photo & text by nacrowe
discovering DEVO on a family trip to GREECE was one of the highlights of my high school years. at the time my family was stationed in KUWAIT and the culture and school environment was culturally and socially CONSERVATIVE in the extreme. the band may have been a NEW WAVE / POST PUNK ART project that utilized a stilted, ironic, DADA-inspired visual and aural aesthetic to both critique and poke fun at the rigid hypocrisy corporate AMERICA, but for me at the time i felt like i was living in an absurd ORWELLIAN reality.
because i kind of was.
everything about going to school and living in KUWAIT was absurd. reading about what amounted to honor killings in the english-language newspapers, being unable to mention non-MUSLIM or non-CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS, PHILOSOPHERS or LEADERS at school or being unable to hang out with my classmates in public without being harassed by KUWAITI men. it was an OPPRESSIVE environment where the innocuous was deemed TRANSGRESSIVE. i dont want to come off culturally insensitive here, as i can already assume some criticism from my past comments along the lines of "it is their country." this is true, but KUWAIT is rotten to its core in how it exploits foreign labor and oppresses non-ARAB MUSLIMS and limits free thought. there is no progression or forward momentum, its a stilted country that is well behind its direct EMIRATI competition for cultural hub of the MIDDLE EAST to which it aspires.
anyway, that was the context from which i grew to love DEVO as they seemed to by a collective that seemingly identified a sense of freedom and discovery within its self-determined creative limitations. robotic drums and cold, stabbing synth lines seemed to accurately encapsulate the stark lyrical bent of MARK MOTHERSBAUGH throughout NEW TRADITIONALISTS (WARNER BROS, 1981) amid his lyrics regarding personal liberation from the REPRESSION of POLITE SOCIETY ("JERKIN' BACK 'N' FORTH"), SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS ("THROUGH BEING COOL"), GLOBAL GEOPOLITICS ("BEAUTIFUL WORLD") and INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS ("LOVE WITHOUT ANGER," "RACE OF DOOM," "SOFT THINGS"). basically everything. even the title feels paradoxically both TRANSGRESSIVE and OPTIMISTIC, as if to look forward you must disregard and move beyond the past by creating new traditions, new ideas and new solutions.
the obvious highlight of the album is "BEAUTIFUL WORLD" which is one of the most divinely TRANSCENDENT (and BITTER) songs of all-time. with its soaring synth refrain and upbeat lyrics that seemingly celebrate all the PROMISE, INGENUITY and potential for global SOCIAL HARMONY that mankind is capable of in an impossibly OPTIMISTIC fever dream, only to utterly subvert it completely with the line "it's a beautiful world for you. not me." "BEAUTIFUL WORLD" is the ultimate song about being completely disconnected from society, its tone and beauty only serve to fuel that sense of REJECTION, ISOLATION and a caustic sense of REPULSION at the outer world. without doubt my favorite DEVO song and probably top three favorite song of all-time (i'm also partial to THE ANIMALS' "DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD" since childhood and "RUBBER RING" by THE SMITHS).
i could not advocate anymore strongly for the NEW TRADITIONALISTS album. required listening in my view, irrespective of your opinion of the merits of NEW WAVE, POST PUNK or even SYNTH POP. it is a TRANSCENDENT record that is most definitely worth checking out.