Thursday, March 18, 2010
JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE The Audacity of Hype (Alternative Tentacles)
These days, former Dead Kennedys charge Jello Biafra is probably best known for his spoken word performances (with the exception of his slept-on 2004 collaboration with the Melvins, Never Breathe What You Can't See). However, 2009 saw Jello take another stab at performing, and formed a band called Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine and released their debut album The Audacity of Hype (taken to be a parody of the title to Barack Obama's book The Audacity Of Hope.) When I was first asked to take on the job of talking a listen at the album, I was not quite sure what to think. Would Jello still have that "sound" that he had back in the 80's on such classic DK albums like Bedtime for Democracy? Would Jello still sound the same without the backing up of the Dead Kennedys doing the good 'ol speed punk they had played?
I decided to take the task on, because let's face it, it's Jello! I started listen to Audacity and was impressed at how even the first few songs maintained what Jello had sounded like in the 80's, while still taking on a new band. I am impressed with the style that both Kimbo Ball and Ralph Spight had when playing the guitar, obviously going at extreme speeds, because, again; let's face it, it's Jello. The song "Panic Land" sounds like that weird combo of classic rock and hardcore punk that is possibly one of the more "catchy" songs on the album. "Electric Plantation" starts off with a very catchy bass-riff from Bill Gould (originally from Faith No More) and is executed into what could possibly be considered a five-minute jam-song with Jello uttering out lyrics in between, and sometimes in, solos that the guitar players play. Upon listening to some of the songs from the album played live (particularly, "Three Strikes"), Jello was up to his usual antics of telling political stories on stage in between songs. "Three Strikes" sounds like vintage Jello circa Give Me Convenience, or Give me Death. It was after listening to the raving guitar solos played throughout the song when it was played live that made me pay attention to the interesting sound of the song, and how the later parts in the songs (post-solo) sound much like (dare I say) something from a Pink Floyd song, which cleverly transitions back into it's fast punk feel.
In order to go any farther and listen to the next half-hour of the album, I had decided to go listen to some of the old Dead Kennedys songs, just so I could get a grasp at what now has become a new end product for Jello Biafra. (Keep in mind that Jello Biafra had come from the band who had made some of the big skate punk faves such as "Police Truck", "California Uber-Alles", "Too Drunk to Fuck" and "Holiday in Cambodia.") After looking through old Dead Kennedys music and recording sessions, I had found a cover of "Holiday in Cambodia" with the Foo Fighters, featuring Serj Tankian on lead vocals. After listening to the cover I had realized that the cover totally lacked the energy that Jello had put into his vocals.
Upon this epiphany, I had gone back to listening to Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. The band packs a huge punch, even with the fact that Jello is now 50 years old, and will soon be 51. Even at a half-century in age, Jello Biafra still has a tendency to be a wild animal on stage, just like in the 80's. The album ends with a bang, with the final track on this excellent first album, the name of the track is called "I Won't Give Up." The song tells of the basic concept that we vote for one of two "assholes" and one of them wins. Jello also takes his shots at the economy by stating lines such as "flat-screen flat-screen on the wall/who is the best marketed of them all?" and Jello states one statement that will stick out in my mind, after all other statements have been stuck out, "I will not give up, it's not an option."
The album is one of the best albums of the new millennium that proves that hardcore is not exactly "dead" yet, but just that people need to just take a deep look at what you find, and you just might like it. Not only does it prove that Punk is still alive, but it proves, just like Iggy Pop, that you can be old and still sing in a kick-ass band. Keep in mind that the entire band, itself was Jello's vision after he saw Iggy Pop's 60th birthday show he did with his band, the Stooges. I see Jello Biafra as the "Iggy Pop" of the hardcore generation, except just a couple of years after "Mr. Pop" and with a different band. The bottom line is that in order to get The Audacity of Hype you have to know about the Dead Kennedys first. Here, you see that it becomes a sort of "double-punch" for the listener, because you would have to listen to DK before you can understand J.B.A.T.G.S.O.M. I watched a few live performances of the band (one of which from when the band was first writing songs, playing shows, etc.) and saw that some of the people who had uploaded the video had said that the early shows "were in the middle of nowhere at a random time, spending the night with one of the most influential front-men of punk rock."
After I finished listening to the album, I had realized that the album was great; and that even without the sound of East-Bay-Ray and the rest of the Dead Kennedys; that the brainchild of this group could still go on to make excellent music. I had my questions answered. Jello sounds as good as he did with the Dead Kennedys, and he did still have that "sound" to his music. I would give the album a solid "A+" because this is one of the best punk albums I have heard since the Complete Discography CD by Minor Threat. I can say with confidence that this album proves, ultimately, that punk is not dead! -Cameron Wallace
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine doing "Holiday in Cambodia"