As rock and roll’s premier consumerist obsessives, only Devo could get away with a sticker on their album cover which proudly proclaims “88% Focus Group Approved!” Indeed, it’s not just a situationist ploy: polls on the band’s website dictated the majority of the finished product, from its tracklist to even the colour of the band’s new uniforms. Any naysayers would no doubt think that, given their twenty-year absence from the mainstream, the band are betraying a lack of confidence, but Something for Everybody is their brashest-sounding LP since Freedom of Choice, thirty years ago.
Indeed, not just brash, but determined. The first two tracks alone – also the album’s first two singles – are unwavering statements of intent, and certainly a compelling argument for 2010′s need for Devolution. ‘Fresh’ leaps out of the speakers with three crashingly fizzy chords, before descending into prime Devo pop; a jerky riff, handclaps aplenty and Mark Mothersbaugh’s curiously commanding nerdy whine. With an urgent howl, the cheeky one-chord electropop of ‘What We Do’ ups the ante even further boasting a typically tautological chorus with just a hint of self-deprecation (“What we do is what we do – it’s all the same, there’s nothing new”). It also provides the first glimpse of the band’s unique sense of humour, as they applaud technology for its obedience (“My door does what I say: I say open, and it does!”) in the face of the unreliability of the human race. Ouch, my sides.
Unfortunately, from there, the album becomes oddly homogenous, though the focus-group method means that the band have effectively absolved themselves from blame; indeed, the hyperactive glitterstomp of ‘Please Baby Please’ – one of the LP’s most irritating cuts – was a last minute addition, at the behest of fans. On a slightly more musoish note, much of Something for Everybody is in the same key, allowing even the casual listener to alternate hooks across practically every song; meanwhile, Greg Kurstin’s electrospangle school of production becomes gratingly overpowering over the course of forty minutes. Sure, it makes the band sound ‘contemporary’ (to say nothing of ‘Sumthin”’s dated references to “Al Qaeda and the Taliban”), but the experimentation with autotune on the otherwise vintage-sounding ‘Human Rocket’ just doesn’t sit well.
The most interesting moments come when the band decides to make subtle changes to (ahem) what they do; ‘Later Is Now’ borders on the straightforward – no herk, no jerk, just simple powerchords and an insistent melody that burrows into your psyche. Even more interesting is ‘No Place Like Home’, which begins with a pseudo-powerballad piano and cello, before ramping up the tempo on its philosophical chorus (“There’s no place like home…to return to”). It’s a unique moment in the band’s catalogue, strangely reminiscent of The Teardrop Explodes, and is arguably the most tender and reflective track in the Devo catalogue, albeit one you can still dance to. After that – and great though it is – the propulsive roborock anthem ‘March On’ comes almost as an anticlimax.
It’s definitely a solid comeback after twenty years away, but Devo were always capable of sounding vital, even at their most sluggish. This new record definitely has its moments, but it’s not the consistent thrill that they were once capable of, and is more likely to preach Devolution to the converted than win over any new supporters. Let’s just say it’s Something for Everybody…who already liked Devo to begin with.