Music

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

Was it too much to expect an updated version of the revolutionary rhetoric?


Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

The Audacity of Hype

Contributors: Jello Biafra, Ralph Spight, Kimo Ball, Jon Weiss, Billy Gould
Label: Alternative Tentacles
UK Release Date: 2009-10-26
US Release Date: 2009-10-20
Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

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.

3

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image