A DEVO-tastrophy

One of the perks of working at Pollstar is getting a chance to preview music before it’s released to the general public – a LOT of music. Since I’m basically a music fanatic, each package that arrives is like Christmas. Especially yesterday, when a preview copy of the new DEVO CD, “Something For Everybody,” landed on my desk. That’s when the trouble started.

“Oh boy,” I thought, “I get to hear the first new music in 20 years from a band I’ve loved since high school! Life is good.” And to make the deal even sweeter, the accompanying press release informed me that I was being invited to take part in a revolutionary event.

“Friends and consumers from all walks of life, the time has finally come,” the release from the band’s publicity department read. “DEVO, Inc., and its musical division DEVO, are in need of your help. In an effort to comply with the growing need for appealing sonic products in the mass market, we have officially launched the ‘Devo Song Study’ to collect data regarding which of our current roster of recorded material is most appealing to you, the general public. Of course when we say ‘the general public’ we’re also including members of the music press and media because we want your help as well. As you know, this is an unprecedented move and as this is your album too, we’re counting on you! Currently the band has created 16 new songs, which, at the request of corporate leadership, must be narrowed down to 12 for the official album release.

“This interactive test will gauge your exact opinion on matters of musical taste and is the latest technological wrinkle in facilitating DEVO’s ongoing mission to appeal to everybody. We need you, the harrowed content consumer, to determine these final 12 songs. And we assure you that any measured contribution to this cause is time well spent, and enables a freedom of choice that was foretold long ago.”

Wait. Let me get this straight. DEVO, the band that helped provide the soundtrack to high school dances, road trips and countless parties in my youth, is asking ME to choose which 12 songs they should put on their album? Holy crap!

After I quit hyperventilating and spent a few minutes briefly taunting everyone in the office about my newly acquired power, I sat down at my computer and opened the tightly packaged CD.

(Before I go any further, perhaps I should explain that the CD and the envelope it was sealed in is marked in every place possible, “Restricted Release Watermarked Disc!” and bears my name, Pollstar’s name and what I can only assume is a serial number. For those unfamiliar with the term, “watermarked” means the tracks on each disc sent out are digitally encoded with information that identifies a specific person or company. That way if the music somehow finds its way to a file sharing site or it leaks on somebody’s blog, the record company (Warner Brothers in this case) will be able to track down the culprit and hang them by their ankles – among other things.)

Photo: AP Photo
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Indio, Calif.

Okay, back to that excited writer preparing to be amazed by a new DEVO album while at the same time shaping the course of history by helping to choose the songs that make the final cut.

I took the CD out of the envelope – being extra careful not to get any fingerprints on it – and loaded it into my PC. And then – nothing. WHAT?!

The computer’s CD drive kept making a valiant attempt to read the disc, but to no avail. It seems that in a zealous effort to keep DEVO’s new music under tight control, WB Records – or team DEVO – had also placed on the CD some kind of safeguard to make it impossible to copy or rip.

Having encountered this particular problem before with a Crystal Method CD (a whole other story I must share with you some day), I knew my chances of ever listening to this CD were slim to none. You see, most modern equipment doesn’t just play compact discs, it also plays Windows Media files and MP3s. And the little program apparently built into the disc sees anything that does that as a computer.

Not wanting to throw in the towel so easily, I dashed to my car and tried the player there. Nope.

Discouraged, but not beaten. I hung my hopes on my home system, which is the standard CD/DVD surround sound outfit probably found in most homes in the country at this point. Uh-uh. No dice.

I spent a good deal of time last night digging through drawers, looking in closets and pulling boxes out of storage in hopes of finding what is probably the only thing that this particular copy of DEVO’s new album will play on – my ancient Sony Discman. But it didn’t turn up. I’m pretty sure it went the way of the VCR about the time that the MP3 player showed up – sold in a garage sale or given to a really young relative who wouldn’t know they were getting an outdated hand me down.

And that’s it. No new DEVO music for me – yet. (And, I’m guessing, pretty much every other person who got a copy of this particular CD.)

I even appealed to the band’s publicist for a link to download or stream the music and was told that the Powers That Be are keeping such a tight lid on Something For Everybody those things weren’t an option. I would say “keeping a tight lid” on it is an understatement.

So here’s a message for whoever dreamed up and executed the “Devo Song Study”:

Wow! Brilliant idea! You get the people with the power to publicly savage DEVO’s first new music in two decades to choose which songs make the final cut and are released to the public, thereby giving them no one but themselves to blame for what’s on the album. Genius, I tells ya!

Now maybe you should actually let them listen to it.