Devo – Something For Everybody [Warner Bros., 2010]

Devo - Something for everybodyWhen they first appeared in the late-70s wearing boiler suits and spud boy hats, a mix of punk guitars and cutting edge electronics, sporting the patronage of both Brian Eno and David Bowie, Akron, Ohio’s Devo seemed as much a mysterious cult as a band. Their vision of the future – that as the human race evolved society was regressing, or something – was as thought-provoking as Kraftwerk’s man/machine debate, but possibly because of the eccentric headwear and ironic lyrics, nobody quite saw Devo in the same exalted light as the funky Germans.

Twenty years after their last album of original material, 1990’s poor Smooth Noodle Maps, and 30 years after they released anything even the most dedicated fan could make a convincing case for, they once again return to chart the downfall of the American Dream.

Something for Everyone isn’t a return to the halcyon days, but neither is it a deluded grasp for relevance, their sonic instincts still intact, the wheezy synths and buzzing guitars sharp and modern. Lead track and single Fresh sounds as perky as anything in their canon, with What We Do and Step Up only shades behind it; but too often it’s an inconsistent world of quirk over content.

Please Baby Please is an unappealing mixture of Antmusic and cult 60s garage nutjobs The Monks, while Mind Games is something you never really want to hear – a Devo ‘love’ song filled with observations like “trying on dresses half her size”. References to day-glo skies, hybrid cars and the robotic vapidity of modern America litter the other tracks and overshadow even Later Is Now, the one true return to old form.

Sadly, as every year passes without Devo reaping any of the retro-fit plaudits afforded bands who surfed their bow wave – The Human League, Heaven 17, even dear old Gary Numan – their former sense of ironic fun seems to be slipping into bitterness (witness the title of their 2000 anthology album, Pioneers Who Got Scalped). But there is just enough here to suggest the end is hardly nigh. Musically, at least, Devo still sit right up the front of the good ship electronica

Andy Fyfe

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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