Most bands would scoff at the idea at utilizing a focus group to advance their artistic ends, but then again Devo has made a nearly four decade career out of defying the norm. Once a band focused on the de-evolution of society, Devo embraced the input of the masses leading up to their first album in 20 years, Something For Everybody. Having created a series of studies and focus groups to determine which color is most pleasing to audiences (looks like they settled on blue), or whether or not people like cats (they do, hence the day-long kitten listening party), Devo stood determined to make an album designed to please the largest number of people, if not in its music, at least in its marketing.
Yet, by all means, Something for Everybody easily lives up to its title. More closely aligned with the synth-pop hooks of Freedom of Choice rather than the wiry punk rock weirdness of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, Something is all hooks, all grooves and instantly satisfying while remaining true to Devo’s idiosyncratic identity. Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob 1 and Bob 2 are backed by drummer Josh Freese, who has been on about 75 percent of all recorded music in the known universe, and as such his beats provide some expert, high-energy weight to these 12 songs, almost all of which are party jams. Also contributing to this pristinely crafted pop album are producers Greg Kurstin, best known for his work in The Bird and the Bee, and Santigold, who helmed production on “Fresh!” and “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man).”
“Don’t Shoot” and “Fresh!” are not coincidentally the two lead singles from the album as well as the two most instantly fantastic songs here. The latter kicks off the album with an explosion of compressed, synthesized magic, while the former, released last year, finds the band joining in a chant of “Don’t tase me bro!” in its hilarious coda. Likewise, “Mind Games” is a two-and-a-half-minute banger with some 8-bit synth work that all but compels the listener to start flailing about instantaneously. The badass “Human Rocket” is classic Devo, propelled by glam rock swagger and the refrain “I am a human rocket/ on a mission of redemption,” delivered by Mark Mothersbaugh through a not-so-subtle auto-tune filter (they are from the future, as you might recall). And “Sumthin'” even reincorporates the beat from “Whip It” on a utilitarian rock jam that states the band’s new mission: “I’ve got somethin’ for everybody.”
Though the relentless pulse and jerky dancepunk maintain a steady presence throughout the album, toward the end, the band delivers a handful of more ambitious and densely layered tracks a la “Beautiful World.” The first of these, “Later Is Now,” is easily one of the best tracks on the album, full of stunning synth work and blazing guitar riffs, while “No Place Like Home” is a stately and actually quite pretty song that kicks off with a majestic piano hook which is soon matched by more gorgeous guitar. And yet it’s also one of the more austere tracks on the album, if such a thing can be said of a Devo song, with Mothersbaugh lamenting “Can’t have a rainbow without the rain.”
After 20 years of being a touring-only act, delivering the scant Nine Inch Nails cover for a Jackie Chan film, Something for Everybody reveals that Devo still sounds, true to their newest single, quite fresh. The conceptual nature of the band isn’t quite as incisive as it once was, and the radical, visceral sound of their earliest material has since (de-)evolved into a more hook friendly approach, but neither of these complaints can really take away from one’s enjoyment of this album. There’s certainly almost something for everyone here, but more importantly, there’s a lot to celebrate for Devo fans.
Devo – Freedom of Choice
Sparks – No. 1 in Heaven
Polysics – Neu
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.