"Oh, Dad...we're all Devo!"
- General Boy and his mutant son Booji Boy, The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution
In the three decades since its inception, Devo has proven to be an incredibly influential band: a performance art group before the term had been coined, adopting synthesizers before squawking keyboards would come to define much of the pop music of the '80s, and producing short films set to their music before MTV was a glimmer in Robert Pittman's eye and scores still before the fledgling music video network even went nationwide. The Complete Truth About De-Evolution compiles much of the band's fourteen year visual-media history, not limited to just music videos, but also including the ten-minute short film In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution that originally was intended to be the swan song for a band that had never even performed live, a series of promotional spots taped to hock then-bleeding-edge home theater hardware from Pioneer, and a dollop of the interstitials from We're All Devo, featuring weasely label bigwig Rod Rooter from sole music conglomerate Big Entertainment. This DVD consists of seventeen different clips from throughout Devo's career, including "Devo Corporate Anthem", Booji-era recordings of "Secret Agent Man" and "Jocko Homo" from In The Beginning Was The End, "Come Back Jonee", "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise", "Worried Man", "Whip It", "Girl U Want", "Freedom Of Choice", "Through Being Cool", "Love Without Anger", "Beautiful World", "Time Out For Fun", "Peek-A-Boo", "That's Good", "Disco Dancer", and two mixes of "Post Post-Modern Man".
This isn't quite the complete truth about de-evolution: one notable difference between the 1993 Laserdisc release and this DVD is the exclusion of "RU Experienced?", which was originally the last video on side one of the LD, following "That's Good" and another Pioneer product plug. According to the packaging, the Hendrix estate denied Devo the rights to include their cover on the set, leaving their lackluster album "Shout" completely unrepresented. Accordingly, big red Xs are comically marked through anything acknowledging the song in the credits. Also absent is Devo's theme for "Dr. Detroit", which admittedly wasn't on the original Laserdisc, but it was on Rhino's VHS release of "We're All Devo" and could have been tacked on as an extra.
Despite missing a couple of videos from their lengthy career, The Complete Truth... is an excellent collection of music. I'm not really all that keen on music video compilations in general...they're something I'll watch once, file away, and ignore for a couple of years, no matter how terrifyingly fanatical I am about a band. This DVD, on the other hand, has been spinning almost non-stop in my house over the past three days, hopping from player to player to immerse myself in Devo no matter what room I happen to be in at any given time. Almost all of the dozen and a half songs on this collection are great, and even though I've heard many of these songs innumerable times over the years, I still find myself whacking the 'Skip Back' button on my remote to immediately replay some of my favorites. They may be minimalist pop songs with jerky arrangements and unconventional vocals, but they're still pop songs at their core, enjoying the accessibility and catchiness that entails. There are a couple of exceptions -- I've never been all that fond of "Love Without Anger" or "Disco Dancer", and I greatly prefer the more straightforward rock version of "Post Post-Modern Man" to the club beat-riddled one that's also provided here -- but given the number of songs and the span of time covered, the presence of just a couple that I'm not wildly enthusiastic about is still impressive. The videos themselves are nearly as well-done, and the costumes and unique imagery greatly complement Devo's skewed, satirical sense of humor, even in the more straightforward performance pieces. Things taper off after "Beautiful World", though: the three homogenous "New Traditionalists" clips are largely interchangable and don't play well back-to-back, and the Enigma-era videos are bland and aren't sprinkled with that distinctively Devo seasoning. Some of the videos may be somewhat dated visually, but they're infused with so much imagination and creativity that they still work incredibly well a couple of decades later. The connective threads between many of them leave them not seeming like distinct, individual works, but part of a greater whole, telling some sort of twisted narrative in their own disjointed way.
Rhino's DVD release of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution is largely a straight port of the content from the 1993 Laserdisc from Voyager, collecting the majority of the music videos from throughout Devo's career and an impressive assortment of extras. Not much has changed in the decade that's passed, although Rhino has exchanged the missing "RU Experienced" with a rare short film by multimedia pioneer Bruce Conner.
Video: The material on this DVD was shot on slim budgets over the course of fourteen years or so on a variety of different film and video formats. Accordingly, the quality varies wildly throughout, with some clips appearing dusty and grainy, offering little in the way of fine detail and some occasionally color bleeding. Given that most of this DVD is a rehash of the Laserdisc, these issues presumably date at least back to that point and likely quite a bit further. Some videos are also limited in terms of the technology available at the time, boasting some brilliantly dated chroma-keying ever, while others were conscious decisions, such as the undersaturated hues of the shot-on-video "Girl U Want" clip that makes the cherry red energy domes look almost purple. There are also a couple of brief video blips, though these are far more pronounced on the extras than on the main videos.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack (192Kbps) sounds passably decent, for the most part. The production of the Booji-era music isn't up to the level of the glossier studio output that follows, the "New Traditionalists" videos have the same muffled sound the music has always had, and "Come Back Jonee" lacks the modest sonic oomph the remaining songs offer. I did a quick A/B comparison with a couple of the songs on this DVD and Devo's "Greatest Hits" CD (the disc is from 1990, which seemed like a reasonable point of reference to use for music videos from a 1993 Laserdisc), and the overall quality falls somewhat short of the compact disc. The volume's on the low side, and even after substantially cranking it up, it doesn't present the same level of definition. I was also disappointed by a brief hiccup during "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise", right around the 20:26 mark. Stereo separation is excellent, though, and particularly after lurching into the "Total Devo" / "SmoothNoodleMaps" period, there's a beefy low-end kick. Neither closed captions nor subtitles have been provided.
