Turn on your television this week, and you’ll be met with a houseful of lolling, dead-eyed numpties, or aggressive simians in aprons bellowing obscenities at hapless kitchen staff. Board a train, and you’ll be faced with legions of apparently sane people reading the Daily Mail. Complete financial collapse is imminent; and a pudgy, whey-faced child is in charge of the nation’s finances.
Devo first appeared in the late ’70s, touting the philosophy that mankind is not evolving, but devolving. It appears that they’ve been proved right in the interim; and are therefore riper than anyone for a glorious comeback.
With a sly nod to the prevailing Western idiocracy, Something For Everything is simultaneously really dumb and really clever. It’s the closest thing to a party album that Devo have ever released: every track is fast, insistent, loud, danceable, and wouldn’t have been out of place in the Top 40 at any time over the last 30 years. And yet it’s full of invention and oddness, crammed full of sonic gimmicks and unexpected delights.
For example, What We Do. On the surface, it’s as daft and simple as the kids’ TV themes which have been keeping Mark Mothersbaugh busy for the last few years: the chorus consists of him repeating “What we do is what we do!” in a silly voice over a disco beat. But, as ever with Devo, there’s social satire just millimetres below the surface; and more fool you if you miss it. “Eating and breathing and pumping gas / Cheeseburger cheeseburger / Do it again!” Politics are slipped in through the back door – amidst the robotic daftness of Sumthin’ there’s talk of “psycho pundits” and “al-Qaeda and the Taliban… fundamentally way out of hand.”
The spiky new wave of Devo’s late-’70s albums would have been hard to improve upon, so they’ve wisely left it alone. Something For Everybody picks up neatly where their mainstream peaked in the early ’80s; with much in common with Peek-A-Boo, That’s Good, Whip It, and Girl You Want. This means a big, bright glossy power-pop sound; the dual guitar and keyboard assault as ever tapping into both ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and ’70s disco.
Which isn’t to stay they’re stuck in the past: some of the arrangements veer close to techno, and the crisp production sounds anything but dated. As Kraftwerk found with their 2003 Tour De France Soundtracks album, a comeback has brought Devo squarely into a scene which they’ve clearly influenced. Echoes of nu-rave, the shimmery disco of Klaxons, and the driving electro-rock of LCD Soundsystem are all in evidence here; but of course the Devo boys were wearing day-glo plastic outfits and bashing cowbells while those bands were still in nappies.
While the quality doesn’t really drop off at any point, 16 tracks is perhaps overlong. There’s not much variation in tempo, and so Something For Everything feels like a lot to absorb in one sitting. Nonetheless, after 20 years out of the spotlight, this is a terrific return to form. Let’s just see how far the human race devolves before their next album appears.