Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – Enhanced Methods of Questioning

Oh Jello, we’ve been here before. In 2004 to be exact, when you recorded one album’s worth of material with the Melvins and spread it over two albums released a year apart. The second, ‘Sieg Howdy!’, despite boasting some standout tracks was mostly rammed to the gills with filler, in particular some egregiously pointless remixes. And now here we are again.

These tracks, recorded at the same time as your (rather excellent) debut now emerge blinking into the light of day, and I can’t help but feel that there was a good reason they weren’t on the album: they can’t hold a candle to the proto-punk twisted spy-theme masterpieces of ‘The Audacity of Hype’. Once again these tracks are mostly filler, almost every song being completely unmemorable except perhaps for their astonishingly weak half-arsed choruses. In fact, ‘The Cells That Will Not Die’ is really the only song worth listening to, its sheer anthemic awesomeness and trenchant lyrics railing against irresponsible scientific research almost (but not quite) making up for the flaccid half-heartedness of the rest of the E.P. These songs would have made perfectly adequate B-sides, but they have no place on an E.P, the shortness of the format drawing attention to how feeble some of the songs are.

Of course, it’s not all bad. ‘Invasion of the Mind Snatchers’ boasts a great riff that is more than slightly reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Mobscene’, but once again a flabby chorus leaves the song floundering in a miasma of shit. The same goes for ‘Miracle Penis Highway’, which begins with some excellent interplay from the twin guitars of Ralph Spight and Kimo Ball, but swiftly settles down into a mediocre grind which lasts for 7 agonising minutes. And really Jello, what the hell are you singing about here? Mocking Bob Dole’s newfound Viagra-powered potency just comes across as pointless and smug. There are much more deserving targets for your invective.

While we’re on the subject, you really have allowed your smugness way too much leeway here, especially on the opening ‘Dot Com Monte Carlo’, which rails against the yuppie gentrification of San Francisco with lines like ‘Wanna chase those twits/ Down the street with a chainsaw,’ and ‘How ‘bout some yuppie drive-bys for a change’. A far cry from your usual acerbic wit, the song comes across as bland, self-righteous and incredibly whiny, like Chris Martin at a sweatshop. You’ve always walked the fine line between righteous rage and self-satisfied indulgence and here on the 18 minute (!) closer, you go too far. Droning on and on about how punk you are over an (admittedly nicely acid-tinged) grind, the energy of the E.P. dissipates in a fog of ennui. Alternately coming across as smug and sympathetic, it encapsulates the dichotomy of your public persona. Ultimately, the world does not need a self-penned panegyric about how awesome Jello Biafra is.

And once again, the topics of the songs are embarrassingly out-of-date. You’re still going after Bush-era targets, ignoring the excesses of the current administration in favour of railing against the figureheads of the good old bad old days. Bashing Bob Dole in 2011 is beyond passé. If nothing else, this at least confirms the widely held truism that punk flourishes best under a Republican administration.

Ultimately, this E.P. is a disappointment, a collection of off-cuts from your debut which, with the exception of ‘The Cells That Will Not Die’, should have remained locked in a dusty studio cupboard somewhere. You need some new topics. And better songs. And a less supercilious attitude.
When the Guantanamo School of Medicine are at their peak there’s no-one to touch them. Let’s hope they get back to it soon.

Alun Thomas