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Oh, No! It's Rubato - Piano Interpretatoins of Devo
Terre Thaemlitz (Mille Plateaux MP103 CD)
- Peter Shapiro

In The Wire, October 2001, Issue 212.


Despite their fratboy-like shenanigans and pranks, Devo and their de-evolution schtick, perhaps more than anyone eles, represented new wave's emasculation of pop music. You can say what you like about all the British post-Bowie pretty boys, but they were really only earlier versions of LA's late 80s hair Metal boys, who wore their Mom's make-up to get the girls. Devo followed Suicide's castration of garage rock's Farfisa thrust, and made it even more trebly, more stunted, more nasal (ie straight out of the head cavity rather than fromhe guts), more asexual. Then, of course, there were their fabulous deconstructions of 'authentic' macho classics like The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man", Lee Dorsey's "Working In A Coal Mine" (aside from its slightly dodgy Amos 'N' Andy caricature) and The Carter Family's "It Takes A Worried Man", that excised any hind to funk and replaced the pungent aroma of sex with an almost clinical sterility.

Yank yuks it may all very well have been, but their catchphrase "Are we not men? We are Devo", with its echoes of The Island Of Dr Moreau, struck a chord wamong America's freaks in the bleak late 70s. Combined with the alienated synthscapes of Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, this links them to a traddition of deviant electronic music that runs roughly from Walter/Wendy Carlos through Sylvester to Terre Thaemlitz. It's no wonder, then, that the Deva Thaemlitz has chosen Devo to follow Kraftwerk and Gary Numan in his Rubato series of piano reinterpretations of electronic classics.

As with so much 'conceptual' stuff, however, a great idea on paper is a letdown in the actual performance. If you're as familiar with Devo as many Americans of my generation, it's mildly amusing to hear the opening chords of "Jock Homo" [sic] banged out on a Steinway; otherwise it's just so much Windham Hill. Elsewhere, even utterly recognisable tunes like "Whip It" and "Mongoloid" are so decontextualised and 'de-evolved' here that the point and the humour is totally lost. Unfortunately, neither spuds nor spudettes will find much satisfaction here.

Oh, no! It's Shapiro
Letter to the Editor

- (Terre's reply)

To The Wire:

Peter Shapiro's review of my latest album, "Oh, no! It's Rubato," (Wire 212), presented a wonderfully concise profile of Devo, and a glorious explanation as to why their music is important enough to serve as the basis for a contemporary cover album. However, I was wondering when you plan to run the actual review of my album. I did notice that the last small paragraph contained references to "'conceptual' stuff... banged out on a Steinway [in the vein of] Windham Hill," but I wasn't sure how that related to my album's music or text.