Written Dec. 31, 2013…
Dancing in the New Wave
Shout was the final offering of the original Warner Bros. era of Devo (1978-1984), featuring the classic lineup with the late Alan Myers on drums. I remember buying it the last day of 1984 (on now-ancient cassette) and instantly liking it. The album, though, has had its share of harsh criticism levied against it over the years due to its overly slick, synthetic feel. It, indeed, lacks the subversive quirkiness of their earlier albums. Many felt that Devo had finally succumbed to their own theory of de-evolution. Despite its somewhat homogenized sound, though, it is slightly more consistent than their previous album, 1982’s Oh No! It’s Devo, even if it lacks its predecessor’s goofball charm. It also easily trumps the pair of mostly-forgettable albums that would follow over the next several years. Shout may have its share of detractors but consider me in the minority of Devo fans who find this album very underrated and memorable, despite its limitations and faults.
From the mock-symphonic opening synthesized trumpet notes of the anthemic title track to their long tradition of deconstructing one of rock’s sacred cows (this time out it’s Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” that gets the Devoid treatment), the album, which heavily relies on the state-of-the-art (for 1984) Fairlight CMI computer synthesizer, is a study in melodic pop conciseness. It continues on the musical path they had been heading in ever since the guitar was relegated to a distant, secondary role in their sound, beginning with 1980’s hugely popular Freedom of Choice. It took their new wave-pop-dance music sound as far as it could go – in fact, this album seemed aimed at the dance clubs as much as Top 40 radio.
No, Shout sounds nothing like their early experimental work (especially their pre-Warners homemade demos from the mid-’70s) – nor is it up to the same high standards as their best albums – but is it really that much of a drop-off in quality? I don’t believe so. Yes, it has that typically dated 1980s production sound that gave everything back then a clinical, sterile sound but if you get past that this album is much better than critics of the time would have had you believe, not to mention its woefully low chart placing, which showed just how far the band had fallen since “Whip It” briefly turned them into MTV energy dome-wearing pop stars at the beginning of the decade.
There are no real standouts on this album but they all boast melodic hooks that cut through the quirky sound effects and highly processed vocals. “The 4th Dimension” ingeniously quotes the classic guitar riff from “Day Tripper,” while “Are You Experienced?” also works in “Third Stone from the Sun” from the Hendrix catalog. Surely, one of these songs should have made an impression on the charts? They were certainly better than most of what passed for pop hits of the day. But it was not to be and Warner Bros. soon dropped them quietly from their roster. Perhaps their day had simply come and gone as the world continued on its long march towards inevitable de-evolution.
Alan Myers left the band after this release due to Devo’s reliance on drum machines and the Fairlight, which greatly reduced his role in the band. They never completely recovered after that, with their next two albums being released to an increasingly indifferent music buying public. It would take until 2010’s solid comeback album, Something for Everybody (released on Warners, no less), to return them to the Top 40. Shout proves, though, that for one final time in the 1980s musical landscape they knew how to deliver the goods, despite the skewering it received by critics at the time. Long may these booji boys shout.