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

So. Finally, 23 years after the Dead Kennedys broke up and after innumerable collaborations with the Melvins, D.O.A., Nomeansno and Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Jello Biafra’s gone and got himself a new band. And bloody brilliant they are too. On The Audacity of Hype the Guantanamo School of Medicine provide a stunningly aggressive backing to Jello’s frenzied rants about the evils of the Bush administration, the ‘prison-industrial complex’, Republican sex scandals and shopping. Yes, shopping.

Jello’s in fantastic form on the album, delivering his razor-sharp satire with a smirking knowingness and wit that pulverises all in its path. The band keeps up with him every step of the way, the twin guitar assault of Ralph Spight and Kimo Ball moving along the punk spectrum from Stooges-like squalls of metallic noise to Dead Kennedys-esque spy themes as Jon Weiss’s brutal drumming drives the band forward.

The album opens with ‘The Terror of Tinytown’, an apocalyptic look at Bush’s last days in office. A stunning opener, it starts off with a melodic rock intro before the drums kick in and the guitars go into overdrive. Fantastic lyrically and musically, it’s a great way to start the album, although Bush-bashing over a year after he left office seems redundant now, especially as the album’s cover seems to suggest that the Obama administration would be Jello’s target.

The next song is ‘Clean As a Thistle’, a stream-of-consciousness rant from the point of view of a sex-obsessed Family Values politician. Its venomous lyrics are delivered with customary sneer by Biafra, who uses his voice almost as a fifth instrument in the song, his high warbling acting as a counterpoint to the distorted squalling of the guitars, the rhythm section barely keeping the song from exploding into a scream of righteous fury.

This is followed by ‘New Feudalism’, a new recording of a song Biafra performed live at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle years ago. The lyrics haven’t dated at all; in fact they may be more relevant now than then. The twin guitars add a new urgency to the track and a new metal-based guitar approach replaces the slightly surf-tinged guitar of the earlier recording.

Another new song, ‘Panic Land’ comes next, a satirical look at people who are duped by the news into seeing danger everywhere they turn backed by crunchy guitars and some truly brutal drumming courtesy of Weiss. Another re-recording of a song from the Battle in Seattle follows in the shape of ‘Electronic Plantation’, which offers a beautiful bass opening and some wonderful wordplay from Jello, who’s on top lyrical form throughout the album.

‘Three Strikes’ slows the pace a little with a melodic drumbeat and slow spaghetti western opening before the guitars tear in and Jello begins his attack on the three-strikes rule with the immortal words “When they came for the Jews I didn’t protest, I wasn’t a Jew”. Thought-provoking lyrics and crunchy guitars make this one of the best songs on the album.

From here the album continues in its metallic punk attack with ‘Strength Thru Shopping’ and ‘Pets Eat Their Master’, ending with the pseudo-anthem ‘I Won’t Give Up’. A sublime slice of righteous anger and hope for the future live, the album version loses some of its emotion but none of its relevance.

The only thing that spoils the perfection of the album is the hidden track. Oh, the hidden track. Why, Jello, why? It seems to be the whole album played at hyper speed, squeezing its twenty minute run time into incomprehensible noise that lasts for two hideous minutes. It’s awful and pointless and we will not speak of this again.

Overall, The Audacity of Hype is a fantastic return to form for Jello. Despite the outdated topics of a few of the songs, the album offers a thought-provoking, intelligent and funny critique of American politics set to some of the most powerful punk music around. You need this album in your life.

Alun Thomas