Jun 22, 2010, 08:44AM

DEVO is back

And they secretly hate you.

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In 1997, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid published Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art, which documented a four-year odyssey of creating art designed to have the broadest possible statistical appeal to their audience. Using telephone polls, the team gathered raw data about what the collective populace would like to see when it came to the ideal artwork, and after all of the information was organized, they created a series of scientifically perfect, hideous masterpieces. All of this served as proof that the process of creating art for the lowest common denominator is a perilous, ugly and satisfies no one.

DEVO's new album, Something For Everybody embraces a philosophy almost identical to the one put forth by Painting by Numbers. Twenty years after DEVO stopped warning us that we've all been on a slow path towards weird, homogenized potato-dom, they've come back to say “told you so.” By using a series of Internet polls to determine everything from their new look to which songs would be included on their album, DEVO allowed every conceptual decision to be made by their audience, resulting in blue energy domes and a really good record.

Why Komar and Melamid's works were unspeakably hideous and DEVO's album is surprisingly listenable represents a statistical divide between the polled audiences. While the idea of creating a scientifically “perfect” album is an awesome, the data that Komar and Melamid used was gathered from a random selection of people within a specified, but vast, area. DEVO's information was drawn from people who were already inclined to follow DEVO and see Facebook ads, thereby skewing the data in the direction of “classic DEVO” anyhow. It's all sound in theory, and it's produced a great album, but if DEVO had chosen to randomize this poll to a wider, non-Internet audience, I think we would have had a mess unworthy of DEVO's highly anticipated return to making albums. I'm not sure if the sacrifice for art would have been worth the loss of DEVO's soul by allowing Drake to lay down some of his mad phat rhymes between their subtle indictments of consumer culture.

Even still, catchphrases like “don't taze me bro” are used as choruses, and buzzwords like “texting” and “hybrid car” choke every verse. While ironic, it can't help but be a little embarrassing. But the fast food lyrics to “What We Do” hearken warmly back to the days of Mark Mothersbaugh using Burger King jingles within 1978's “Too Much Paranoias,” so referencing the worst parts of pop culture, and how they infect everything they touch, is not a new thing for DEVO. They're just making it completely obvious now, with the understanding that the audience is more than willing to swallow whatever they're fed, that people will unquestioningly do as they're told, and that these are probably the end times anyhow. This is the band that announced their return to making music by recording a new version of “Whip It!” for a Swiffer commercial, and followed it up by making an original song for a car commercial. Shame disappeared a long time ago, and reached an apex during DEVO's recent “Cat Listening Party”: a live webcam feed in which a bunch of cute cats could be seen listening to the new album, because people freakin' love Internet cats.

DEVO has always been a presence that expressed disapproval of the world around them by becoming a caricature of it, but when the world we live is isn't that far removed from a caricature of itself, is DEVO actually making a statement? It's a catchy project, but I can't help but wonder if I'm part of the problem by enjoying it.


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