Dead Kennedys

Plastic Surgery Disasters, In God We Trust, Inc., Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, Frankenchrist, Mutiny on the Bay, and Bedtime for Democracy (Manifesto)

Record Reviews

Dead Kennedys
Plastic Surgery Disasters/In God We Trust, Inc. (Manifesto)

Dead Kennedys
Frankenchrist (Manifesto)

Dead Kennedys
Bedtime for Democracy (Manifesto)

Dead Kennedys
Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (Manifesto)

Dead Kennedys
Mutiny on the Bay: Dead Kennedys Live From the San Francisco Bay Area (Manifesto)

The biggest obstacle to overcome in mating politics with music is keeping today's headlines from freezing the music in time like a Trivial Pursuit question. One way of avoiding this is slathering protest in comedic irreverence, and few bands did this more effectively than the Dead Kennedys. Vocalist Jello Biafra's lyrics combined the revolutionary venom of Crass with the delightfully bent world-view of John Waters, while guitarist East Bay Ray crossed Dick Dale surf-rock with a power tool spinning out of control. Following a long, ugly court battle over royalties between Biafra and the rest of the band, the DKs' catalog on Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label -- basically everything except their groundbreaking debut Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables -- has been reissued on Manifesto along with an unreleased live album. Of these, the disc combining the 1981 EP In God We Trust, Inc. with '82's Plastic Surgery Disasters stands alongside Fresh Fruit as one of the essential tomes of California hardcore.

Released just as Ronald Reagan took office, In God We Trust, Inc. excoriated the rebirth of hawkish moralism ("Religious Vomit," "Moral Majority") along with the rise of fascism in the international punk scene ("Nazi Punks Fuck Off"). Though its fast, angry approach quells the band's more adventurous side, the EP is a potent distillation of the no-future desperation that hung over the loyal opposition in the Eighties. Plastic Surgery Disasters is the more obvious successor to Fresh Fruit, featuring moments of scathing hilarity like "Terminal Preppie" along with the post-apocalyptic bourgeois liberal epic, "Moon Over Marin." Frankenchrist (1985) is, of course, the album that put the DKs on the map. Unfortunately, most of that notoriety came from a Scopes-style obscenity trial over the H.R. Giger poster insert (missing here). In stretching most songs past the four-minute mark, Frankenchrist eschews the slam-bang impact of the band's early work in the name of artistic evolution. That said, Frankenchrist manages effective swipes at suburbia ("This Could Be Anywhere") and MTV ("MTV Get Off the Air").

The DKs announced their breakup before releasing 1986's Bedtime for Democracy, and the album's formulaic mediocrity reflects a band at the point of creative inertia. Even though "Rambozo the Clown" is passable middle-finger hardcore, Biafra's save-the-scene rant on "Chickenshit Conformist" is downright embarrassing. A better way to remember the band is the 1987 compilation Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. The album culls classic DK singles like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Too Drunk to Fuck" along with rare tracks such as the New Wave-slaying "Pull My Strings" and the Twinkie Defense-inspired reworking of Bobby Fuller's "I Fought the Law." Mutiny on the Bay suffers from middling sound quality, but its attempt to capture the DKs' live fury is worth it on the opening sequence featuring "Police Truck," "Kill the Poor," and "Holiday in Cambodia." Despite the occasional misstep, the Dead Kennedys unsparing combination of sick humor and virulent outrage remains a highlight in the history of American protest music.

(Plastic Surgery Disasters/In God We Trust; Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death) ****

(Frankenchrist; Mutiny on the Bay) ***

(Bedtime for Democracy) **

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