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The Dead Kennedys

 Dude, there's not THAT many...okay, no maybe there are.

Introduction
Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
Plastic Surgery Disasters
In God We Trust, Inc.  
Frankenchrist
Bedtime for Democracy
 

The Lineup Card (1978-1986)

Jello Biafra (vocals)

East Bay Ray (guitars)

Klaus Fluoride (bass)

Ted (drums) until 1980

D.H. Peligro (drums) 1980-1986

 

What the world needs now sho ain't more love sweet love, it's more of the Dead Kennedys. The political punk lynchpin of the early Reagan years, a radical leftist bunch of Bay Area court jesters that talked it like they walked it...whether it was running for mayor of San Francisco, being railroaded into court by some trumped up obscenity charge, the Dead Kennedys were nothing if not sincere. Well, sincere in a really sarcastic, ironic way, whether it was singing 'Kill the Poor' or covering 'Take This Job And Shove It', they never dropped the smirk from their voice and the snarl from their faces. So maybe they weren't as massively powerful as their punk fellow-travelers...they really preferred sounding chaotic and abrasive than heavy and rockin' like some near-metal band like a lot of their hardcore-era brethren, and they always sounded like a 'punk rock' band who wanted to be doing punk rock, not some over-arty bunch of post-everything fools who would drop hardcore punk at the first sign of commercial possibility in some other field, like, say, just about every other 'alternative rock' band of the 1980's...the Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, the Replacements, even Husker Du...each and every one of those bands used punk rock as nothing more than a training ground for whatever they decided to do next. Not the Dead Kennedys...they reserved a special hateful place in their bowels for 'new wave' music and devoted their lives to the humiliation of anybody who ever sold out the punk ethic. They never really weren't that much about the music, anyway...though the band always got the point across perfectly and had that most elusive of qualities: absolute originality of sound. No one sounded like the Dead Kennedys, sounded like a pissed-off, broken-fingered Ventures with a methampetic Tiny Tim on the mic.

So, what I really would like to say is that the Dead Kennedys were challenging, perverse, and thought-provoking at a time (the early 1980's) when being those things wasn't considered to be particularly cool. And since the current regime makes Ronald Reagan look like the lead pot grower at some Montana nudist hippie sex commune, we can only hope that Jello Biafra can overcome his current problems with his ex-bandmates and crank up the mad-hatter provocateur that lurks within just one more time.

mEF
Any Short Comments?: THEY ARE FUCKING AMAZING....VOTE---> JELLO FOR PRESIDENT 2004!

 


Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables - Alternative Tentacles 1980

One hell of a way to start off the 1980's, that's for sure. The Dead Kennedys came along at the perfect time for punk rock. See, by 1980, the original blasts of 1976 and 1977 had already been long forgotten as some English glue headache. The Pistols were a distant memory, the Clash had morphed into a pop band (albeit an extremely good one), and even old stalwarts like the Ramones were busy redefining mediocrity with their End of the Century album. In local news, the West Coast hardcore scene had yet to really pull its headbanging self out of the primal ooze of Sunset Boulevard quite yet, and it was really only the Dead Kennedys who, in the tender year of Our Reagan 1980, distinguished themselves to the point that they're still treated with reverence by marble-headed 13 year old punkers as well as 35 year old computer programmers in equal measures. And the main reason for their longevity is this very record album...not only does it contain the very best version of the DK sound right off the bat, but it also contains what are definitely their most accessibly outrageous and, arguably, their very best songs.

