New Traditionalists

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New Traditionalists
Studio album by Devo
Released August 26, 1981
Recorded December 1980-April 1981, The Power Station, New York
Genre New wave, synthpop
Length 33:28
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob Casale
Devo chronology
DEV-O Live
New Traditionalists
Oh, No! It's Devo
Alternative cover
International cover
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau (B)[2]
Rolling Stone 2/5 stars[3]

New Traditionalists is the fourth studio album by the new wave rock band Devo. It was produced by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, and Gerald and Bob Casale, and was released in August 1981 on Warner Bros. Records. It features the minor hits "Through Being Cool" and "Beautiful World." The sound continued in the vein of the previous album Freedom of Choice, with synthesizers moved to the forefront and guitars more subdued. Some of the tracks feature drum machines for the first time on a Devo record. In addition, the lyrics are frequently dark and vitriolic.

With the success of "Whip It" and its associated album Freedom of Choice, Devo attracted a new, more pop-oriented audience that was less interested in Devo's artistic theories and intelligent lyrics. In response, New Traditionalists was aimed to be a much darker, deeper and serious album. The lead-in track, "Through Being Cool," is a direct attack at Johnny-Come-Lately fans who didn't understand Devo's message.

As with every Devo album and tour, the band developed a new look for the album, eschewing the Energy Dome headgear, and replacing it with the plastic "New Traditionalist Pomp," modeled after the President John F. Kennedy's hairstyle. On stage, Devo wore what were called "Utopian Boy Scout Uniforms," consisting of a gray button down shirt, gray slacks, and black patent leather shoes. They also wore a blue V-neck tee shirt with the New Traditionalists logo on the black sleeves. This can be seen on the US and Australia album covers. On the European cover, Devo wears a "Sleeveless Maxi-Turtleneck Sweater." The t-shirts, turtlenecks, and plastic versions of the pomps were available through Devo's fan club catalog.

Most of the songs on the album are very dark with the lyrics lacking the irony and wit that Devo was known for. The exception to this is "Beautiful World." At first listen, the song seems very upbeat and happy, until the line "It's not for me," which reveals the more cynical side of the song. This is made much clearer by the song's video (see below). On "Enough Said," Devo becomes political, making fun of world leaders and the political process: "Take all the leaders from around the world / Put them together in a great big ring / Televise it as the lowest show on Earth / And let them fight like hell to see who's king."

New Traditionalists was not quite as much of a success as the Freedom of Choice LP, peaking at #23 on the Billboard charts. The non-album single "Working in the Coal Mine" (a cover of the Lee Dorsey song, written by Allen Toussaint) peaked at #43 on the Pop Singles chart. The album and its singles continued Devo's success in Australia, with "Beautiful World" peaking at #14 and "Working in the Coal Mine" at #20. "Going Under" appears in Miami Vice episode "Heart of Darkness".

"Working in the Coal Mine"[edit]

New Traditionalists was originally packaged with a bonus 7" single of the band's cover of "Working in the Coal Mine." According to a 2008 interview with Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo had originally intended to include the song on the album but were thwarted by Warner Bros.[4] The band was then approached by the makers of the animated film Heavy Metal and asked if they had a song to donate for a sequence in the film involving a house band in outer space. Devo offered them the unused "Working in the Coal Mine," and as a fluke the song ended up being the only charting song on the soundtrack album. Since the song was now a "hit," Warner Bros. pressed up thousands of two-sided 7" singles and included them with initial copies of the LP. Most CD and cassette pressings of New Traditionalists include "Working in the Coal Mine" as a bonus track, although the recent 2005 issue from Collectables Records contains only the album's original tracklist.

The original LP bonus package also included a poster drawn by a member of the Church of the Subgenius. It portrays the band on stage, with some iconic American characters (a Native American, a Pilgrim, a cowboy, a hippie, a punk rocker and a modern housewife) in the audience.

Promotional music videos[edit]

Devo made three music videos for the album. "Through Being Cool" had Devo taking a limited role, focusing on a team of kids clad in Devo "Action Vests" attacking arrogant and ignorant people with spudguns.

In "Love Without Anger," Devo acts as a Greek chorus to a bizarre love story between two humanoid chickens. It also features a stop motion video by Rev. Ivan Stang (Church of the SubGenius) of Barbie and Ken fighting each other and removing each other's body parts. A portrait of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs is on the wall above the couch.

"Beautiful World" is considered by many fans and critics to be Devo's greatest music video, setting the tune to a series of connected images from film archives. The video features Booji Boy prominently, as he initially watches scenes of beautiful women, futuristic cars, and other happy elements, which by the end of the song have been replaced by images of race riots, the Ku Klux Klan, World War I, famine in Africa, car crashes and nuclear explosions, which puts a much darker slant on the song's lyrics. The video was slightly censored for broadcasts on the ABC-TV music show Countdown. A small segment of archive footage depicting a woman on fire was considered unsuitable for the show's early evening timeslot—despite the fact that the 'flames' were animated, not real—and this censored version is still screened occasionally on the ABC's music video series Rage, including a mid-1990s episode hosted by Devo.


