Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine: White People and the Damage Done – album review

Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine – White People and the Damage Done (Alternative Tentacles).

CD, LP + download

Out Now

Louder Than War’s Nathan Haywire reviews the new, brilliant, album by Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine.

Anyone who hasn’t yet come across Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine will surely know the Dead Kennedys as a reference point.  If you don’t, go out and buy all their releases now!  Jello’s post-Dead Kennedy releases from his spoken word to Lard and the plethora of “Jello Biafra with” collaborative projects have covered a broad range of sound and styles – he is not a man to roll out more of the same.

The music on this release adopts and bastardises a range of styles – straight up hardcore punk with some nice guitar hooks, a jazz influence in some of the time signatures, a big guitar riff Angus Young would be proud of on “Shock-U-Py”, some Americana on “Burgers of Wrath”, Thin Lizzy-esque dual guitar pops up, Tony Iommi jumps out of the speakers here and there, and on a couple of tracks there is an undisputable nod to 60s garage and surf bands such as The Sonics.  Throughout there is an unmistakable West Coast punk rock backbone and of course Jello’s vocal delivery – not blunted by over 35 years of pointing his acerbic wit at society’s hypocrisies.  Fans of Dead Kennedys will not be disappointed but there is also a real musical depth here.

As much as I wanted to avoid pinning Jello on his pre-1986 work when I started writing this review, the Dead Kennedys keep jumping out of this release.  The crazy maniac howling hatred over hardcore (as if played by a horror circus troupe) on “Road Rage” is reminiscent of “Chemical Warfare” and Lard’s “Can God Pull Teeth?”.  The structure, tempo changes and echoey guitar in the middle break down of “Mid-East Process” takes me straight back to the DK song “Riot”.

Enough of the music, to the lyrics!  Corporate corruption, US foreign policy, consumer society – each are treated to Jello’s interesting take and while these topics are nothing new they are just as important now as they ever have been.  The catchy “John Dillinger” is not a tribute to 20s gangsters but a warning about diversionary tactics used to shift our short attention spans away from the actions of the military and the  capitalists in Wall Street.  “Shock-U-Py” stands out as a useful history lesson and a call to arms– The New Deal was not “’Kuz Scrooge found a heart, but driven by fear in the air of revolution”.  The message is clear, we all need to keep pressing for change if we want it, but have fun while we are doing it: “A prank a day keeps the dog leash away”.

As with all Jello associated releases, the whole release package is part of the experience, not just the music & lyrics.  The striking Winston Smith cover art, simultaneously funny and disturbing, is supplemented with trademark Biafra cut’n’paste poster inserts mixing up the lyrics with images, disturbing true and downright bizarre news clippings – many on the theme of child death and exploitation.

The personnel list almost reads like a “who’s who”: Marshall Lawless and Matt Kelley (Jello projects, Hieroglyphics, The Coup, Digital Underground, ZenGuerrilla), Ralph Spight (Victims Family, Freak Accident), Kimo Ball (Freak Accident, Griddle, Mol Triffid), Andrew Weiss (Rollins Band, Ween, Butthole Surfers, more)  Paul Della Pelle (Helios Creed, Nik Turner’s Space Ritual, and Philly HC legends Ruin).

The CD is crammed up to maximum capacity (78 minutes) with 4 bonus remixes – some work, some don’t and I don’t think they were necessary as the quality of the 10 album tracks is so high.  But you can always hit the stop button!

Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine’s website is here. They’re also on Facebook and Jello himself is on Twitter as @Jello_Biafra.

All words by Nathan Haywire. More of Nathan’s writing for Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.


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