Nov 23, 2022
By Matthew Berlyant
First off, if you have never experienced this album, it is an absolute must. There is a reason why it shows up on many top albums lists with names like “best punk albums of all-time” or “best hardcore albums of all-time.” It is one of the finest debut albums ever, in any genre, and an absolute landmark in the history of punk rock and an early predecessor of and major influence on the hardcore punk that would take the West Coast and the rest of the U.S. by storm shortly afterwards.
Aside from all that, Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra’s political observations are perhaps even more true now than in 1980 and the band is at their most accessible here. While Biafra has occasionally bristled that he would rather be known for their later records and not the “pop-punk” of this one, there is still a reason why this is their most popular work (though my personal favorite is 1985’s Frankenchrist). Featuring “hit” songs like “Kill the Poor” and the singles “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia,” all of the lesser-known stuff here is just as potent. Just by the titles alone, one can sense that (very black) humor was also an important tool in their arsenal and as such, this album closes with their take on the Pomus/Shuman chestnut “Viva Las Vegas.” It should also be noted that this edition, unlike my old vinyl copy, doesn’t include “Too Drunk to Fuck,” which is from a separate session and also on the great singles and odds and ends compilation Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.
All that said, recently most of the band (without Biafra’s cooperation as he has been legally prevented from making business decisions involving his former band for many years) decided to remix their seminal debut and have Chris Lord-Alge, a Grammy-winning producer who’s better known for producing mainstream artists like Chaka Khan (rumored to be a big Dead Kennedys fan), Bruce Springsteen, and others than he is for anything involving punk rock. It turns out that like Khan, he is a major fan of the band, and does a rather serviceable job here. While casual listeners won’t notice much of a difference between this mix and previous ones, close listens will reveal slightly punchier bass (at times, Klaus Floride’s bass sounds like as prominent as a helicopter blade here) and a slightly lower high end, something Biafra was unsurprisingly critical of, but which to these ears, doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of this great album one iota.
So, in summation, while I’m not really sure this remix needed to happen, it’s a fine alternate version of an already classic album. (www.deadkennedys.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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