Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine
The Audacity Of Hype
One of the most frustrating things about punk rock over the past decade was the arguable lack of a politically charged movement. Sure, heavy hitters like Green Day, NOFX and Anti-Flag used their clout to bolster messages against war and corporate greed while a small portion of underground artists like Ted Leo and the Thermals reached larger audiences by giving a voice to the dejected. However, the past eight years were inarguably the shittiest administration that our generation of anti-racist, pro-equality, peace-lovin’ punk rockers had ever seen. The Vietnam war birthed the hippie movement and the Reagan administration was the impetus for underground American hardcore. Didn’t we deserve more than a generation of apathetic computer zombies?
After years of college lectures, why has Jello Biafra decided that now is the time to start a new band when a large audience really could have used the anger and fury that Jello and the Dead Kennedys brought to the 1980s? Barring the obvious explanation that everyone needs time to have a personal life (which to his credit, Biafra spent running a label, battling lawsuits with former bandmates and collaborating with bands like the Melvins and Pansy Division, among others) the title and cover of this record might insinuate that now is the time we should really be questioning our government and its actions. The election of Barack Obama does not mean that a change has miraculously wiped all the damage of the last eight years clean and that our new government is like, totally cool now so don’t worry.
Sadly, the lyrics of The Audacity Of Hype often read like a history lesson about the last 15 years in American politics. While that can be expected for the two songs that were written and performed by Biafra’s one-off band, the No WTO Combo, in 2000, it seems almost inexcusably anachronistic for this record to kick off with a song railing against ex-president George W. Bush only to follow it with a track that references Monica Lewinsky. Coupling that with a handful of riffs that sound more than a little similar to Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables and Frankenchrist puts The Audacity Of Hype in serious danger of sounding like Biafra’s attempt at a Dead Kennedys’ catch-all release for the events that have taken place since the band broke up in 1986.
The upside to any retreading is that the Dead Kennedys were an amazing band on all accounts. The lyrics were humorous enough to be entertaining while being serious and controversial. Their reverb-drenched surf/punk/hardcore hybrid sounded like nothing anybody had ever done before and since. Biafra’s extremely unique musical vocabulary is firing on all cylinders here, and his backing band, the Guantanamo School Of Medicine (most notably featuring Billy Gould of Faith No More) blasts through nine songs with an intensity that is nonexistent on a lot of newer hardcore-punk records, making songs like “Clean As A Thistle” highly enjoyable, regardless of the outdated lyrical content. When Biafra tackles current issues on the anti-consumerist “Strength Thru Shopping” and the cow-punk/metal anthem “I Won’t Give Up”, he occasionally spits out couplets like, “We stopped Vietnam, got civil rights and new deals ‘cause we kept a blowtorch up their ass,” that make the listener feel genuinely empowered and ready to rise up and fight the hypocrisy that lies ahead of us.
With a crumbling economy, urban gentrification and continuing discrimination against gays, hopefully Jello can get over the past and start shouting about our present–maybe even how to approach our future problems. But as we learned in 2008, too much hope can ultimately lead to another disappointment. (ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES) Luke Jaxon