Though we spend most of our time in the music section writing about new material, Turntable Tuesday allows us to look back, and look closely at some captivating albums in our catalog. This week’s column hones in on Devo's fantastic 1977 debut Q. Are We Not Men A. We Are Devo!.
"This is the band of the future, I'm going to produce them in Tokyo this winter," said David Bowie, presumably intoxicated, at Devo's first show in NYC in 1977. Though his film career took his talent elsewhere, Bowie was right that Akron, Ohio's Devo was doing something completely radical out in the Buckeye boonies. With 1978's Q. Are We Not Men? Devo articulated a voice unheard in American music, deadpan, sci-fi art-punk, like the Talking Heads on speed in space.
Produced by Brian Eno in Cologne, Germany, the album takes on a kraut-like stiffness, similar to their robotic stage presence. Though Q. Are We Not Men? sounds like an immaculate collaboration between Devo and their producer, apparently Brian had prepared weird eno-scapes for each joint that the band rejected (for a full treatment, see Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again). Though the Eno-heavy tracks provide an odd respite from Devo's punk scarcity, it's nice to hear the Akron boys in analog, before they moved towards electronic music in future releases.
With Q. Are We Not Men?, Devo treat time like their plaything, blistering through songs like "Praying Hands" and stopping on a dime. It's quite thrilling, like watching Allen Iverson change direction back in the day.
Though it debuted to mixed reviews, Q. Are We Not Men? has earned its status as a cult classic and an influence on any guitar-based outfit that weighs brain over brawn. Listening to Jay Reatard and the M.F.A.-punk of Parquet Courts, it's hard to imagine these tunes without the groundbreaking work of Devo. With guitarist Bob Casale's death earlier this year, we lost a brilliant architect of punk rock.