Beware of Geeks bearing gifts. With every copy of Devo's latest long-playing manifesto, New Traditionalists, you get a giant poster of the Akron pop mutants in their current Spartan Youth pose, as well as a single of the band's quirky custom job on Lee Dorsey's "Working in the Coal Mine." The inner sleeve also features a catalog stocked with all the Devo gags and gear for the spud with bucks to burn.
But it's mostly just a smoke screen for the static, DOR shuck and jive that these New Wave Monkees started peddling last year with Freedom of Choice and the rock-disco people's choice, "Whip It." What made Devo interesting in the first place — their Darwin-in-reverse shtick aside — was a knack for penning catchy, cockeyed kiddie-punk compositions ("Jocko Homo," "Mongoloid" and "Come Back Jonee," their comic rewrite of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode") smartened up with the tongue-in-cheek industrial clang of colliding guitars and spare yet effective synthesizer sniping.
New Traditionalists has a few obvious Top Forty finger poppers — "Through Being Cool" (the latest Devo fight song), "Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth" and "Enough Said" (this year's "Whip It") — and the slick production makes it all go down easy. But the group's increasing overuse of simplistic, droning synthesizer riffs and treadmill dance rhythms is neither trendy nor traditional. It's predictable.
Ironically, the most intriguing new Devo sounds aren't even on this album. One of the items advertised in the catalog is an "E-Z Listening" cassette of the band performing Muzak versions of its greatest hits. Now that's Devo.