Fri 17 Feb 2012
It’s been many years since DEVO released an album. Hek, nowadays albums are being questioned as a form of experience delivery. Ever since their magnificent masterpiece Oh No It’s DEVO!, the record induhstry has slowly managed to disrupt their energies and subsume their influence into the blood pool of sacrifice to the ownership.
Not that they were wholly defeated, mind you. They survived as best they could, finding ways to continue to be creative and get their work out in some form to people in need of it. Their concerts especially allowed them to continue to perform and keep the baseline light glowing.
Watching them sing a sad version of “Jocko Homo” in concert, I was struck by how they recognized their shadow—that their best years were behind them and they had served their purpose. That’s a hard truth to allow into your depths, to affect you. It changes you and your work, oftentimes beyond recovery.
So out comes their latest effort, Something For Everybody. I want to be wowed and thrilled by this development. Their concerts are great and their connectedness is cool. I’m digging that they have survived and have not given up that last inch.
But after their last album, and the intervening years, are they still able to reach me? I’m not the same as I was when I grew up with them, their every word humming in tune with how I felt and how I saw the world.
Having listened to the songs for a while and listened to what the spud adventurers have mixed up for us, I can only say the result is mixed. Is it possible to both get it and not get it? At times songs like “What We Do” and “Watch Us” are such devastatingly spot-on pieces of mutato beauty it brings a moisture to my eye.
Other songs such as “March On” and “Human Rocket” just don’t connect with me at all. They resemble a strip-mined DEVO that has played out.
There’s the sorrowful “No Place Like Home”, full of fatalistic remorse at the end. It makes “Beautiful World” from New Traditionalists seem hopeful by comparison.
The humorous “Don’t Shoot I’m A Man” cribs on previous insights, yet still manages to be good. It’s hard not to like the current DEVO bridging the past and present with skill.
Straight up pop songs like “Fresh” dance along a similar knowing playfulness and innuendo. Not my cup of tea, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they are having fun and showing us a secret passage in the heart of darkness.
One thing that strikes me is DEVO’s utter mastery of electronic music making. They demonstrate fluency and command of just about every techno trick in today’s music. That’s the benefit of being a pioneer in the field who has stayed dialed in, practicing every day with devotion.
In a way they are showing off and in another way they are showing how out of tricks today’s popular music is. It isn’t even shallow any more; it’s got nothing at all. Is it any wonder today’s music business is fading away? It’s all been done and there’s nothing new left to explore. And copyright forbids us from remaking the older stuff into something new.
I’m left considering how this album leaves me mostly in the middle. Is it that I only like their unabashed forays into utter creativity and this tempered metal is somehow less palatable? I suppose so. I do come away with some gold, so can I really complain?
There’s a song called “Step Up”, which in my mind stands up as a hidden alloy of metals surprise. Insightful, hopeful, but also realistic of what needs to be done. Wasn’t it always up to the listener to hear the message anyway? DEVO have done their time, dug up their gold, and shared some with us. Do we want to become dependent on them for what we ourselves need to do work on?
We need the prophets to reflect back to us how we have gone astray. But if we do not heed them and find our own way what good have they done? The call of the divine could saturate us with every kind of delightful revelation and treasure of form to reassure us. Yet if we do not live it, respond, are we alive? Are we DEVO?
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