Any album that starts off with the couplet 'Efficiency and progress is ours once more...now that we have the Neutron bomb...' probably is going to qualify as an A in my book,  I really just have to admit. The album kicks off with a manic, goonball energy that doesn't really let up, and certainly lends a lot of weight to Biafra's lyrics, whether they're kidding ('Kill The Poor') or, scarily enough, probably not....('looking forward to death...I don't need this fucking world') But nihilism ain't just fun and games for the kids, folks, it's also the playtoy of the Men In Charge, as 'When You Get Drafted' makes clear. Listen, I've heard this album described as being pretty standard for punk rock, but I just don't hear it....the guitars may blur and blast like your standard-issue fare of the safety pin set, but I really don't know how to qualify Jello's wavering freakboy stammer, the surfy bass, or, most of all, the hyper-comic lyrics. This wasn't a band that made depressing punk songs sound depressing...they never let thngs denegrate into pointless heaviness, and even on tracks that might at first come across a bit rote ('Drug Me'), they hit the gas, hit a line out of the ashtray, crank the Boston, and kick ass right down through the school zone at a zillion miles per. Eh, so maybe around song 6 I really begin to lose the ability to distinguish between the songs musically, but those delightfully demented, drilling chorus hooks ('girls are boring! boring boring!', 'chemical warfare! chemical warfare!', 'California Uber Alles!') come along at a breathtaking rate. This is why, probably wrongly, I prefer this album to the three followups. This is the only Dead Kennedys album I really think I could see an audience chanting and shaking their strings of pearls along to. The other ones are meant for the lyric sheet first, and secondly for slam dancing...Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is like Kasey Kasem's Top 40 for punker freaks.

Not every song is a peach off the fuzzy tree, but the batting average is still astonishingly high. I don't really dig the one that goes 'Kids Are Boring' (eh...looking up the actual song title is such a stupid pursuit. The CD case is so over there and I'm so over here. That's why I never really get too fat: I'm too lazy to get up and actually get food for myself until I'm starving. And going to the store? Forget it. I'd rather eat toaster shakings and roach wings from under the sink. 'Stealing People's Mail' should probably be funnier than it is, and the songs about killing kids are just 'shocking' for stupidity's sake, like writing a song about how much you want to anally penetrate the Pope with a large, toothy river-fish of your choosing, but never really explaining why that would be an interesting or even diverting pursuit. In fact, as the vocal hooks drop off towards the end, that's when the music gets slightly more interesting. I like the Blondie-in-a-blender music of 'Holiday In Cambodia' (really dumb lyrics on that one, other than the genius chanting of 'Pol Pot! Pol Pot! Pol Pot!) probably the best on the entire record, and it's shoved way at the end after a stretch of merely-good-ones. Oh, and the lyrically molested cover of 'Viva Las Vegas' at the end is a stroke of genius that no one ever topped in the entire punk movement. There.

Capn's Final Word: Something completely new, parodically despicable, and often catchier than the Hot Sour Soup at a second-rate Hong Kong airport hotel.

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Mike    Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Umm...I don't think there's any song on "Fresh Fruit" that goes "kids are boring."  But otherwise, yeah, it's a classic hardcore album, although I'd say it's much more...surf-punk at this point. I mean, East Bay Ray's guitar style sounds like some warped lovechild of Carl Wilson and Greg Ginn (which reminds me - ever going to review Black Flag? "My War" is one of the best combinations of punk and metal ever - but I digress). The music is almost always intelligent and brilliantly put-together, yet most of it can run together if you're not in the right mood, which makes true classics like "Kill The Poor," "Chemical Warfare," "California Uber Alles," "I Kill Children," and "Holiday In Cambodia" stand out even more.

Mike     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Great album, just want to change earlier comment blather about "My War" by saying it's not as good as I thought it was then, because "My War" sounds a lot better when you're depressed. It doesn't sound very good now.


 


In God We Trust EP - Alternative Tentacles 1981

Absolutely non-disappointing EP followup to Fresh Fruit which shows the Kennedys heading faster faster bleeding fast. I guess what they give up in catchy (?)(!) riffage, they don't quite make up in energy and vitriol, but it's not for lack of trying. It's just that this album, while so much more beyond-the-valley-of-the-dolls in its approach, ain't three pieces of lint as funny as the original issue. Ah well, they blast through six songs in just under 14 minutes. Or, in other words, create a few more steaming fissures in the crust of the earth while the likes of Bad Company are still tuning their drum heads. 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' is the obvious best-choice, but that's just because the other ones bleed into each other so well. 'Dog Bite' has it's nose in the wrong sphincter, but the cover of their own 'California Uber Alles', now renamed 'We've Got a Bigger Problem Now' (about Herr Fuhrer Reagan, fer sure), is an improvement on the original (even the lounge part is so subversive it never gets irritating) and the cover of 'Rawhide' is almost as funny as 'Viva Las Vegas' was last time around.

Capn's Final Word: Faster, nastier, and not as funny...but still fucking funny.

