It may be hard to believe now, but 'Are We Not Men?' was one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the late 1970s. Prior to their debut, Devo had impressed with their ingeniously rhythmic cover of 'Satisfaction.' Did it live up to the hype? Just about. The album is a breathless series of quickfire songs that bear no relation to anything else, though they fit into the general label of 'new wave,' and work well as a whole while being distinct from each other.
'Uncontrollable Urge' takes an insistent, Zeppelinesque riff as the background to Mark Mothersbaugh's disturbing ramblings. After 'Satisfaction' comes 'Praying Mantis,' a Hokey Cokeyish song about hands ('well, your right hand's diddling'). The offbeat subjects continue, Devo tackling subjects that no one else would think of tackling: 'Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid, and he was as happy as you and me.' The unfathomable philosophy of the title emerges in 'Jocko Homo.' Somehow, Devo create a brooding aura out of screwball rock music. Theirs is a fractured version of popular music. They can rock a bit too; 'Come Back Jonee' is a jaunty take on Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode character, though Berry would never have envisioned it like Devo play it. Meanwhile, 'Gut Feeling' has a great, extended guitar intro, and 'Shrivel Up' provides a marvellous climax.
The live tracks and three bonus studio items are all creditable but not in the same league as 'Are We Not Men?' Interest in Devo subsided quickly after their debut. Its release on different coloured vinyls plus the band's insistence on weird stage clothing smacked of gimmickry and there was always an inescapable feeling that Devo were contriving their distance from other bands and trying to baffle the listener with nonsense dressed up as science. Nevertheless, that debut album is a great achievement.