Shock-U-Py is the release that we've been waiting for from Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine since the band's inception. While The Audacity of Hype stormed forward in an almost thrash charge, the music seemed just a little bit under-refined and the material, which slammed former President Bush, seemed just a bit dated, considering the Obama-baiting cover. Enhanced Methods of Questioning was a marked improvement, particularly the biographical Pink Fairies cover, but the songs still seemed just a little bit fatty. The Shock-U-Py EP is both timely and concise, featuring Biafra at the apex of his commentary and the band capitalizing in their impressive pedigree.
Across all three songs, Biafra focuses on the Occupy movement and the president's reaction. On "Shock-U-Py," which was previously released as a single, Biafra draws comparison between the Occupy movement and the Hoovervilles of the 1930s. With Occupy still an ongoing presence, and possibly even an interminable one, the song strikes while the iron is hot, commenting on current events as much as any editorial column. Further, while the song is a weighty seven-and-a-half minutes, the band continually twists and turns, starts and stops, smashes forward and pulls back, giving the song a hardcore cadence, but a space-rock type sonic exploration.
Biafra has previously stated that he was a Hawkwind fan before a punk fan, and at times, it feels that throughout his career, he has been trying to achieve the rocking complexity and sense of journey of those bands. While in the past the results have led to some overly long songs, here, he masters it in both the multiple parts to the "Shock-U-Py" story, and vast amount of sonic territory covered. This is what the band promised us in its formation and the payoff is worth it.
The MAD-ish "Barackstar O'Bummer" exemplifies what makes Biafra be Biafra. The music itself slams forward like classic Dead Kennedy tune "Plastic Surgery Disasters," with tightly wound tempo changes and even a pre-war soul reference at the end. Guitarist Ralph Spight's guitar is so catchy and so menacing here that it makes the song the best thing the band has recorded to date.
Meanwhile, Biafra elevates himself to the legend surrounding himself, and in doing so, makes it clear how he is human. Biafra has already caught some flack for being so critical of President Obama. But, to criticize Biafra for criticizing the president misses the point. First, Biafra has always urged the questioning of authority. Biafra seems to argue that just because the Democrats are in office, the questioning shouldn't cease. But more so, Biafra criticizes the president for not being as radical as originally presented. Here, Biafra seems to become more of an element than a person—a force of nature instead of flesh and blood. No matter how left, or progressive, the government may (or may not) be, Biafra exists not to enforce certain policies, but to pull the government even further left of its current position, no matter where it is at. In doing so, Biafra acts almost as a metaphor for the government's system of checks and balances. Biafra doesn't exist to push a particular issue, but rather, to make sure that the other side isn't pulling agendas too far in its own direction, no matter the issue at hand.
Of course, such a description of Biafra is somewhat comic bookish. Biafra isn't actually a deity. He's a person with faults and virtues like all of us. But, by being so extreme, or at least by continually saying "what you are doing is not enough" to the government, we learn just how dedicated Biafra is to the mindset of change.
The EP closes with an alternative mix of the Biafra/DOA collaboration "We Occupy." The mix presents the most surprising choice to back the song with an almost…ska…guitar line. But, frankly, it works. While a great deal of punk, and even Biafra's own work, can be doom-and-gloom-and-more-doom, "We Occupy" is both a victory song and a rallying cry. By planting a jumpy beat in the back, the song energizes and encourages participation as well as aims to refresh those already in the trenches. You can debate on whether or not music in of itself actually changes anything, but if it does, this is the type of song that lights the fuse or at least keeps it lit.
Shock-U-Py acts a teaser for the upcoming White People and the Damage Done LP. At times, when anticipating an album from a long running legend, one can almost hope that the album doesn't come because how many artists can record two London Callings, Damageds or Chemistry of Common Lifes? Biafra might not ever overshadow his earliest work, but if this EP is any indication, it doesn't matter because Biafra's in the present, and that's were he wants us to be, too. If his new material isn't enticing enough of a proposition for that compact, then maybe you need to rearrange your priorities.