We're already on the Titanic. The day we signed, we walked in, looked around, and all the things that we'd been told by people that, 'Oh, they're gonna be the next A&M Records', we instantly knew that was wrong. We watched our career go down the drain, what was left of it, along with many other bands.
-- Mark Mothersbaugh
After the disaster of Devo's last album, Shout, the band went into a period of incubation. They performed some soundtrack work here and there, but nothing major. Devo had disappeared from the public consciousness. In this period, drummer Alan Myers departed from the band, citing a lack of direction. In his stead, Devo recruited David Kendrick, drummer for the bands Sparks and Gleaming Spires. Together they recorded some demos, including a track featuring Gerald V. Casale's girlfriend, Toni Basil on vocals. Satisfied with their efforts, Devo decided for a comeback in 1988.
Devo signed to Enigma Records and released Total Devo. The album continues the trend Devo had begun on 1982's Oh, No! It's Devo! with electronic dance music. However, the four years between albums had not granted Devo the tight focus it needed to pull itself back up. Among Devo fans, Total Devo is considered to be their worst album. With tracks like the miserable Agitated and The Shadow, Total Devo turns into a sloppy electronic mess. The misguided cover of Elvis Presley's Don't Be Cruel does not help either. A one-star review of the album in Rolling Stone closed with the line, "If you listen closely, the bass drum on this record sounds suspiciously like a digital sampling of a dead horse being beaten."
The Total Devo tour didn't fare too much better. The previous Devo tour was extremely elaborate, especially the synchronized video. However, for the Total Devo tour, the band was forced to play in small clubs. The costumes had been stripped down to simple outfits of red, button down shirts, and red slacks. The band also wore Energy Domes at some points during the shows. The tour had some high points, including a solemn, acoustic version of their classic Jocko Homo, an E-Z Listening style version of Going Under, and an epic finale called Somewhere With Devo. The tour was immortalized on the live album Now It Can Be Told: Devo At The Palace 12/9/88.
Total Devo, interestingly enough, is Devo's longest album, clocking in at nearly 45 minutes. It is suggested that Devo intended the album as a soundtrack to a film version of William Gibson's Neuromancer. The film never got off the ground, but this theory is given credence by the appearance of an instrumental version of Some Things Never Change in the Neuromancer video game. (Early copies of the game included a CD of Total Devo as well.)
The album was re-released on Restless Records in 1994, with several bonus tracks.
- Baby Doll
- Disco Dancer
- Some Things Never Change
- Plain Truth
- Happy Guy
- Don't Be Cruel
- The Shadow
- I'd Cry If You Died
- Man Turned Inside Out
- Sexi Luv
- Blow Up
Restless Rerelease Bonus Tracks
- Some Things Never Change (Cassette Version)
- Baby Doll (Extended Mix)
- Disco Dancer (12 Inch Version)
- Agitated (Hyperextended Version)