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Plastic Surgery Disasters - Alternative Tentacles 1982

Ever scaling to new heights of accessible inaccessibility, Plastic Surgery Disasters starts out with a squall of noise and a female voice intoning 'Why are you such a stupid asshole?' and then goes on to explain why in a very Jello-way, exactly why that is. Now, this is about the point where Jello Biafra stops being an funny angry punk so much as a preachy/whiny punk who, for his own good, still comes up with some snappy paranoid fantasies like 'Government Flu', but for the most part would just like to point at you and tell you why you're so fucked up/stupid/annoying/not part of the 'knowledgable crowd' (one that apparently, has a population of one). 'Terminal Preppie' takes potshots at the jock crowd, rightly so, and blasts the middle-class suburban lifestyle, rightly so, and uses horns, rightly so, but he does all this in such a way that, at least to me, tends to elevate Jello and make everyone else Less Than Jello, and it's pretty fucking annoying. Jello Biafra a close second cousin of Roger Waters? Well, you get a lick of some of the stupid studio tricks that producers David Coverdale and David Letterman decided needed to be here, and you might not laugh so hard at my comparison of the King Of Frisco Punk and The Queen of Stoner Prog, Kylie Minogue's Talking Arsehole.

What I guess I'm really complaining about here is that 1) Jello is being a lot less funny and a lot more simply complaintive, and 2) the music is a whole lot less effective, but even worse, is covered up in some pretty dumb studio gimmicks. Ah well, you read this site enough, you're gonna see that I really don't care much for studio tricks that go beyond making the guitars sound like sumo wrestlers on an ounce of crack rock. And since the Kennedys pretty much just don't have guitar tone (probably yet another rejection of rock convention, which I guess is fine with me), they have to subsist on the quality and velocity of their riffs. And when they don't try very hard, like on 'Well Paid Scientist', they come across like fucking Black Flag trying to be funny....it just makes them look clumsy and old.  Now, I guess it's my idea that they really were trying to vary their sound, having not quite struck on the great approach they'd employ on Frankenchrist, but they'd already tried faster-harder to its logical extent on the In God We Trust, Inc. EP, and here try a bunch of dead ends, from the near-thrash of 'Buzzbomb' (pretty fair riff on that one) to the Pretenders-y intro to 'Forest Fire' before, you know, yet another slammoshing accident part to come later. 'Halloween' probably has the stupidest lyrics in show here, but some of the most primo rocking/great chorus moments. I mean, what the hell is 'Winnebago Warrior' or 'I Am The Owl' supposed to be about? What the fuck is this stupid metal screaming shit, where's the great stuff they skewered on Fresh Fruit? What, they run out of real devils and now have to go around making stupid jokes and worse songs about fucking RV owners? And they even attempt a regular multi-part prog suite on 'Riot', and just end up making a big mess with only a great rocking section in the middle to show for it.

eh. The only way I can justify giving this album this high a grade is that even in the middle of something stupid and misguided, they still pull off a big, bashing bunch of chunky pink noise that I can't, for the life of me, deny in any way, shape or form. So the songs don't really good riffs or memorable choruses, and they sure the hell aren't as wickedly funny anymore...they still bring down the lightning and trashcans when they get flying in all directions simultaneously. Oh, and the album closing 'Moon Over Marin' might be a complete parody of arena rock, but, oh God, it's a great hard rock song, kind of like as if the '74 Roxy Music and the '78 Clash had a jam out back in the parking lot....yummy...I really suggest you at least track that one down.

The band just can't quite get it together as they had done so well on the first two releases; they sound as if they're trying to impress too many folks at the same time. But as the funny is evidently hiding around the back sneaking listens to the Police and a few hits off a joint, I can't help but think this is probably the least impressive of the Dead Kennedys releases.

Capn's Final Word: Satisfying despite all of its faults, but too laden with failed experiments and failed jokes to really interest me for the duration. Sounds a lot better with In God We Trust, Inc tacked onto the end of it, for sure...

