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Devo are back and this time they’ve got slightly different hats. Fortunately where the energy domes have changed, Devo’s tongue-in-cheek world view hasn’t. At the heart of the band there has always been a fantastic dichotomy between intelligence and an über-knowing stupidity. A band inspired by the Kent State Shootings preaching about social decline yet doing so with pop-hooks dressed in kitsch sci-fi outfits. A band of academic punk rockers mocking themselves as much of the world around them.
At their best, this philosophical finds its way into Devo's music; from brainy takes on pop like ‘Whip It’ and ‘Girl U Want’ to their wonderfully robotic reinterpretations of hits like ‘Secret Agent Man’ and ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’ On record they’ve always been hugely interesting, yet you’ll be hard pressed to find a more fun greatest hits set than the one Devo have been touring in recent years.
From any other band the news that their comeback record, the first in 20 years, is a major label affair with a track listing selected by focus groups would spell corporate sell-out disaster. Yet Devo have always had a flirtatious relationship with commercialism, found in moves like the release of a Devo themed computer game and the Disney backed, S-Club Juniors-esque Devo 2.0 project. 'Everything we’ve done outside Devo is a permutation on the theme we started with' claims vocalist Mark Mothersbaurgh – a knowing statement from a man whose CV highlights include composing the theme tune to The Rugrats. This new move just feels like another witty extension of Devo’s master-plan.
Both sides of Devo are certainly present on Something for Everybody – the fun and the wry intelligence. It would be hard not to enjoy the string of tracks that lead the record’s first half. ‘Fresh’ packs a classic robotic riff and a meaty synth-led chorus – a reawakening of classic Devo tools that have been borrowed in recent years by everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Lady Gaga. ‘What We Do’ is a ready-made synth-pop classic complete with mocking, commercial-speak vocals while ‘Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)’ is Devo’s sci-fi rock at its best.
Yet if all the elements of old Devo are there maybe they haven’t been mixed together quite right. In reality Something For Everybody is probably 50 per cent great Devo tracks, 40 per cent decent ones and ten per cent misfire. A lot of the latter half of the album feels like a by-numbers rehash of the band's classic work. Sure, the results are still enjoyable enough, but it provides little reason not to just revisit their earlier records . Meanwhile the bastardised piano ballad ‘No Place Like Home’ is iffy to say the least; like a collection of good ideas that didn’t quite come off right and should never have made it past the focus groups. Polished production helps the record’s hooks pack a heavy punch, yet Devo’s music always gained something from the scratchy production of yore.
That's the criticisms out of the way, then. Certainly tracks one through six are up there with the most out-and-out enjoyable stuff Devo have ever produced, without compromise on the wit or cynicism. It may be too late in life for Devo to truly regain the heights of what made them one of the best bands of the new wave era, but it doesn’t matter. More than anything it’s just reassuring to know that they’re still out there and they’ve still got their energy domes screwed on the right way.
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