Nerds taking over pop culture has been talked about like a novelty for a solid decade now. But it’s too engrained to be a novelty. Almost every big budget movie is based on a comic book and the release of a new Star Wars movie pretty much brought the world to a halt. But nerds laid claim to rock and roll long before they got to the movie world. Nerds got a hold of rock and roll in the late 70s via a band called Devo, with albums like Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
With a Ramones like drive and simplicity, Devo sneak in their geekiness with the opening bars of Uncontrollable Urge. But the little electronic flourishes here and there betray a much nerdier approach to computer sin music than what bleep and bloops would become in the years since.
Then it’s time to take all of the traditional rock cool out of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and give it a herky jerky, nasal twist that somehow makes it even cooler, in its own, horn rimmed glasses way (and I mean 70s and 80s horn rimmed glasses. Not new millennium, hipster, cool horn rimmed glasses).
Mongoloid makes the guitars and drums even more stripped back and basic, while ramping up the less organic, keyboard flourishes. And as the vocals go to even more extreme levels of nasalness, it’s almost like Devo took the two disparate aspects of Uncontrollable Urge and pushed even further in opposing directions.
The experimentation and weirdness really gets going with the on two punch of alien like Jocko Homo, and atonal, a-rhythmic Too Much Paranoias. Which makes the standard guitar pop rock, almost surf infused Gut Feeling a real shock in just how easily accessible it is.
I’ve had enough experience with Devo over the years that none of the specifics on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! were a shock or as surprise. But what is a surprise is how fully formed they were at this early stage. And how little they’ve had to change over the years, if at all, to still sound really cool and modern. I guess one of the advantages of basically inventing your own genre of music is that you’re not just building on years and generations of those who came before, delivering diminished returns.