Fresh by Devo
By Ron Powers
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to start this month’s article by saying I’m very thankful for my family. This year has had its share of ups and downs but my family has been there through it all. I’m also thankful for musicians and the music they make. Speaking of music, this month’s Flashback article features a song that pop culture missed out on. Akron, Ohio new wave band Devo released “Fresh” in April of 2010 as the lead single for their ninth studio album, Something For Everybody. “Fresh” is easily on par with the band’s more widely recognized music. In fact, it’s arguably superior to much of the band’s earlier work. “Fresh” has a tight locked-in feel complete with balanced guitars, snappy drums, and plucked synth bass. The production has a blend of zipping fuzz, smoothness, and polish.
The first three measures of “Fresh” feature the band striking their instruments in unison. The notes convey an ominous and powerful feeling culminating with the sound of a thunderstorm as the third note rings out. The crash symbols mix well with the sound of the rain and thunder as a gentle synth riser leads into the head-bobbing intro music. Every instrument contributes to the appeal of this song, from the bouncing bass line and charging drums to the cool and catchy guitar lead line.
For the first verse, the instrumentation is reduced to mostly drums and bass with sparse lead guitar. We hear the lyrics, “Something in the air / Is telling me to go there / So I’ll follow my nose / Go wherever it goes”. Singer Mark Mothersbaugh adds plenty of space between each line of the verse creating a dip in energy and contrast for the coming pre-chorus. The words are delivered with an unembellished yet catchy melody that blends well with the music and hooks the listener immediately.
For the pre-chorus, keyboardist Bob Casale adds a single high-pitched note with a staccato eighth-note rhythm. This lends energy and tension to the mix and helps to create a smooth transition into the chorus. Along with that, booming guitar and synth chords ring out while the drums and bass charge forward. The fast-paced vocal melody also contributes to pulling in the listener and helps the music build to a fever pitch making the release of the chorus all the more satisfying.
Next, the band bursts into the chorus with group vocals belting out the phrase “So fresh” repeating it every two measures. The group vocals are followed by detailed lyrics from Mothersbaugh creating a satisfying melodic pattern. The mix of vocal elements makes the song easy to sing along with while maintaining depth and steering away from oversimplification. Devo switches things up for the second half of the chorus offering even more sugary catchiness and solidifying “Fresh”, at least in my heart, as one of the best pop-rock songs of the decade.
Devo is relatively inactive at the moment playing one or two shows here and there. It’s been rumored that the band will not be returning to regular touring but no news of retirement has been confirmed. If you’d like to listen to “Fresh” or any of Devo’s other fantastic music you can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and most other places music is streamed or sold. If you’d like to follow Devo on social media, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
About the Author: Ron Powers is an independent A&R specialist and music industry consultant and is constantly searching for, discovering and writing about new talent.