Devolutionary Tactics

Something For Everyone
Something For Everyone

Devo – Something For Everybody
Warner Bros. Records. 2010.

Devolution is a painful process for many bands, often slipping into a period of releasing a series of bad records before descending into self-parody and, yikes, Greatest Hits Tours. It happens to the best of them, and in many cases, the successes of the past aren’t even enough to make up for the sins of today. Starting out great is often the worst career move a band can make, with the full knowledge that it only gets worse from then on out.

Fortunately for Devo, this isn’t a problem. Self-Parody was part of the initial concept. While little should be said of their last two albums – in some ways, unforgivable even by Devo standards – they were the evidence cited by most everyone that it was the end of their all-too brief career. However, their recent adoption of Greatest Hits Tours (complete with critiques of the conceits and conventions of Greatest Hits Tours) worked perfectly for their particular brand of musical repartee, and the occasional new song surfaced for compilation albums and other assorted appearances. However, even this fan was not expecting this, an entirely new album of songs that – what’s this? – are not that bad? Say what?

Leave it to Devo to surprise me yet again. Not only is this album 88% Focus Group Approved (assumedly a reference to the fan voting system they had on the website), but the songs are catchy. The guitars are prominent, and the synths are dancey and appropriate. Rather than embrace the pop conventions of now (the knife that slit the throats of Smooth Noodle Maps and Total Devo), they stick to what they’re good at historically, which is off-kilter social commentary, strange New Wave ballads, and an affinity for strange costumes and pseudo-narratives for the players in the story of Devo.

While I cannot say that this will ever enter into the realm of being my favorite Devo album, my initial fears were entirely dissipated after hearing “Later Is Now,” “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man),” and even “Mind Games.” There are a few low moments, as can be expected. “No Place Like Home,” sort of plods and drones, getting lost when it tries to be profound, and the lyrics aren’t as sharp as the rest of the record. (While leading a track with a strong piano part might seem like a good idea, it just doesn’t translate on headphones.) And some of the other lyrics dance around in that area that seems poignant at first, but loose their punch after a couple listens.

Still, if that is the worst this album offers, then it is definitely a return to form for these lovely Akron weirdoes. The fact I want to listen to it a few times in a row is an excellent sign that things are improving for these devolutionary heroes, and that alone makes me excited. A change of clothing can sometimes set a new tone for someone who has been stuck in a rut, and the new jumpsuits and masks are a sure sign that things are changing for the better. Not that they were in any danger of loosing this fan, but if future efforts are this good, I’ll even take back some of the things I said about the two “mistakes” in my record collection.