In October, 1985, the Dead Kennedys released their third studio album Frankenchrist. I had just started my last year at Senior School and went straight from school to Rockers Records (now Swordfish) in Birmingham city centre to buy the album on day of release.
This was the first Dead Kennedys album I was buying not retrospectively. The order in which I’d heard their previous releases was In God We Trust, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables then Plastic Surgery Disasters (not the order in which they were released). An often used phrase is ‘one cannot split something by the width of a cigarette paper’ – this is true here. I still reconsider which is the best of these two albums and E.P. Mind expanding lyrics with unique hardcore U.S. punk fury / wisdom which still has arguably never been bettered, in content, by any other band.
On a crowded rush hour bus home with Frankenchrist I opened my Rockers carrier bag and took out the record to examine the lyrics / artwork anticipating listening to new material from Biafra et al. Very quickly I heard tuts and gasps of disapproval from commuters. I was puzzled, nothing more nothing less. I had opened the poster included. The image didn’t really register with me, I was 15 years of age. Then it clicked what the main image was and I put the record away. The artwork matches the vibe of the album and despite what Tipper Gore would latch onto it didn’t corrupt me in any way at all – why would it?
The H.R. Giger artwork Penis Landscape originally from 1973 had no attack from the American right-wing so why should the Dead Kennedys? There’s a clue in that question I guess. Jello Biafra’s house was raided by the police and prosecution trials in 1986 saw the band fold under the pressure. Biafra’s marriage also ended in ’86. A rush released final album Bedtime For Democracy packed loads of songs into one final DK burst and the band were gone.
Frankenchrist is not the classic that the bands first three releases are – but it is the first / only example I can think of where I’ve never thought badly of the material for being ‘worse’. That, I think is wholly down to respect. Frankenchrist has a very different feel to the band previous releases with its longer, denser material. Tracks like Jock-O-Rama underline that fantastic disdain for the American dream. Even in Birmingham, England one could / can really resonate with the lyrics which swell to story book levels. There is no real stand out song on the album. MTV Get Off The Air has its catchy moments but the Dead Kennedys circa 1985 were not about ear pleasing. For that reason songs like At My Job with its slog along drone are equal to the albums catchier moments.
The album is a one-off in many respects and with hindsight goes way beyond its material. It’s a thorn in America’s side. Vicious and articulately accurate. 28 years later hardly any artist has stood by their output than Jello Biafra has this album. Utmost respect for what was initially a slight disappointment as the record span on my turntable. Sometimes albums go beyond the music…