THE ALBUM -- Devo, "Freedom Of Choice," Warner Brothers.(BSK 3435).; THE SHOW -- At Merriweather Post Pavillion, July 27 at 7:30.
Given the freedom to choose, not everyone would go for push-button rock, robot rhythms, automaton vocals and alien synthesizer zaps. But that's what Devo offers on its new hi-tech album, "Freedom of Choice."
Devo-tees will be pleased to note a few new tricks in the machine-like delivery, and initiates may find this LP slightly more acceptable than two earlier outrages; but most listeners may think that the computer writing the group's material could use a new chip.
On the plus side, the quintet has strayed from a primitive success formula. The album goes beyond the unrelenting beat and lyrical shock value to include some interesting melodies in an overall crisp production. The content has developed, too, from paranoia to love gone awry. Not to worry, the electric impulses are as agitating as ever.
Visuals rank with the music in accounting for Devo's new wave appeal: on the album cover they appear as zombies in black sci-fi suits with red plastic upside-down flower-pot paramids on their heads. This, naturally, is perfectly in keeping with their so-called "deevolutionary" view of the world, rooted in their home town, Akron. Any questions?
Granted, "Freedom of Choice" includes some songs that are much better than monotonous. "Whipit" is even enjoyable. The cut is a diving new wave hymn that shapes up as a punk cheer: "Whipit good/ whipit, into shape!" Another out-of-kilter track is the old-fashioned/futuristic "Ton o'Luv," full of mock-romantic urges and the sounds of robot luv. And for a human touch, they sing "a man's not made of steel" on "Gates of Steel," a full-blown frenetic rocker with a strangely pretty melody obscured by the abrasive beat.
While nerve-jangling synthesizer effects plug in on every track, the vocals and melodies survive. Still, Devo's joke may have run its course with this album. Pseudophilosophy, spacy viewpoints and funny hats won't carry them much further. As a one-shot gag on "Saturday Night Live" performing "Jocko Homo" -- "Are we not men? We are Devo!" -- the group held a peculiar fascination. But to stretch an interesting three-minute act into a career -- are they not kidding? Maybe the move away from psychotic nasties and toward robot-romance will keep them devolving.