JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Enhanced Methods of Questioning: CDEP

Jul 14, 2011

One of the things I loved most about punk rock as a kid was the often obscure and sometimes downright weird shit I’d learn about that would never make the television news or the papers. As intended, it fostered in me a healthy distrust of pretty much anything handed to me as “truth” by the government and media and the corporations that own ‘em, created a permanent habit of digging deeper for more information about something that’s caught my interest, and the trivia geek in me has a whole host of tidbits with which to freak people out at garden parties and sundry society shindigs. Dead Kennedys, of course, were a fount of occult (as in “secret” or “hidden,” so all you Jesus freaks can stop with the note-taking now) information, and some thirty years into our musician/fan relationship, Biafra can still plant that little seed of obscure info that’ll send me rushing to find out more. This time out, it comes via “The Cells That Will Not Die,” and specifically the tale of Ms. Henrietta Lacks upon which the tune is based (no, I ain’t gonna recount her story here. Go look her up yourself, ye lazy bastards). This, my friends, is what punk rock does at its best—it makes you think, to question, to use your sesos for something more than to act as an alcohol sponge or to deduce what Colorforms-type singer is gonna win the America’s Next Musical Equivalent of Popcorn talent contest. Musically, the five original tunes here (plus a hidden cover of a song called “Metamorphosis Explosion” originally by a band called the Deviants) follow the same pattern as those on their inaugural CD, The Audacity of Hype, namely the band finds a groove and milks it for all its worth while Biafra does what he does best, in this case rail against Silicon Valley millionaires overrunning the Bay Area like a plague of locusts, point out the nasty byproducts of America’s wars of empire, weigh in on the scourge of religion and the crimes of modern medicine, and take what appears to be a swipe at Bob Dole’s appearances in pud-pepping pill ads. As with its predecessor, the songs, on occasion, go a wee bit longer than maybe they should, but for some reason they seem a bit stronger here in smaller doses, and, ultimately, are light years ahead of much of the pack calling itself “punk” these days. It’s also a welcome relief that the songs here lean more towards a mutation of Killing Joke’s “deceptively simple, sonically rich, and all kinds of heavy” punk template than merely going through the motions of trying to out-Dead Kennedy the Dead Kennedys. Ultimately, nothing here is gonna change the minds of those that either love or hate Biafra, but those in the latter camp will find it a bit difficult to deny this is one of his more solid releases. This “having a real band for the first time in some twenty-five years” thing is suiting him much better than Lard ever did, and he’s doing something his old DK bandmates have thus far failed to do, which is remain creative, topical and, ultimately, relevant.

 –jimmy (Alternative Tentacles)

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