reference, again, to masturbation... it's the only explanation for it based on the way the track ends.
Come Back Jonee (3:46) is about a rock star who kills himself when he realizes he's broken the heart of the girl he loves. It's probably the most straightforward song on the album lyrically, and it features some great drum work and some wonderful rock guitar.
Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin') (2:37) is about a guy whose girlfriend isn't being too subtle about her cheating ways. One can also take it as a tale about a failed sexual encounter as well. It features some unusual guitar work and chanting at the start; that's probably the most notable feature.
The album closer, Shrivel-Up (3:05) is about how life goes downhill as you get older, so you might as well live life to the fullest. It's a nice and very mellow album closer to this largely unusual album.
This album is full of a lot of very good sexually-charged pop rock, but it's quite unusual; if you're expecting something that fills the norm, you're not going to find it here. If you enjoy it, pretty much everything else in the Devo catalog is recommended, espcially Duty Now For The Future, Freedom of Choice, and New Traditionalists.