Dead Kennedys (1980)
High speeds, no moral or political restraint, plenty of anger: That’s the template for hardcore punk rock, and it was pioneered here. Though the Ramones were definitely tough, they were at heart just a bunch of guys having fun. Punk has the modern archetype of being aggressive and apopleptic, with shouting and rhetoric. Besides obvious progenitors the Sex Pistols and Clash, the Dead Kennedys are where this style came from.
The politically provocative sloganeer Jello Biafra formed the group almost entirely as a mouthpiece for his opinions, using obscenity and satire to create a following of like-minded individuals. Biafra was irreverent and venomous, and this remains his finest outing as a songwriter.
Fresh Fruit strikes a mostly satisfying blend of ferocity and simplicity with odd, idiosyncratic musical choices (for example, the awesome tongue-in-cheek cover of “Viva Las Vegas”). Likewise, these very opinionated compositions have a leavening dash of humor to keep things from being too overbearing. In fact, with the brevity and brashness of the songs in conjunction with Biafra’s wavery, wacky, psychotic voice, the whole enterprise comes across as a joke; a joke with a point, that is. The LP functions as a ruthless mocking of Reagan-era conservative values and excess. (Meanwhile, across the pond, British punks were decrying the policies and persona of Margaret Thatcher.) The masterful “Holiday In Cambodia” transcends most of the album in every department, but the majority of the LP sounds more like “Kill the Poor”. It has a few messy, uninspired moments, but that’s practically what the genre was invented for. Plus, it’s that same sloppiness and fierce energy that makes the whole recording sound so vital. Rock had become somewhat debauched and bloated, and the Dead Kennedys reinstated one of its earliest goals: sticking it to the man, with a killer backbeat.
Key track: “Kill the Poor”