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Frankenchrist - Alternative Tentacles 1985

Now I might be half drunk on Canadian whiskey, my personal favorite, but I am going to state right now that if the Dead Kennedys aren't going to be particularly funny, they might as well be extremely direct as they are right here on Frankenchrist, a dramatic return to form for the demented muppet and his sidemen. Some people might claim that just because the Dead Kennedys aren't really doing much hardcore punking on this album that it's, by default, necessarily bad. Fuck that. East Bay Ray never in his career had better licks that what he dreamt of on this very album. Since according to the man himself, 'Jello never played anything musical', I'm going to right here and now award the DKs musical award to Ray himself for making this album a triumph of the very dark soul when it might've been a dirty little bastard child of Plastic Surgery Disasters. Not at all. The band instead makes a very listenable response to the last album, which too often made it seem like they'd reached their limits. Here, the music is king, and Jello Biafra is just another instrument spewing more of his Brian Ferry-on-crack-bizarro-storytelling. Not to say that his lyrics are something to be ashamed of....they aren't. He's multitudes more focused that on the last one, and from tune one, where he decries the redundency of the modern worker, to 'Chicken Farm', where he decries, erm, chicken farms. And everything in between, or laterally, or to the left or right, or, rather, to the left. Oh, fuck. I mean, if this is the very first Dead Kennedys' album you buy, you're gonna be impressed by the way the singer chooses his targets and nails them totally and verily. That's what I mean to say.

Okay, anyway, enough of that attempting to be sober bullshit. I'm fucked on that Canadian whiskey I spoke of earlier. Totally, gillsily, fucked up. Sitting in the closet at 12:30 am writing drunk while my wife sleeps fucked up. I just finished a particularly stressful week at work where I spearheaded a project that probably required 10 years more experience that what I actually have, and I still kicked ass. Whatever the fuck. I really fucking like this album. The thing's as focused as a laser bouncing off Nell Carter's K-Mart dressing room mirror, yet with a whole lot less jizz on it than Plastic Surgery Disasters. See, on the last one, the band seemed like they were in complete disagreement over what the future of the band would be. Harder/Faster than thee? In God We Trust hinted at that, but it sure seemed like a dead end. I mean, there's only so fast you can play. Funnier than thee? PSD sure didn't try to top the debut on that count. If anything, Plastic Surgery Disasters proved to everyone that the Kennedys were all about the fantabulousity of the band's performance and the amount of thought put into Jello's commentary. Well, most of the time, the last one had neither. This one has both. The band may not be trying to beat the hell outta anyone trying to challenge the top of the hardcore mountain anymore, but they're sure able to make up the loss in power with a very strong gain in the lever of memorability of these songs. If you need an example, take that of 'MTV Get Off The Air'....it starts off with a really convincing parody of an early 80's V-J. (Remember when MTV used to play videos...all day long? I barely remember it, so those of you younger than me probably don't remember at all. Or else have had your mind fucked by too many episodes of Road Rules.) before launching into a punker rocker, then a Mexicano horn solo and a monologue by Jello...oh, to be in the days which he describes, when MTV just had unoriginal, conservative videos to complain about...now, oh, shit, I so totally don't identify with what they're trying to accomplish with their frat/sorority programming they're always shoving down out throats right now, I don't even know what dirty joke to crack. Fuck it. MTV sucks. 'MTV Get Off The Air' is a funny anachronism.

Jesus, the whole album is a funny anachronism, very astute and noteworthy for 1982, kinda silly and laughable in 2003. Or not. People still live their lives as the DK's describe in the robotic departure 'At My Job'. Losing that fucking job still feels like 'Soup Is Good Food'. Whenever the fucking Republican administration once more takes a pound and a half of flesh out of the decimated corpse that is public school spending, 'A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch' come right fucking back into vogue. Listen. This album may not be the heaviest thing you've ever heard, but it's extremely successful at what it attempts. Unlike a lot of things, his rants still hold water today, and his mouth still holds bile. Okay, I'm gonna end right now. I'm too drunk to continue. But let it not be said that when a band as righteously rocking as the Dead Kennedy's puts together an album as strong as Frankenchrist, I'm not right there pumping my fist...

Capn's Final Word: Whatever vile maturity of the band that might start creeping in here can be easily dismissed by the pure genius of the delivery...

