Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine - The Audacity of Hype (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

The Audacity of Hype (2009)

Alternative Tentacles

Heroes tend to be in a tricky situation. There's an expectation born out of their legend. Even more so difficult is the position of punk rock grandfather--no matter how legendary or huge you've become, your roots started small, and living up to expectations isn't number one on your plate.

And with that grandiose paragraph, let's take an examination of Jello Biafra's first true solo album in, well, maybe ever. Previous collaborations with NoMeansNo and Melvins had Biafra fronting the groups and taking a lead in songwriting, but those musicians were a pre-existing band with distinct playing styles, and the results were stellar and amazing collaborations. The Guantanamo School of Medicine is an all-star cast of Alternative Tentacles players from years past, but assembled together, they aren't much more than Jello's backing band. And that's probably the biggest issue with The Audacity of Hype.

Biafra's vocals are spot on as always, his songwriting is tight, cranking out hybrid punk riffs and the GSOM can crank it out like, well, a group of punk veterans with road-tested chops. But starting with "Terror of Tinytown" and running through "I Won't Give Up," the song structures get a bit repetitive. The production value brings a few tracks dangerously close to modern rock territory, and it may not be what most hardcore Dead Kennedys fans would be expecting of the late band's (no matter what you think, that band is indeed dead) charismatic frontman.

But isn't that the point? Biafra has long been touted as a rabble-rousing genius who's been held back by his legal battles and running a label. Well, this is his unadulterated solo output, and Biafra's chance to show the world that he does have the ability to pull together a riff and four chords into a powerhouse political burner with poignant satirical lyrics. And he's accomplished that. The tempo may be a bit slower, the band may not be as adventurous as Melvins or NoMeansNo, but who cares?

"Clean as a Thistle" breaks down political campaigning quicker than Jon Stewart, and "New Feudalism" cranks out hard and fast riffs, showing the listener what punk should have sounded like for the past 20 years instead of the weird melodic turn it took from NOFX. So put the album on a pedestal, or flush it down the toilet. Chances are Jello Biafra isn't going to give a shit, because he's recorded the album he wanted to on his own time, and did it without bowing to the pressure.