A caustic, snide and fiercely intelligent statement of intent.
Alex Deller 2011-04-28
There are certain parts of the punk rock canon that have been so reused, rehashed and recycled it’s hard to reappraise them objectively. Similarly, the likes of pre-weathered Ramones tees on the racks at high street fashion stores, Lady Gaga in a GISM jacket and the ugly memory of the Red Hot Chili Peppers maiming Nervous Breakdown have seen underground influence and iconography brought into popular parlance in a way many could never have imagined.
The Dead Kennedys, to a large extent, have fallen foul of such erosion. Whether it’s their entry-point status for legions of teen rebels who’ll be quick to seek more esoteric pleasures, lacklustre tributes from big-name acts or the years of legal squabbles since their split, it’s become hard to step back and see their debut album for what it was and what it still represents: a caustic, snide and fiercely intelligent statement of intent that well deserves its place in punk’s battered annals.
Born of a time when much of UK punk’s first wave had grown flabby, the Dead Kennedys stood alongside fellow upstarts MDC, Bad Brains and the Misfits in forging their own harder, wilder sounds and bringing the genre to its next logical stage of development. Fusing bright, slashing chords and hyperactive bass runs with frontman Jello Biafra’s acerbic yodel-cum-snarl the band mercilessly dispatched cruel, irreverent and unceremonious potshots at political corruption and large-scale human idiocy with a mixture of crackling ire and bleak, yellow-fanged comedy. Amid the white-knuckle pacing and spit-spattered vitriol of bona-fide genre classics like California Über Alles and Holiday in Cambodia are strewn curveballs and non sequiturs, from the Dick Dale surf licks leaving vapour trails through Let’s Lynch the Landlord to the whirligig upchuck of Chemical Warfare and the band’s sneering take on Viva Las Vegas.
While the music itself holds up impeccably to three decades’ worth of use and abuse, perhaps the greatest factor in its continued relevance is also the most disheartening: today’s wars, scandals and exploitative endeavours might well be different to those of 1980, but many of the curl-lipped jibes, criticisms and sentiments herein can still be just as readily applied.