De-Evolution is Real!

Mechanical Man

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Jon: I always forget about the instrumental opening, it kinda reminds me of Planet Claire by the B-52’s. a bit out of character, a rug to be yanked out from under you.

Chris: Yeah I had forgotten about that too. It really has nothing to do with the rest of the song. Unlike Planet Claire, which feeds into the main riff. I do like it tho, and kinda wish they had built something more around it. In terms of the main song, it’s pretty atonal. Not going to climb the top 100 anytime soon. But it does have a tendency to get stuck in my head. Which is odd for how odd the tune is.

Jon: Yeah. i’d heard the opening DOOT DOOT DOOT (meeeeow) parts as part of a video my sister had (The Men Who Make The Music, which I think excerpted the original Truth about De-Evolution film) but didn’t know the rest of the song till checking out the hardcore comps.

Chris: Yeah gotcha.

Jon: In the video it’s random neon letters showing: D E V O (meow)
D E V (meow)
D E (meow)
D (meow)

Chris: Ha that’s great. The whole de-evolution thing. I can’t recall when I first heard this, but it must have been part of the hardcore comps. Certainly well after I started listening to Devo in ernest. What’s your relationship with the song? Do you throw it on for a casual listen? Do you dance to it? Put on headphones and get deep?

Jon: Haha. I kinda just leave it as the moody opener to these compilations. it IS kind of a mission statement though? sets up a lot of the Devo universe (or whatever). I guess WB issued it as a “fake bootleg” single back in the days of Q&A? So it predates Hardcore in wide release, surprisingly.

Chris: Oh that’s cool. I didn’t know that. I do like the mood it sets. I think the DONK DONK (meow) it too annoying for general listening, despite the overall effect.

Jon: https://www.discogs.com/Devo-Mechanical-Man/master/97414

Chris: And I think it could have been shorter?

Jon: It’s definitely a good litmus test for if you’re gonna be ready to put up with the bands more grating shit down the line/off kilter time signature fuckery, etc.

Chris: Yeah. For sure. I think most folks would be out for that. And again, I can’t listen to it that often. But, I still like the effect when I do listen to it. If that makes sense

Jon: Yeah! I feel that. And i’m all for any/all early use of the vocoder.

Chris: What do you think about the lyrics? Repetitive, of course, but part of the point? The mechanical nature of those the song is satiring? I actually misheard some of the lyrics. At first, when he sings “I’m a 2 plus 2 equals 4 man”, I heard “I’m a 2 plus 2 equals score man” Which, I might think is even more subversive?

Jon: I dunno! the parts toward the end feel a little sad. like we’re supposed to feel bad for the mechanical man. he says “me feel swell” but I don’t BELIEVE he feels swell. he’s just programmed to say that shit. his voice betrays the script. But also: he wants what you got. he’s gonna overtake you, and he slipped up just now in saying it.

Chris: Yeah I agree there. That is creepy.

Jon: And that’s the end of the song, right? iirc.

Chris: Yeah I think you’re right.

Jon: He slips up and presumably start plotting your downfall.

Chris: Right, and it was teed up with “me work well”.

Jon: Yeah. he says “me want what you want” but then “me want what you got”.

Jon: We flew too close to the sun, in making the mechanical man. And expecting him to just be happy with his 2+2=4 life.

Chris: Exactly. OR, you could interpret it as it’s NOT working well, a reversal. That he’s working EXACTLY to spec. He works well.

Jon: Oh shit, maybe. The listener isn’t necessarily the craftsman.

Chris: Ooh I hadn’t even thought of that.

Jon: This is absolutely more thought than the Devo boys put into this lore.

Jon: Haha.

Chris: Haha.

Chris: That’s why we’re here! I like that post modern pinocchio thing. Do you know when the song was written?

Jon: Oh man i’d have to look that up. Also: he’s a 2+2=4 man, but he only bangs out 4 notes that one time. then it’s 3, then 2, then 1.

Chris: Oh shit that’s a really good insight.

Jon: The same noise follows each sequence of notes, too. If 4 was “correct” then so were 3,2,1.

Chris: I like that the song is a bit of a math puzzle with the reward being existential dread.

Jon: Hahaha.

Chris: Was this ever part of a performance piece?

Jon: I dunno! They woulda played it at early shows I’m sure, but I dunno if it was full-on performance piece stuff. Have you seen the video comp “The Complete Truth About De-evolution”? It’s on Prime these days I think.

Chris: Oh no, I haven’t seen that.

Jon: Oh make it a point to, it’s extremely good. It has the original short film with the snippet of this song, and also Jocko Homo and Secret Agent Man.

Chris: The early versions of those, yeah?

Jon: Yeah, the Hardcore-ish versions/greatest misses. And then all their music videos except the Hendrix cover cuz the Jimi estate were being dicks in the DVD era (it’s on the LD though..?)

Jon: Tipping my hand here, I know too much about this band.

Chris: Haha that’s why we’re here!