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Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype

on November 11, 2009, 3:15am
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Instead of a desert that seceded from Nigeria (look it up), Jello Biafra is the stage name of Dead Kennedys founding member Eric Boucher. For those that only know the Kennedys for their t-shirts sold at Hot Topic, Biafra’s intensely funny and political lyrics fused with guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer Ted (later replaced by D.H. Peligro) to produce some of the most engaging, interesting hardcore punk music in the ’80s.  Tunes like “Kill the Poor”, “Holiday in Cambodia”, and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” managed to toe the line between satire and anarcho-punk without compromising any intensity.

Since then, Biafra has worked with bands including metal legends The Melvins and released spoken word records. His protest work includes anti-globalization efforts and work towards the legalization of same-sex marriage. And now, in The Guantanamo School of Medicine, over 20 years later, Biafra’s formed his first new band since the Kennedys. From the name alone, it’s clear Biafra hasn’t decided to soften up. The debut record The Audacity of Hype (there’s that snarky bite) might not be as punk as his first band, but the music’s certainly as tough and the vocals equally Jello.

The Guantanamo School lineup may not be the Kennedys, it may not be the Melvins, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Ralph Spight of Victims Family and Kimo Ball of Freak Accident contribute guitars, while drummer Jon Weiss (formerly of Horsey and Sharkbait) and bassist Billy Gould (of Faith No More) hold down the fort rhythmically. The disc comes off as a bit of controlled chaos: the hyperactive punk flopping around underneath vocals that amounts to a manic grin disguising the intent to spit at your feet.

Opening track “The Terror of Tinytown” finds Biafra revelling in animosity toward the Bush era, jabbing at “Texas oil’s favorite clown” and demanding “they” all be brought to trial for war crimes. The riffy, charging track is reminiscent of Radio Birdman or the Stooges (if Iggy Pop had wanted to be a creepy clown instead of your dog). “Clean as a Thistle” opens with a raging guitar riff and Biafra doing his best creepy Southern Republican impression (is creepy necessary in that sentence?).

“Panic Land“ deftly and tersely discusses the state of fear that the United States lived through post-9/11. Lines like “You can‘t fly if your name is Mohammed“ can only be sung by Biafra. Well, that is to say, they can only be sung without inducing laughter or disgust by Biafra. “Electronic Plantation“ takes on office life and being glued to a computer screen. Neither of these might be fresh or new topics to rage against, but the earnest, intense way that they’re treated makes these ideas much more palatable.

“Three Strikes” is a stampeding Western-punk epic at over nine and a half minutes, complete with a spacey, psychedelic bridge. “Strength Through Shopping” opens with a stuttered, metal-friendly guitar riff paired with a spastic, cymbal heavy rhythm. The bass line that opens “Pets Eat Their Master” may be the single best riff on the album, while the slinky, palm-muted guitar and blistering solo take the role of accent. The forced list of important political topics that tumble through “I Won’t Give Up” may have sounded like a good idea conceptually, but it falls a bit flat in practice.

In the end, it’s hard to really take away a whole lot from The Guantanamo School of Medicine than Biafra’s continued wicked wit. The other musicians stomp around the disc just as you’d expect for any band worthy of backing a legend. But, Biafra is a talent/personality that demands center stage and all of your attention. Which, as it turns out, is just fine, because he still has plenty to say.

The Audacity of Hype Album Review: Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine   The Audacity of Hype

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