In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking songs that saw an artist bounce back after releasing a dud of a record.
Devo, ”Human Rocket” (2010)
Devo didn’t flame out so much as slowly deflate, their sound smoothing out into lukewarm mediocrity. The increasingly diminishing return on their last three albums was evident when drummer Alan Myers left the band after the release of Shout in 1984, citing dissatisfaction with the growing emphasis on synthesizer at the expense of guitar and drums. Following his departure, the band released Total Devo in 1988 and Smooth Noodle Maps in 1990, then briefly toured before breaking up in 1991. So it’s amazing enough that the band would make Something For Everybody together 20 years later, but that it’s a pretty damn good album at that.
It’s by no means a flawless album. “Mind Games,” starts off with a promising video-game chiptune melody but is squandered on a 1950s bar-napkin-joke-level observation on male-female relationship dynamics. And “Cameo” is a befuddling, misguided anthem of a Native American action hero made infinitely worse for incorporating an Indian war whoop.
But for all that, the album—especially the first half—manages to capture some of the nervous, excited energy of their earlier albums. It lacks the same immediate rawness, of course. Bandleader Mark Mothersbaugh went on to a career scoring television, movies, and commercials with his Mutato Muzika studio, so it’s a given Something For Everybody has a layered, highly produced sound. But the song arrangements are the most diverse and inventive since New Traditionalists or Oh No! It’s Devo.
But one track, “Human Rocket” stands up as a great Devo song without caveat. It’s intense, driving, and slightly inscrutable. It begins with a steady synth thrum as Mothersbaugh declares, “I am a human rocket on a mission of deployment,” before building up to a crescendo about the inevitable, ancient programming that compels the singer to a predestined action. It’s never explicit what this hard-wired drive refers to. Duty? Obligation? Our self-destructive natures? Probably sex. Knowing Mothersbaugh, it’s a song about sex.
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