New Traditionalists

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New Traditionalists
Studio album by Devo
Released 26 August 1981
Recorded December 1980–April 1981
Studio The Power Station, New York
Length 33:28
Label Warner Bros.
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 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 moving even further to the forefront and guitars becoming 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 intended to be a much darker, deeper and serious album. The lead-in track, "Through Being Cool," is a direct attack on new fans who didn't understand Devo's message.

The name of the album was inspired by a Japanese ultra-right wing political group called The New Traditionalists. In the words of Devo bassist and co-songwriter Jerry Casale, "We became The New Traditionalists, but turned it on its ear. We appropriated the idea of that, meaning we were going to provide you with new traditions to forget about the old ones."[4]

Most of the songs on the album are darker and more direct than on previous Devo albums. The exception to this is "Beautiful World," whose message seems optimistic at first but changes as the song progresses. This is made even clearer by the song's promotional video. On "Enough Said," Devo made one of their first overtly political statements, attacking 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."

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," reportedly modeled after President John F. Kennedy's famous pompadour, though in one interview, bassist Gerald Casale claims it to be modeled on Ronald Reagan's own hairstyle. They also wore blue V-neck T-shirts with the New Traditionalists astronaut logo on the black sleeves. This shirt can be seen on the US and Australian versions of the album cover. On the European cover, Devo is seen wearing "Sleeveless Maxi-Turtleneck Sweaters." The T-shirts, turtlenecks and plastic versions of the pomps were all available through Devo's fan club catalog.

Production problems[edit]

New Traditionalists was recorded on a then-new brand of 2" tape from 3M. Unfortunately, when Devo began recording vocals for the album, the edges of the tape had begun to disintegrate. After asking Warner Bros. if they could start over and re-record the album from scratch and being denied, Devo transferred all the work they had done to digital reel-to-reel tape and finished the album via digital recording at The Record Plant in Los Angeles.[4] All of this resulted in New Traditionalists having a murkier and darker sound than previous Devo albums.

"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.[5] 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.

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. 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. 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. Several audio bootlegs of the tour are also available, varying in quality.

In 2012, Devo commemorated the New Traditionalists tour by releasing Live in Seattle 1981 as a double LP for Record Store Day. The album was culled from a cassette recording from November 1981. According to Jerry Casale, "DEVO archivist Michael Pilmer (aka Devo-Obsesso), found the tape in a shoebox full of cassettes in Bob2’s home fifteen years ago, which he immediately transferred to DAT."[5] It was later issued on CD with two bonus tracks from a performance in Boston.

Critical reception[edit]

New Traditionalists was slightly less successful than the Freedom of Choice LP, peaking at #23 on the Billboard charts, whereas Freedom of Choice had peaked at #22. 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" appeared in an episode of the television show Miami Vice entitled "Heart of Darkness."

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale, except where noted. 

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Through Being Cool"   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
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
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"  
Total length:
Additional tracks


Production team
  • Karat Faye – engineer

Chart performance[edit]


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 (Kent Music Report)[7] 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


  • 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, the synthpop band Information Society, 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 Devo 2.0 project, also produced by Disney.
  • "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 2007 single "Watch Us Work It," which was remixed by Teddybears.


External links[edit]