I don’t honestly know if you have to have lived through the New Wave era of the early 1980s to really appreciate how cool Oh, No! It’s DEVO is. Probably not. This is one of those rare albums: a perfect snapshot of its era, and somehow ahead of its time. You have to keep one eye on Weird Al’s Dare to be Stupid, the other on industrial music.
I think I’m feeling nostalgic for those days, the early days of MTV (back when MTV played nothing but music videos, all of them good), Atari, Pac-Man, E.T., Rubik’s Cube, the Space Shuttle. It was a great little point in history, so filled with the joy of life and the energy of youth. Well, I was in early grade school, the early part of “youth.” But it was a fun time, the New Wave era. It’s been completely swept under the tide of corporate-sanitized history, desperate to sell brainless 12-year-olds on some vapid saltwater consumerism.
Ugh, today’s pop music sucks. It hasn’t been this bad since the hair metal days of the late ’80s. It might be worse; I don’t know if another Saint Cobain could come along and smash it. If there was ever a time for a band like Devo, it’s here and it’s now. If such a band is truly out there, somebody needs to unlock them from the garage and set them loose.
There’s always been a great degree of subversive attitude from Devo. Essentially an art-house band, they sought to criticize the modern culture and the devolution of our civilization, but wrap that within some killer pop music. There are a lot of souls who listen to Devo songs, never suspecting just what is going on. They’ll toss aside as mere fluff. Even critics, who should know better, look upon it as a big joke. Generation gap, children. The spuds are smiling, but they’re baring the fangs, and they’re laughing at you.
Devo’s first five albums remain their best by a long shot, their “classic period” that everyone remembers and love. There’s Q: Are We Not Men?, from 1978; Duty Now For the Future, in 1979; Freedom of Choice, in 1980; New Traditionalists, in 1981, and Oh, No! It’s DEVO, in 1982. Each album carries a different sound, and you can chart the evolution and refinement of their sound over the years. You can chart the mutation from a punk sound with electronic gadgets, to New Wave fusion, to full-blown techno-pop.
The sound of Oh No!, heavy on synths and samples, sounds terrific. But the lyrics are hard. It’s arguably the most charged and thematically focused of their career; there ain’t no novelty nowhere. It’s definitely in its own league. The fangs are out and blood is in the air.
It’s a great sounding record, with pounding beats and rhythms, sly hooks. If you want a perfect example of what the early 1980s New Wave thing was about, you can’t do better than this. But, again, listen a little harder, and you’ll find something else. A harder sound, a sharper sound. It’s the coming sound of Industrial dance music. I don’t think even Devo saw it, but it’s there.
Oh, if only they could have seen ahead a few more years, and plowed ahead into the new industrial realm, instead of creatively floundering for years in a soulless decade. Oh, No! is the last great Devo album After this, they just ran out of steam. How and why that happened remains a mystery for scholars and holy men to figure out. The moment was over, and it was gone for good.