Oh, Yes, It's Devo

When it comes to high-art subversion, these guys still have everyone whipped

The central tenet of Devo is probably the most durable dictum in punk-rock history. At its simplest, the band’s iconic neon monotony constitutes a sort of anti-image; at its most complicated, consider it a 32-year-old license to commit murder. There’s no use trying to explain the band’s myriad gears and contradictions (conformity as ironic virtue, art pranks hidden in pop songs, etc.), but by positioning themselves as puckish flies in the industry buttermilk, Devo can pretty much do whatever they want and justify it as subversion. Re-recording their biggest hit for a Swiffer ad? Cutting a kiddie album for Disney? Premiering a new song in a Dell commercial? Why not? Malcolm McLaren wasn’t savvy enough to dream up something that versatile. Hell, Fugazi fans still cry if a show is more than $5—and that’s after 20 years of inflation. Band of Horses devotees practically revolted after a song turned up in a Wal-Mart ad; same with Grizzly Bear touting the Washington State lottery. Maybe they all should’ve just said, “Fuck it. We’re being Devo.”

Once again turning business into winky art, the band initially announced that their first new album since 1990, Something for Everybody, would be as crowd-sourced as a Reddit page (a sign of de-evolution if ever there was one). They’d stream 16 songs on their website, and after fans picked their favorite 12, a joke-y press conference would be held to announce the “winners.” Except three of those voted-in songs (including excellent single “Watch Us Work It”) are missing from the official track listing. Label fuckery? Band vetoing? A prank on their own fans? Somehow, this is all very Devo.

But you can’t just cynically peg the final product itself as some wry cash-in: It’s too damn good. Something for Everybody is pure Devo, triumphantly Devo, sincerely Devo, Devo without scare-quotes. It fits into the nu-electronic landscape without a hiccup, way better than the Information Society electro-boogie of their last album, 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps. It helps, of course, that said landscape looks so earnestly toward our heroes’ early-’80s retro-future—those buzzing, wrinkling, soaring synths and stiff grooves.

"Tastefully updated" are probably the magic words.
Joshua Dalsimer
"Tastefully updated" are probably the magic words.

Now, the genuine article comes barreling back like a beefy, macho version of all those robo-political Christinas and Kelises and Gagas and Ke$has, constructing their own distinctive, punky Dork Android. A dozen pachinko-core blip-punk bangers with only one or two stinkers, Everybody mixes the cartoon-synth churn of 1982’s Oh, No! It’s Devo with the added heft of drummer Josh Freese’s beefy industrial slam. “Don’t tase me, bro,” is now a hilarious coda . . . vintage Pac-Man bloops explode like ordinance from the Loudness Wars . . . there’s even a bittersweet “Beautiful World”–style moment, the melancholy jam “No Place Like Home.” The two best songs get a production assist from Santigold, and don’t sound like her in the slightest.

If anything, Everybody sounds like a ballsier, poppier version of electronic pop circa 2007, with shades of Teddybears, the Klaxons, and Does It Offend You, Yeah? done with better hooks and funnier lyrics. “Tastefully updated” are probably the magic words, as Devo still mine the same territory they did in 1979 (love among the meatbags, the miracle of monotony, the way they comb their hair), but now with the occasional reference to hybrid cars. When they chant, “What we do is what we do/It’s all the same, there’s nothing new,” its a bonehead-simple tautology that works when you apply it to anything, from America on down to the music on their own record, macro and micro, society and self, one and the same, all achingly Devo.

 
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