The "New Traditionalists" tour was a large undertaking. Devo performed on treadmills in front of a Greek Temple styled structure. Behind the members, between the pillars, small screens displayed rear-projected images. Devo carried an impressive sound system on the tour as well. Professional footage was shot during the tour, but it was destroyed due to an electrical short. However, Devo appeared on the TV show Fridays in 1981 and performed five songs with a full stage set and this has been archived. Several audio bootlegs of the tour are also available, varying in quality. In 2012 DEVO released New Traditionalists - Live in Seattle 1981 as a double LP for Record Store Day 2012.


  • In 1982, Toni Basil released a cover of "Pity You" on her album Word of Mouth, retitled as "You Gotta Problem." The instrumental track of this version was re-recorded by Devo and the album was engineered by Bob Casale.
  • The song "Beautiful World" was covered by the indie rock band Harvey Danger and rap/rock group Rage Against the Machine on their final studio album Renegades.
  • "Love Without Anger" was covered by The Aquabats for the We Are Not Devo tribute album.
  • "Through Being Cool" was covered by They Might Be Giants for the soundtrack for the Disney movie Sky High with altered lyrics. Some of these altered lyrics were carried over into the (also Disney) Devo 2.0 project.
  • "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth" was covered by POLYSICS and is featured on their single for XCT.
  • The drum machine track for "The Super Thing" was reused in Devo's newest single "Watch Us Work It," which was remixed by Teddybears.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale except as noted.

  1. "Through Being Cool" (Gerald V. Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh) – 3:14
  2. "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth" – 3:05
  3. "Pity You" (M. Mothersbaugh) – 2:47
  4. "Soft Things" – 3:27
  5. "Going Under" – 3:26
  6. "Race of Doom" – 3:44
  7. "Love Without Anger" – 2:37
  8. "The Super Thing" – 4:21
  9. "Beautiful World" – 3:35
  10. "Enough Said" (M. Mothersbaugh, G.V. Casale, General Boy) – 3:26
  • "Working in the Coal Mine" was available as a bonus 7" single with initial copies of the album. It was included on the original cassette release, and has been appended to most CD issues of the album.

CD releases[edit]

  • In 1997, Infinite Zero Archive/American Recordings issued a remastered version of this album on CD with three bonus tracks: the single a-side "Working in the Coal Mine," the b-side of the "Jerkin' Back and Forth" single, "Mecha-Mania Boy," and the spoken word b-side of the "Beautiful World" picture disc, "Nu-Tra Speaks."
  • In 2005, Collectables Records released a digitally remastered CD of this album, without bonus tracks or "Working in the Coal Mine."
  • In 2008, the album was digitally remastered and released individually and as part of the box set This is the Devo Box in Japan. This release added "Working in the Coal Mine."
  • On March 29, 2010, Warner Bros. Records announced it would be issuing a newly remastered and expanded edition of the album on CD.[5] Released on May 18, the bonus tracks included on the release are the spoken word piece "Nu-tra Speaks," "One Dumb Thing" (which first appeared on the compilation Pioneers Who Got Scalped), "Modern Life" and "Faster and Faster" (both of which first appeared on the compilation Recombo DNA), "Psychology of Desire" (a demo of "The Super Thing" with alternate lyrics, also from Recombo DNA) and the E-Z Listening Disc version of "Beautiful World." Oddly enough, "One Dumb Thing," "Modern Life" and "Faster and Faster" are all outtakes from the Oh, No! It's Devo sessions. (All three tracks were restored and overdubbed in 1998 for inclusion in the PC CD-ROM game Interstate '82.) This edition does not include "Working in the Coal Mine."



  • "Through Being Cool (Dance Velocity)" / "Going Under (Dance Velocity)"
  • "Working in the Coal Mine" / "Planet Earth"
  • "Beautiful World" / "Nu-Tra Speaks"
  • "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth" / "Mecha-Mania Boy"



Year Chart Position
1981 US Billboard Top 100 23
US Record World Top 100 24
UK Music Week Top 100 50
New Zealand RIANZ Top 50 6
Australia ARIA Top 100 3
Canada RPM Top 50 32


Year Single Chart Position
1981 "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth/Through Being Cool/Going Under" US Billboard Club Play Singles 32
"Working in the Coal Mine" US Billboard Club Play Singles 30
US Billboard Mainstream Rock 53
US Billboard Pop Singles 43
US Cash Box Top 100 36
US Record World Top 100 27
New Zealand RIANZ Top 50 8
Australia ARIA Top 100 20
Canada RPM Top 50 17
UK Music Week Top 100 ?
"Beautiful World" US Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 102
Australia ARIA Top 100 14
1982 New Zealand RIANZ Top 50 15
"Through Being Cool" US Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 107