Dead Kennedys – Plastic Surgery Disasters

Following a debut album that so often typifies a band is tricky business. Many bands that produce a killer debut can come unstuck – hence the often used muso term – “difficult second album”.

San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys despite the legendary debut – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – would have no such problem. Yes, it lacks the total killer blow of Holiday In Cambodia, California Uber Alles and the like – but the sum of it’s parts, for me, make it their most essential album.

Kicking off with the feedback taunt that sometimes is referred to as Advice From Christmas Past  this bleeds into the assured riff that is Government Flu. Plastic Surgery Disasters the original album came with one of the best booklets, lyric sheets / artwork that I can recall. Initially you benefit from having the lyric to read along with due to the bands ferocious pace.

Onto Terminal Preppie and the band switch from a government target and go straight for the jugular of college jocks. A scathing character assassination maps the lack of ambition and imagination of those that follow the work / life norm. The lines

“I want a wife with tits, that just smiles all the time, in my centrefold world, filled with Springsteen and wine”

nail the direction of Terminal Preppie. East Bay Ray gets a slick guitar break in near the end of this tracks 1:30 length. The album begins to whirlwind.

The cynicism of Biafra raises still on Trust Your Mechanic. I was 14 when I first heard Plastic Surgery and it has effected the way I see certain things, even to this day. The idea “TV invents a disease you think you have” and “the magazine says your face don’t look quite right” really hit hard despite the near comical delivery. The idea that dentists are fixing your mouth but fucking it up so they can rip you off more are powerful ideas. Paranoid, maybe. But paranoid genius.

Well Paid Scientist begins with Klaus Flourides rumbling bass and again the delivery is very fast and direct. The track wobbles and Biafras lyrical style veers nearer to maniacal in it’s scathing sound.

Buzzbomb is more of the same. The formula doesn’t change and Plastic Surgery Disasters establishes it’s frenetic sound.

Onto Forest Fire which is a tale about building your own fortress and getting burned alive in it. Subconsciously it suggests people value material items too much and by securing them and getting caught up you lose lifes true values.

Of note the last the 3 tracks up to this point (Well Paid Scientist, Buzzbomb and Forest Fire) all clock in at 2:22 in length.

This formula is broken in what is the most accessible track on Plastic Surgery Disasters. Halloween is catchy. It’s lyrical content again sees  Biafra in form. Suggesting control and people only letting go when it’s socially acceptable Biafra questions why are you “shit faced tonight / and brag about it for months”. Social regulations and uniformity are scathed by Biafra and his attack on American / Western lifestyle continues and grips.

Winnebago Warrior has a near red neck delivery – but couldn’t be any further from red  neck as the lyrics continue to attack American values.

Flip the album. Onto Side 2 and Riot sees the gear shift. The storytelling lyrics continue – and what a great story this song paints. The guitar evokes an actual riot. The bass and drums plod and rise like a mob surging, running, dispersing and disappearing. Like the theme in Halloween the track questions what people do, when people do things and are they thinking about their present actions. It’s a work of social commentary genius.

Bleed For Me has one of the best musical intros I can recall. During the rising intro menace is palpable. Biafra chokes during the intro and it kicks in very hard with a strong fast powerchord. I would have love to have seen the Dead Kennedys live but I was too young when they were active – I can only imagine what that intro would have been like at a gig.

Conspiracy theories and civil rights are thematic throughout Bleed For Me. It was a brave choice for a single release as it’s content would surely have seen radio stations (especially U.S.) blank the track.

I Am The Owl sees the paranoia levels incredibly go even higher. The lyrics about observation, action, disappearance and cover ups set a heavy theme. The lines about “in ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth, by then – it’s only so much paper” resonate. The style of Biafra’s vocal delivery have never worked better than on this track. The emphasis on certain words say more than the words themselves.

Dead End continues the darker Side 2. For once the song has no target. It almost appears self confessional. The band reveal little about themselves. Left open to interpretation Dead End paints a bleak picture.

Plastic Surgery Disasters closes with Moon Over Marin. One of the Dead Kennedy’s most ear friendly pieces ever it has a laid back, catchy and evocative rhythm. The lyrics warn about the “I’m alright Jack” attitude with a backdrop theme of pollution. The track has a sad  tone but strangely an upbeat feel to it. It’s essentially saying we’re all screwed.

Advice From Christmas Past outros the album. Like the intro this is not a proper track and originally played on the shiny skatey bit of the vinyl where the needle runs on and off.

Given much consideration the Dead Kennedys first album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is an essential record – everything about it. However Plastic Surgery Disasters just shades it for me as I can still recall the spark it put in my head as a 14 year old listening to it. It’s a powerful record that walks the line of genius / madman firmly on the genius foot.

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