Supplements: The majority of the extras are lifted directly off the Laserdisc, beginning with an audio commentary by Gerald V. Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, who were recorded individually and later edited together. The commentary just plays over the videos, not the interstitial footage tossed throughout, and Casale is the dominant presence in the track. Much of the discussion early on revolves around the origin of the de-evolution ideology and the visual concepts that shaped the band. Casale cites both the influence of pop culture and fine art on their music, from neo-classicism to Burger King commercials. Devo's distaste for the parasitic music industry has never been a closely guarded secret, and that's touched on frequently here, particularly during the Enigma era. They also talk about MTV math -- french fry + doughnut + girl = pornography -- that kept "That's Good" off television. Casale and Mothersbaugh delve into the origins of many of the songs and their corresponding videos, along with several great stories including inadvertently encouraging Japanese teenagers to rush the stage during one early show, hiring aging alcoholics to dress up as cowboys and bowl, and dispensing with any semblance of a storyline to more effectively sync up all aspects of Devo's performances across various forms of media. The commentary hits all the right marks, managing to be both fun and informative, and it easily stands out as the best of the numerous extras on this DVD.
Devo dug deep into their archives for the "Complete Truth..." Laserdisc, mining all sorts of video footage and vintage promotional material. Among the unearthed musical nuggets is an 56 second excerpt of a tour film that was part of their live act, taking a quick peek at the grisly demise of Booji Boy shown throughout the "Freedom of Choice" tour. There are also songs from three early live gigs: a portion of the band's first public performance at the Kent State University Creative Arts Festival in 1972 (2:38), a few chunks from the Crypt Lounge in 1977, including the tail end of "Uncontrollable Urge" (2:20), and Dove, the band of love, chiming in with "Worried Man" at the M-80 Festival in 1980 as (3:08). There's also an interview with Chuck Statler (3:21), who chats about his involvement with the band and the Laserdisc-based origins of the ten-minute short film that launched Devo's career. The footage is riddled with drop-outs and assorted video errors, flaws that reportedly weren't present in the 1993 Laserdisc this DVD was sourced from, and these issues appear in most of the extras to varying degrees.
Next up are nearly seventeen minutes of photos that can be played at 3X speed without missing a beat. It opens with a story about a wholly unsuccessful attempt by well-intentioned but clueless Warner execs to prime the local townsfolk for a Devo show, followed by a huge series of dozens upon dozens of shots of the band both on and off-stage, promotional stills, and pictures snapped on the sets of their music videos. "The Deal" (9:09) begins with Casale's "Drooling for Dollars", a textual account of the ordeals of getting signed to record labels when seemingly everyone's dead-set on screwing the band over, with a few more minutes of Rod Rooter afterward. My favorite Devo story, with Richard Branson using a deforested village-worth of pot to try to convince Mark and one of the Bobs in Jamaica to let Johnny Rotten take over as frontman for the then-unsigned band, isn't mentioned. "Albums, Singles, CDs" (18:12) is primarily an animated discography, including numerous shots of albums, inside and out, foreign and domestic. It also opens with the origin of the heavily modified Chi-Chi Rodriguez shot on the cover of their debut album. "Posters" (1:19) is another slideshow, focusing, of course, on posters. "DEVO-wear and T-Shirts" and "Buttons, Pins, Badges", on the other hand, require stepping through frame by frame, although it's more fun to just leave countless images careening by me in their nineteen seconds. The last of these, "Miscellaneous de-evolution" (5:48), begins with a series of scans and an excerpt from Booji Boy's "My Struggles", concluding with a brief montage of what looks to be Devo-inspired artwork.
"Kindred Spirit" (1:45) features another appearance by music industry bigwig Rod Rooter as well as a cameo by Timothy Leary and a handful of nasty video blips. Casale and Mothersbaugh contribute an optional commentary, pretty much entirely revolving around Leary. The last two extras from the LD, "Laserdisc production credits" and "Color Bars", are both aptly titled, running a combined seventeen seconds.
Although the lack of the "RU Experienced" video is a disappointment, Rhino made up for it with the inclusion of Bruce Conner's Mongoloid, a little-seen short film consisting of random black-and-white snippets set to the Devo song that apparently served as partial inspiration for their "Beautiful World" video a few years later.
The DVD features a set of 4x3 animated menus, peppered with E-Z listening music. There's a chapter stop for each chunk of content, including the Laserdisc plugs and the individual songs. In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution is presented as its own chapter, without a stop to skip directly to the "Jocko Homo" half. The disc is packaged in a keepcase that sports some horrifyingly bad cover art, with a one-sided insert listing the chapter stops tucked inside.
Conclusion: Rhino's DVD release of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution won't have hordes of long-time Devo fans rushing to eBay to dump their Laserdiscs, but its easy availability and bargain basement price (available online for under $10 shipped) should make it appealing to spuds without one of those shiny 12" platters. Even though this DVD doesn't replace the Laserdisc, the inclusion of Mongoloid may be enough incentive for owners of the LD to fork over a few bucks for a purchase. This isn't as definitive a release as it could have been, but thanks to the strength of the material collected here, it's still good enough to warrant a recommendation.