Devo’s newest album is titled “Something for Everybody,” but that’s not at all a guarantee for one of the most off-the-wall acts in music. The band is often perceived as a novelty act due to its music sounding like a videogame soundtrack, its songs’ bizarre premises (like 1980’s “Whip It”) and vocalist Mark Motherbaugh’s voice, which sounds like he should be narrating ‘50s Batman episodes.
The group did not make itself any more mainstream when it put out its first album in 20 years. The track “What We Do” features one key element that mirrors the band’s past work: repetitive phrases that sound ridiculous, but actually provide social commentary.
Around half of the lines in the song are “What we do is what we do,” followed by a hook that laments “it’s all the same, there’s nothing new.” Devo’s complaint about the staleness of existence might not be taken too seriously for a variety of reasons. On one hand, Motherbaugh’s approach to vocals really does make anything sound funny. The band also makes the situation more humorous by using lines like “Eatin’ and breedin’ and pumping gas. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, do it again.”
Just about all of Devo’s music involves some cynical reference to the state of society, but a listener shouldn’t go to Devo to get a social science lesson, because the music is just way too fun. Music technology has come a long way since 1990, and Devo sounds even more digital now as a result. Motherbaugh is backed by a wall of synthbass, drum machine-produced beats, chirps and other electronic hijinks. The dense mass of programmed and upbeat music makes this a prime dance song, no matter how dark the lyrics.
Listeners might not get Devo at first, but regardless, “What we do is what we do” is better than “We R Who We R.”