Devo 2.0

Devo 2.0

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Rock bands have made a cottage industry out of remaking and re-imagining themselves ever since the Beatles decided to drop acid and grow mustaches, but Devo has taken this notion to a new and curious level with this album. Working in cahoots with Disney Sound, the group's founders, Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, have helped spawn Devo 2.0, in which five spunky children between the ages of nine and 13 perform family-friendly versions of songs from Devo's back catalog. Actually, the kids only do so much performing on Devo 2.0 -- while front-tween Nicole Stoehr handles the lead vocals and guitarist Nathan Norman and keyboardist Jackie Emerson sing backups, the music is produced and mostly performed by the original members of Devo, and while Stoehr often sounds like the 12 year old she is (albeit one with a few years of musical training), on a musical level this sounds like a slightly slicker variation on Devo's salad days, and it's a more enjoyable listen than anything Devo has released since 1982's Oh, No! It's Devo. But there's a tremendous level of disconnect for anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Devo's body of work. There's an aggressive cheerfulness to Devo 2.0 that runs counter to Devo's original approach; while Devo's philosophy was built around the idea that evolution had started to reverse itself, leading to cultural entropy as civilization began to implode, Devo 2.0 instead imagines a sunnier world where these troubling undercurrents are ignored in favor of paeans to being yourself and having fun. The ominous ironies of "Beautiful World" have been set aside, the bitter social commentary on "Freedom of Choice" and "Peek a Boo" falls by the wayside, and the sexual and violent images that often lurked in Devo's lyrics have been rewritten away. This doesn't always work to the album's detriment -- the transformation of "Girl U Want"'s erotic obsession into the junior-high crushing of "Boy U Want" is actually witty and charming, and the two new songs created for the project are good enough that one might wish Casale and Mothersbaugh had created a whole new repertoire for their young charges (especially "Cyclops," a funny tale of a world-class grade school misfit). But when these kids cheerfully announce "We are Devo!" on the accompanying DVD, it's hard not to wonder just what that means to them, or what "Freedom of Choice" could possibly say to an 11 year old who still has a bedtime and has to eat their vegetables before having dessert. Is Devo 2.0 cultural subversion? A new way for a band to sell out? A pioneering effort in creating substantive children's music? This odd little artifact inscrutably refuses to reveal its true purpose, though maybe someone in the age-appropriate target audience knows the answers.

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