Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Devo, Nada Surf and the punk rock leader of Iceland

I don't usually write about music, but stick with me one this one:

If you haven't heard, Devo has released "Something for Everybody," its first official album in two decades (Though you owe it to yourself to check out the surf rock album from their side project Wipeouters). It's also an amazing album by an amazing band that has unfairly been tagged as "one-hit wonder" for "Whip It," a song that at times makes me cringe from its overexposure.

The problem is Devo was a one-hit wonder only to those who weren't paying attention. Ask a real music fan and they'll rave about the band's more rocking early sound and then go off on how much of our modern sounds owes a lot to the ground Devo plowed.

I've seen Devo in concert twice, once in 1982 in Austin, and again a couple of years ago in San Antonio when they were trying out some of the new music and hammering out the old hits (they've got a good dozen of them in my mind) like they were in a time warp. What they really were in was the start of their Blue Dome Period. The new album pumps and shakes and winks like it's 1982 all over again. And it somehow sounds brand new.

What I'd forgotten is how political Devo is. These are the boys from Kent State, and they showed it in San Antonio when they critiqued poor hapless George W. Bush. The new album also has a political/social edge with songs like "What We Do" and its "Feedin' and breedin' and pumpin' gas/cheeseburger, cheeseburger, do it again..."

I wandered into Austin's Waterloo Records to buy the Devo album. While I was there I scanned the offerings for Nada Surf, a band I love but haven't fully investigated. I noticed the hipster at the counter looked oddly at my music choices. I'm guessing it was the Nada Surf purchases. Maybe this is why I'm not a regular music writer: I had no idea that they were the "one-hit wonders" who did "Popular" back in '96. I instead know Nada Surf for thoughtful creatives songs like "Blonde on Blonde" and "See These Bones."

It seems, like Devo, Nada Surf was unfairly branded a one-hit wonder! I don't know what this says about my musical tastes or the haplessness of the music business, but I do know that Iceland recently elected a punk-rock mayor for its largest city.

That's right, Reykjavik's new mayor is Jon Gnarr, who once toured with the Sugar Cubes and promised free towels at city pools and a Disneyland at the airport as part of his political platform. Somehow that strikes me as proof that Devo was right all along.

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