WHEN PEOPLE talk about the best punk albums of all time, it’s important to place Dead Kennedy’s debut record up there alongside Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, The Clash’s London Calling and The Slit’s Cut. Certainly in the world of Hardcore Punk, the Kennedy’s first three records are all excellent examples of how to work with that genre. But what really helps make Fresh Fruit… so great is the number of hits on this thing.
It opens with the upbeat ‘Kill The Poor’, an incredibly catchy number, despite its morbid subject matter. But with one fowl swoop, Dead Kennedys launch themselves into the political spectrum, something that continues over the course of the album. Notably in the spunky follow up songs ‘Foreword to Death’ and ‘When Ya Get Drafted’ a song that proclaims ‘war is back in fashion’. With this comes a sound influenced by Surf Rock and Punk Rock, giving the ever critical Kennedys a facade of Devo-level familiarity whilst they throw out harsh lyrics. In fact, Jello Biafra’s vocals do in fact echo that of Mark Mothersbaugh with their ever present vibrato and mocking tones.
One of the best examples of this opens the second half of the record with the classic song ‘California Über Alles’, where Biafra opens with ‘I am Governor Jerry Brown/My aura smiles/and never frowns/soon I will be President’. His tone is sneering, upperty and satirical, the perfect impression. On top of the layers of satire comes the catchiest riff all album, the rallying cry of: ‘CALIFORNIA! ÜBER ALLES!’ But perhaps one of the most poignant vocal features comes in the final track; a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Viva Las Vegas’. Not only do the songs themes of frivolity and carelessness contrast perfectly with the rest of the record (especially coming directly after ‘Holiday in Cambodia’), but Biafra’s swaggering Elvis impersonation is the icing on the cake. His hillbilly tones and the cartoonish guitar solos are morbidly hilarious.
And this proves that Dead Kennedys aren’t just trying to be ‘edgy’ as some people might think them to be. Sure, you have songs called ‘I Kill Children’ and ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’, but the lyrics of the group tackle actual topics, both political and close to home. This isn’t the Dead Kennedys using shock factor for shock factors sake, it’s satirising the Cold War world, and a country on the cusp of the Reagan era. But to say that Fresh Fruit… is all fun would be false. One of the best songs on the record, ‘Holiday in Cambodia’, is an incredibly dark number that chastises the West’s youth for thinking they have it hard, before bringing up the atrocities committed in Cambodia.
Punk can be throwaway; it can be boring and drab. But Dead Kennedy’s debut is a multi-layered masterpiece that brings humour, politics and rousing Surf riffs under one roof. Hits like ‘California Über Alles’ and ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’ hold the record together, while the deeper cuts are pure punk indulgence.
Yet Rolling Stone class Blink-182’s Enema of the State as more Punk.
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