I was recently alerted by my friends at Dangerous Minds that Devo is preparing to release a new album, Something for Everyone. This worries me.
For several years in the early 80s, Devo was not just my favorite band, but pretty much the only thing I listened to. For a smart, strange, and somewhat alienated kid, theirs was the right message at the right time: they and I and those like us were not weirdos but superior mutants, and the future belonged to us.
In some respects this has turned out to be true; certainly Devo’s vision of an increasingly technology-centric, fragmented, and surreal world was spot-on accurate, though knowing it was coming didn’t necessarily help us prepare for it, and may even have been something of a burden.
Unfortunately their other central trope, the idea that human evolution had reached its apex and was now tumbling down the other side of the hill, was absolutely correct as well. This has not helped anyone, least of all Devo themselves, who for the last 25 years seem to have gone out of their way to embarrass all of us who liked them by making increasingly bad music and not just selling out in every way known to man, but actually inventing some new ones. To give a few examples:
- Playing corporate parties where they are treated as just another 80s novelty, a bunch of fat old guys in yellow jumpsuits and energy domes. For the record, I have nothing against fat old guys making a buck; but this is Devo, and they used to mean something, and it depresses me.
- Not just selling “Whip It” to Proctor & Gamble for a “Swiffer” commercial, but actually recording a new version of the song specifically for the ad.
- Licensing their music and image to Disney, who created Dev2.0, a band of kids who perform dumbed-down versions of Devo songs marketed to the iCarly set.
That last one is bizarre enough to almost make you wonder. I’ve always wanted to believe that all this is actually a grand experiment in subversion through infiltration, not just a sad money grab by a group of aging rockers with mortgages to pay. But over the years it’s gotten harder and harder to think so. The clincher came last year, when Devo did a concert tour where they played two shows in every city, one a performance of the Q: Are We Not Men album, the other a performance of Freedom of Choice. This sounded appealing until I realized that Are We Not Men clocks in at 34:24, and Freedom at 32:14, meaning that there was absolutely no reason to do two separate shows other than to extract more cash money from the punters.
For the new album, Devo are using focus groups and other modern marketing techniques to tailor their music to the desires of their audience. Again, this almost seems like a nifty idea, but I have grave doubts about the results. An honest-to-“Bob” comeback by the visionaries we used to call the Spud Boys would be most welcome, but I am not holding my breath.
For what it’s worth, Devo will be revealing the 12 songs chosen for the album by Interweb voting on Club Devo today, May 18, at noon Pacific. Click through at your own risk.