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Bedtime For Democracy - Alternative Tentacles 1986

Because of some noncompoop whiny-puss ne'erdowell ragamuffin nogoodnik in the authoritahs, the Dead Kennedy's spent the months prior to the release of Bedtime fighting for their existence rather than just their position on a concert bill. See, the original Frankenchrist, the one I don't have, had this big ol' juicy pit-cher of a bunch of weenies. And not just normal dog and pony weenies, but hard people weenies. And these hard, throbbing people weenies weren't just sitting there surveying the landscape, oh no. They were, he he! They were....oh God, har har har!!! Hurdy hurdy hurdy!!! Doing it...with a bunch of buttholes.

While I haven't actually seen the picture meself, though not for lack of trying, apparently some 'concerned parent' had, and she went about the dirty business of destroying a very good, very provocative, very intelligent rock group as a result. So maybe it's a little stupid that the band went so far as to put something as easily misunderstood as a poster of a bunch of buttfucking in their album and name it Frankenchrist, but that's what agit-prop is all about I guess. Anyway, the gig was up, the band was in serious turmoil both from outsude forces and inside intrigues (some of which have just recently been resolved, or, well, 'brought to rest' is a better term than 'resolved'. It turns out that the band sued Biafra for witholding royalty payments to them, and a long court case has resulted in Jello paying out a bunch of money and the rest of the band touring Europe with a former child actor in the role of Jello. Eh, I guess you guys lost me somewhere in the dark times of the mid-80's. So in the introduction when I say, 'what the world needs now is more Dead Kennedys', this is absolutely not what I mean.

So, how far exactly have I gotten off track? Fuck...

So, anyway, this is a last final blast gasp from the Kennedys, and all I can say is that if you like what they've done before, you're sure not gonna be disappointed by Bedtime. They're far from being as rough and sinister as on their first album, but, if anything, they're funnier. 'Dear Abby', as a fantastic example, is as goofy and sharp-tongued as they've ever been, and if the music isn't at all as distinctive as it has previously, so what? It's simply fast now, and the formerly wicked-pisser leads that spun wildly from the likes of East Bay Ray are now just so much pogo-chugging. So, if the music ain't so great, let's listen to the lyrics. Good thing, too. Jello slays pro-war, chest-thumping, Reaganite movies on 'Rambozo the Clown', pollution on 'Cesspool In Eden', and, umm...a whole bunch of other stuff I can't understand at all because it's goddamn all 50 zillion miles per hour! Fuck me! Like I'm supposed to decipher whatever they're passing off when I can't even understand what Jello is blathering about? Let it not be said that they didn't go out hardcore, 'cause they motherfucking did. The hardest core sonsabitches on the block, so hardcore that it becomes illiterate.

Now, I don't really want it to sound like I'm bashing this record, because I'm really not. I like all of this song...erm, I mean, songs. But whatever happens, I feel like the lessons they learned from Frankenchrist have been forgotten, and they just regressed to a stage of infantile aggression....admittedly exciting as all hell, sure, but a whole lot more fit for the Nazi Punks and Moron Jocks in the audience than those of us who actually like to think. Well, I guess I have to take that back, because the lyric sheet is still pretty funny, but do you think the goons in the audience go and read a lyric sheet? Fuck no, and I see a lot of laziness and room for all this unfocused anger to be misinterpreted by the pinheads in the leather jackets. Frankenchristnever let you forget that this was music made by an intelligent rock band, and sometimes this record does.

Get it if you like unbridled hardcore with an over-animated punk Bryan Ferry saying a bunch of stuff while the band makes its best effort to cover him up. Or, should I just say, get it if you like unbridled hardcore.

Capn's Final Word: Definitely the dumbest Dead Kennedys record, but not the worst. Still pretty good, but nothing much more. I'd say they let themselves down credibility-wise by trying their darndest not to let anyone down energy-wise.

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Mike    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: It's okay, but there isn't enough diversity in it in order to be a Dead Kennedys classic like "Fresh Fruit." They did it for a real reason, though, not just to be the most hardcore. Apparently, they had enough songs to fill a double album, and the songs were originally supposed to be at "Fresh Fruit" speed. But the money needed to make a double album after the "Frankenchrist" trial wasn't there. So they took them all into "In God We Trust, Inc." speed, and blasted through them the way you hear it on the album, correctly reasoning that if all the songs were that fast, it would merely be a single album with a ton of songs on it.

 


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