Dead Kennedys - Frankenchrist (Cover Artwork)

Dead Kennedys

Frankenchrist (1985)

Alternative tentacles

Frankenchrist is the third full-length record released by San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys. Frankenchrist stands out in the Dead Kennedys catalogue for a few reasons, as per usual Frankenchrist was no stranger to controversy. On another note, the record marked a departure from the chaotic and straight forward, hardcore punk rock sound the band had been perfecting prior to this release. Frankenchrist might not be the first record that pops into mind when mention of the Dead Kennedys comes up, but it continues to be a strong and well-aged release from a staple band within punk rock culture.

While I do not want this review to focus too heavily on the controversy created by this record, it would be disingenuous to leave it out entirely. Anyone who is familiar with the band, or more specifically lead vocalist Jello Biafra, is ultimately aware that politics and boundary pushing are a common theme throughout the band’s discography. The band initially included a poster of H.R. Giger’s “Landscape XX”, also known as “Penis Landscape”, in the LP sleeve. To put it simply, let’s just say that parents were not quite ready for such a poster. In addition to the outrage related to the inclusion of Giger’s relatively graphic poster, the front cover that depicts four Shriners in a parade was also met with several lawsuits. The band had used the photo, which was originally taken for Newsweek, without the permission of the Shriners in said photo. Despite the negative push back in the 1980’s, Frankenchrist remains a crucial piece of punk rock history, and the controversy just adds to the Dead Kennedys legacy.

The music contained on Frankenchrist continues to capture the typical Dead Kennedys attitude, but also marks a point when the band began to branch out and include more interesting leads and droning guitar sounds. The songs were longer and created a musical landscape that might feel at home in future Tarantino films. The influence of spaghetti western themed music and rock and roll, on top of the hard and fast punk rock sound, created an interesting listening experience that still feels fresh and original in 2017. The low-fi drones and rock and roll influence may have caught fans off guard at the time, but these elements have aged in positive way.

The lyrical content continued to cover the political and musical landscape of 1985, but as a young kid getting into the Dead Kennedys (quite a few years after the fact), the lyrical content itself is not what drew me into this band. The attitude and the strange musical circus that came along with the band were the main selling points for me as an up and coming music fan. The Dead Kennedys always wrote interesting and creepy sounding guitar licks, and catchy and eccentric melodies, but Frankenchrist amplified those aspects of past DK releases, and turned them into a more cohesive and formed listening experience. The first track “Soup is Good Food” drives this point home perfectly with its carnival-esque guitar riff intro. To this day, it is the first tune that comes to my mind when someone brings up the Dead Kennedys. It is a silly, but great guitar noodle that sets the tone for the entire record. That is not to say Frankenchrist is all new tricks, the song “M.T.V. – Get off the Air” is consistent with the style and attitude audiences had come to love from previous releases.

Nothing on this album sounds out of place, or thrown together. Each of the 10 tracks both stand apart and simultaneously work together to form a greater whole, that is the record itself. The amount of thought put into a Dead Kennedys release appears to be considerable, from the controversy to the song titles, and to a slightly lesser extent the album art itself. The many themes covered here all work toward the bands great punk rock and “fuck off” attitude. I will openly admit, I have met some individuals who overlook Frankenchrist, or downright dislike it, but I think that it is an essential piece of punk rock and Dead Kennedys history. While Frankenchrist may not be the first album I would recommend to a new DK’s fan, it is still an essential part of the Dead Kennedys collection.