It’s difficult to pick a favourite album of your favourite band. Trying to decode every song and ensure that it will not only accurately mirror your feelings towards the group but also outwardly stand the test of time. It’s a task that is magnified tenfold when artists are asked to pick their favourite full-length record of their own work. When the band is Devo and the artist is Gerald Casale, the process becomes almost impossible.
That’s not because Casale is an unruly interviewee or has outlandish visions of what music should be — in fact, he has always seemed happy to discuss any topic put his way — but because Devo aren’t really much of a band at all. They’re a walking talking performance art piece. It makes the selection of their finest work all the more difficult, but it hasn’t stopped Casale from trying.
Having risen to prominence in the seventies as the co-vocalist and founder of Devo Casale has remained a sincere lover of music. Whether it’s the classics or artists such as Tyler, The Creator, who Casale picked out ten years ago as a successor to the groundbreaking work Devo have done over the years, the singer has never been afraid to share his view on the music world, including his own work.
Perhaps strangely for an artist who has spent the majority of his career merely fishing at the side of the mainstream, Casale’s choice is Devo’s most successful record, their third LP, Freedom of Choice. Following the previous two records was always going to be tough for Devo. Not because they had been so wildly successful but because now the group had to start turning a profit or begin losing their label.
Luckily, for the band, the group would sit down and write a whole new set of songs for the LP, including ‘Whip It’ which would almost exclusively secure Freedom of Choice the success the band needed.
Speaking with Rhino on the album’s 35th anniversary, Casale said: “I mean, just personally, I think it’s still the best Devo record. I love it. I’m so unhappy with the production sound of so many of our other records, where I go, ‘God, if this had just been recorded in a mainstream, powerful way, we would’ve been so much better off!’ But when I listen to the odd dryness of Freedom of Choice, what I like is that it’s achieved a kind of timelessness.”
It’s a unique viewpoint, considering the album used so many of the classic techniques that would litter 1980s productions, including Moogs and voice boxes. But as Casale explains, this is part of its appeal, “You can’t put your finger on, ‘Oh, yeah, that was the sound in 1980-whatever,’ like you can with so many ’80s things that have the signature digital delay, echoed drum sounds, and the syrupy synths playing string lines, and those over-gated vocals [Laughs.] But just the dryness and honesty of the production that [Robert] Margouleff did with us makes this thing more timeless to me.”
For Casale, the album represents the moment Devo started working more effectively. No longer tied to their previous material nor any artistic ideals that they had imposed upon themselves, Devo had found a worthy producer, a new platform to perform on and a brand new vision for their sound. “It was a great coming-together of us as a band, creatively moving forward,” continued Casale, “and of that point in time in the culture, before it took a right-wing swing and Reagan came in. At the time, there hadn’t been a real clampdown from radio, so there really was something new in new wave. [Laughs.] And punk was still lurking, and there was just a great freedom and diversity, people were having a great time, and there was a lot of hope.”
From start to finish, Freedom of Choice is an album that speaks highly of the creative vision of the band. It is robust, robotic and utterly compelling, ensuring that as well as being Gerald Casale’s favourite Devo album, it’s ours too.