Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine - White People and the Damage Done (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine

White People and the Damage Done (2013)

Alternative Tentacles

The third album by Jello Biafra and the Guatanamo School of Medicine, White People and the Damage Done, opens with Ralph Spight's swaggering hard rock riff and Biafra howling in his trademark high pitched voice, "We are the illuminazi! / You're the food chain we devour!" It's simple, broad and effective, and it sums up the LP in a mere four seconds. Where previous Jello and GSM songs struggled to stand apart from each other, and also struggled to stand out in Biafra's vast catalogue, now the band have rotated in such a way that not only are they making the best music of their run, but also, standing out as a notable and memorable point in the Biafra catalogue along the heights of Plastic Surgery Disasters, Prairie Home Invasion and Sieg Howdy!.

For one thing, Biafra is as vitriolic as ever. But where sometimes he would descend into pure anger throughout the disc, he uses anger as the fuel for his snarky attacks, which are as funny as they are convincing. Instead of just lamenting things, Biafra comes across as a George Carlin on speed or a Rodney Dangerfield turned political. "John Dillinger" is one of Biafra's most clever constructs to date. As the band charge forward through a hard rock stomp that almost becomes a thrash attack, Biafra casts famous robber John Dillinger as a patsy that distracted people's attention from corporate abuses, all the while Dillinger himself was a product of economic inequality caused by corporate abuses. Wow!

But while Biafra has become more and more wordy over the years, here he manages to fit his essays neatly into the confines of the song so that the thesis and conclusion hit doubly hard, whereas in former recordings, sometimes they would be just a jumbled mass of words. Still, the cliche "less is more" does hold true. "The Brown Lipstick Parade" and "Hollywood Goof Disease" explain Biafra's thoughts through detailed essaying. Yet midway through the album, the band ratchet up from harder rifts to pure hardcore punk and on "Road Rage" Biafra screams, "I hate my wife / I hate my kids / I hate my job / I hate this town / I hate my cable bills!" Biafra doesn't go into that much detail and yet we know the exact, upper middle class, middle management, suburb picture that he is creating. When Biafra chooses to be terse, his words carry that much more impact and color. Plus, it gives him the room to get really wacky. Halfway through the song he descends into the a string of non-verbal, mouth foaming. It's hilarious and also adds more to the song than words ever could.

Yet this is not purely a Biafra affair. More than ever before, Ralph Spight's own eccentricities come into play and make the album the most varied and sonically interesting GSM release to date. The entire album is based in his heavy, agitated guitar playing that retains a classic Detroit-punk sound, but is jacked up to a crust punk attack. Also, unlike many other guitarists, Spight has a unique tone in his guitar that has colors of a Harley Davidson's engine, Hawkwind and Johnny Ramone. When Spight interjects his own weirdness, which complements Biafra's own manic character, the pair create their best work together. On "The Brown Lipstick Parade", Spight calls out shifting refrains to Biafra's lyrics in a series of different voices that, at times, have the same effect as the high-pitch voiced pixies that run through George Clinton productions. It gives the album a certain whimsy that a lot of punk is missing without detracting from the core message. When Spight launches into high velocity hardcore smashing, his guitar line and Biafra's voice lock together in a way that says the men are operating off soul and not expectations of what their music "should" sound like.

The centerpiece, "White People and the Damage Done" is one of the most curious tracks Biafra has written to date. Is he saying that white people inherently have a vicious nature, or is he using white people as a proxy for those in power? He doesn't answer the question, but even he would likely admit that it's a debate-baiting track. As with his notorious four hour spoken word events, Biafra has often stood for the principal of information dispersal as a way to correct wrongs, but he's also urged for "a prank a day." Because this album snaps together so well with such a varied texture, it does more in 40 minutes than most lecturers do in their entire career.