Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine – [Album]

Friday, 16 April 2010

While he's released all manner of compilations, collaborations, one-offs and spoken word albums over the last decade or so, it honestly seems like it has been ages since Jello Biafra released an album of new music. The singer's efforts with Lard and The Melvins don't exactly count; either because generally weak or obviously not creatively focused affairs, albums like Pure Chewing Satisfaction and Never Breathe What You Can't See were okay but left nothing close to the impression that The Dead Kennedys' songbook and albums – particularly In God We Trust, Inc., Bedtime For Democracy and Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – did. It was quickly reaching the point where even the most devout fans were beginning to wonder if there would indeed be room for fresh Jello on new release racks anymore. Happily, with just the right back-up, The Audacity Of Hype proves that there certainly can be. In this case, age has no meaning and Jello has not lost his teeth; he has plenty of vitriol and critical observation to share on the state of the world and, even better, he's got a band to call his own again.

…And Biafra is definitely reveling in that band. From the high-flying guitars in the intro of “The Terror Of Tiny Town,” listeners can tell the band has a different kind of show brewing but, when those guitars come crashing down with the singer on their back, it will instantly send adrenaline levels through the ceiling. The Audacity Of Hype is still a punk show, but definitely a more dramatic one; guitars sail, crash-land and grind by the minute as if to imply a tremendous decline or sociological impact and Biafra himself rides along on it both to chronicle and dismiss it all. If ever a song about failure and aggression at it actually felt like an anthem expressing disgust, it's “The Terror Of Tinytown.”

But what's the situation that Biafra is commenting on here? Punks (and every other liberal) rejoiced at the Democratic victory of Barrack Obama but, here, Biafra seems to be trying to express the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help Obama's black ass; a good man won the election, but he's also the good man saddled with the chore of mopping up the mess left by the previous administration. That will take time and, as Biafra says right off the bat here, hoping for a total, instantaneous reversal is unrealistic. No politician can affect dramatic change overnight.

Now, let's be clear here. Git SOM's design on The Audacity Of Hype is not to repeatedly say, “We're still just as fucked as we were before” but, rather, this run-time plays like an itemized list of things in US policy and process that were rough even before the Bush administration made them worse and it may take patience for reparation – thus making the kiss-off in the album's title both biting and prescient.

The audacious and unreal tones of the title and lyrics carry over into the music as well. Following suit with the subject matter, songs like “Clean As A Thistle,” “New Feudalism,” “Panic Land” and “Strength Thru Shopping” all boast some of the finest DK chops ever not recorded by the Kennedys, ut they're cut here with abstract, almost psychedelic rock-inspired riffs and motifs. That unlikely combination of sounds further drive the sentiments of unrealistic thinking in the lyric sheets. It's certainly a unique cross – psychedelic anti-form meandering and tight, proto-hardcore aggression – and longtime Biafra fans will certainly be held hypnotized as they listen to how it all plays out, but they'll be even more interested to see if Git SOM eventually falls on one side of that treacherous generic line or the other. That balance between the two attitudinally opposed sounds is the most exciting part of The Audacity Of Hype.

The second-most interesting thing about the record gels together in its twilight-running. “Pets Eat Their Master” finds Guantanamo School of Medicine constricting all of the sounds it has dabbled with throughout the record down into one raucous but discreet and tidy rocker, thereby casting shadows of what might be coming next from the band, before the band grabs its collective cock and sums every minute and micro-tone of the precedings with the flat-out statement of intent, “I Won't Give Up.” That last track is, without question the single greatest departure in sound and style ever orchestrated by Jello Biafra. With sliding, classic rock riffs, Git SOM turns some chicken-fried rock back on its creators and, in so doing, insists on some intelligence from its listeners (check out lines like, “I wanna rock and roll/Let my sick humor explode/Smile as I set everything on fire” – and that's one of the lighter come-ons here), or will at least have those in the crowd that aren't getting the joke throwing their fists in the air too. “I Won't Give Up” is a fantastic bridge track between the counterculture and the status quo; it plays to both sides, even if half of them aren't getting it. That is the greatest triumoh of The Audacity Of Hype.

The last track seals the deal for anyone listening. In its own way, “I Won't Give Up” has broken a barrier that has previously withstood Biafra's scathing socio-political assaults. That line has always remained intact because the singer has always relied upon some community for credibility but, now that the original community of hardcore headcases has crumbled, Biafra is in a position to say whatever he wants, however he wants and to be as subversive in that as he cares to be. After twenty-three years, it turns out that's all he needed; standing alone, Jello Biafra is an imposing force and he has assembled the perfect, like-minded band to back him in Guantanamo School Of Medicine. As long as te singer doesn't get bored and go on to something else, this is going to be great.


Further Reading:

Ground Control's interview with Ralph Spight, guitarist for Git SOM.


The Audacity Of Hype
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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