Devo

Freedom of Choice

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With Freedom of Choice, Devo completed their transition into a full-fledged synth-pop group, producing arguably their most musically cohesive effort in the process. Synthesizers are now fully integrated into the band's sound, frequently dominating the arrangements and at least sharing equal time with the guitars. Everything is played with a cool, polished precision that mirrors the stylized uniformity of the band's visuals; the dissonance is more subdued than in the past, and the uptight rhythms are no longer jarring, instead locking the band into a rigidly even keel. Oddly, even though the music is the least human-sounding Devo had yet produced, their social observations were growing less insular and more sympathetic. Several tunes -- like the oft-covered "Girl U Want" -- have a geeky (but pragmatic) romantic angst that was new to Devo albums, although the band's view of relationships is occasionally colored by their cultural themes of competition and domination. Those preoccupations also inform their breakthrough hit single, "Whip It," but elsewhere, they're finding enough connection with the rest of the world to moderate their cynicism, at least a little bit. Songs like "Gates of Steel," "Planet Earth," and the title track reveal a frustrated idealism under their irony, one that can't quite understand why Americans don't use more of their freedom to search for happiness. Altogether, there's a little less of the debut's energy, and a little less variety as well. But the songwriting is a match for consistent quality, and moreover, the music on Freedom of Choice is the sound that defines Devo in the minds of many. In the end, that makes it the band's only other truly necessary album.

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