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20 April 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'Bedtime for Democracy' (Alternative Tentacles)

The DK's last record is one that I've barely listened to, though it comes as a nice surprise. Here, they find the perfect balance between the fast and furious hardcore sound of In God We Trust, Inc. and their more flowing guitar leads. There's 21 songs here and they come by fast, but this is the best production technique since Fresh Fruit (credited to Biafra, though the engineering to someone else) so it's significantly more pleasureable to listen to. By 1986, Dead Kennedys were deep in the Reagan mire and starting to be consumed by other things - Jello's spoken word career was just beginning, and the whole Tipper Gore/PMRC thing became all consuming. Let's talk about censorship! But first, let's get this last album out of the way, which tackles all of the usual topics and a few new ones. 'Shrink' gets into sci-fi territory, as Biafra discusses mankind's tendency towards miniaturisation. 'Gone With My Wind' is a thrashy suicide tune, and probably should have become more of a punk classic. Side two also debuts 'A Commercial', a hip-hop style skit that tries to skewer everything at once, and sorta flops. It's actually when the DK's avoid larger societal issues and address the problems within the punk scene that I think they shine here. 'Do The Slag', penned by East Bay Ray, is by far the most fun track. 'Chickenshit Conformist' and 'Anarchy for Sale' are bubbling with Jello's bile, and also highlights. Or maybe this signals the time when punk became consumed by it's own internal struggles, and actually we should be lamenting this insularity. Regardless, 'Chickenshit' (along with 'Cesspools in Eden') is one of the only moments of musical variety here, clocking in at over 5 minutes with actual intelligble lyrics at points. It's an epic, a better epic than 'Cesspools' hard-rock plodding, and (along with Frankenchrist's 'MTV Get Off the Air', which sadly I don't have) among the finest of late DK's songs. This LP should have come with the 'Fuck Facts' fake newspaper, but my copy was missing it (no doubt because I bought it at a Scottish car boot sale for 20p). This progression through most of Dead Kennedys discography has been fun, but ultimately I think back to their first album and 'Forward to Death', still their finest moment. Oh well.

15 April 2012

Dead Kennedys - 'Plastic Surgery Disasters' (Alternative Tentatcles/Faulty Products)

Plastic Surgery Disasters, with it's Michael Wells cover, for some reason actually horrifies me. I'm fine with other great gross-out covers, including the original Big Black Headache, but something about this really upsets me. But the music? Well, it's underrated, at least by me. I always forget how good Plastic Surgery Disasters is, as it's overshadowed by the fresh fruit of Fresh Fruit and the cohesive controversy of Frankenchrist. Middle DKs is, well, confident. The surf-lick guitars are moving slightly more in the heavy metal direction (listen to 'Bleed for Me' if you don't believe it), and the hardcore thrash edges of the In God We Trust EP are toned down (though the production/mastering not much better). Jello's voice has never sounded more waddly-good, and the opening cut, 'Government Flu' is majestic. By this point he's mastered the ability to ratchet up the hysteria, and it saves otherwise mediocre songs like 'I am the Owl'. Some of the vitriol might be misplaced - 'Terminal Preppie' feels more like material Descendents should be covering, and 'Trust Your Mechanic'/'Well-Paid Scientist' are back-to-back assaults on expertise. I almost want to accuse Dead Kennedys of subtlety here, as 'Moon Over Marin' is more poetic than an environmentalist rant should be. It's also one of the best cuts of the DKs career, with an anthemic guitar line that belies the sarcasm everything else is rooted in. This LP is either played to death or again mastered badly, but do I really want a Dead Kennedys record to sound like a booming arena-rock masterpiece? Let the buzz and distortion wash over everything like a, well, 'Buzzbomb'.