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Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

The Audacity of Hype

(Alternative Tentacles; US: 20 Oct 2009; UK: 26 Oct 2009)

The Audacity of Hype has a secret track.  This in and of itself is not noteworthy, given that secret tracks stopped carrying even a modicum of novelty value sometime around 1990, but the secret track on Jello Biafra and friends’ first release is telling, in that it’s just a little too emblematic of the rest of the album for comfort.  At first, it sounds like plain old chaos, a whole bunch of yelling and instruments playing random patterns resulting in white noise, but as some of the sounds cut out, the listener realizes that it’s something else entirely—it’s every track on the album played simultaneously.


Somehow, this approach feels at least as satisfying as listening to each track simultaneously.  At least the art-noise approach of composing songs and playing them all at the same time results in an interpretable statement; perhaps that all modern protest eventually equates to white noise in the hands of the media, or something similarly well-intentioned (if utterly unlistenable).


What we have instead is a nine-track album of Jello doing what Jello does, yelling about corrupt politicians and bankers, and pharmaceutical companies and whatnot, lengthening a schtick that at one point felt revolutionary and, dare I say, dangerous, a schtick that feels painfully predictable in 2009.  Despite his propensity to try to shock, Biafra seems to have lost an awful lot of the sense of humor that allowed his political venom to resonate so effectively with the disillusioned youth of the early ‘80s.  Instead, his sentiments feel oddly curmudgeonly in this, another era primed for an artist who’s ready to embody the distrust and disgust that so many feel for the government.  Biafra’s just yelling about whatever’s bothering him, and when he’s done yelling about one thing, he moves on to yelling about something else, with no particular solution or cohesive point of view (besides that of outrage) in sight.


The mere title of the album is a pointed shot at our sitting president.  The artwork, actually done by the same guy responsible for the famous Obama “HOPE” poster, looks like a call to arms of sorts—as if it’s imploring us not to fall for the celebrity, to hold our current president to the same standards we supposedly wished the previous one would live up to.


And yet, so many of his arguments and attacks feel so dated as to make one wonder what era they were written for, anyway.


“Clean as a Thistle” feels oddly Clinton-era with its attacks on politicians who are getting a little something on the side, and then its counterattacks on the politicians who hypocritically turn up their nose at such behavior.  “Killing millions / Ain’t impeachable / Like wayward weenie moistening / That’s why I love it,” Jello screams, and while you can bop along to it as readily as you could any Dead Kennedys track, you’re left to wonder why we’re still screaming about infidelity being an impeachable offense.  Later on in the album is a screed against consumerism called “Strength Thru Shopping”, which contains lyrics like “Obey the call of the consumer / Give me convenience / Or give me death / Before I choke on myself!”  While it can certainly be argued that these are words valid in any era, they certainly seem targeted at an ‘80s-style attitude of prosperity and excess, rather than the lean times we’re currently facing.


Even when his arguments don’t seem outdated, they seem awfully generic.  The depth of tracks like “Pets Eat their Master” and “Panic Land” barely go beyond their titles, and they seem to center on concepts identified primarily with a Republican administration too eager to use scare tactics and flaunt dollar bills when necessary.  Rather than a comment on the “hype” of the current administration, we’re hearing so many of the same complaints that we’ve already been hearing for the last nine years.  Was it too much to expect an updated version of the revolutionary rhetoric?


As such, while it’s easy to believe Jello’s concluding mantra of “I Won’t Give Up”, it’s all too easy to also feel sorry for the guy.  His heart’s in the right place, but his head’s in a place that, perhaps, we may never have heard it before: behind the times.  The Audacity of Hype is a pleasantly aggressive throwback for those who miss the halcyon days when Jello Biafra fronted the Dead Kennedys, but as anything more than cheap nostalgia, it fails spectacularly.

Rating:

Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.


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Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine - Terror of Tiny Town / Clean as a Thistle
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Jello Biafra's topical references still cause one to reach for the encyclopedia (or at least Wikipedia) and his voice still has that banshee wail, but his lyrics are caricatured extremes.
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