Musician, activist, political pundit, DJ and owner of acclaimed record label Alternative Tentacles, Eric ‘Jello Biafra’ Boucher is much more than just 'the former frontman of the Dead Kennedys.'
The pioneering political hardcore punk band originally split in 1986 and while they left an influential legacy with just four studio albums, the volume of Biafra’s subsequent material far outweighs their discography.
As well as 11 studio solo/collaborations albums, the singer has released nine albums of his popular, thought-provoking – and occasionally hilarious – spoken word material. But concentrating on his music, let’s delve deep into the back catalogue of punk rock’s foremost agent provocateur.
10. Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon – Prairie Home Invasion (1994)
Political punk twinned with country shouldn’t work, but with a heavy dose of Jello’s biting lyrics, this collaboration with psychobilly musician Mojo Nixon is an irreverent cowpunk classic. It's most notable for the devastating satire of anti-abortionists in Will the Fetus be Aborted (performed to the tune of standard Christian country-folk hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken): more topical than ever, a video for the track was released in August.
Much like the DK’s subversion of Viva Las Vegas, from the comical boogie of Where Are We Gonna Work (When the Trees Are Gone?) to the hilarious Christian bluegrass style ode to Atomic Power, Mojo Nixon’s musicianship provides Jello free rein to deliver some of his most sardonic derision in the style of the music most at odds with his lyrics.
9. Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – White People and the Damage Done (2013)
The second GSM album saw a switch in personnel from their debut, but thanks to ex-Rollins Band/Ween bassist Andrew Weiss in partnership with guitarists Ralph Spight and Kimo Ball, White People… – with its Neil Young spoofing title – features a more groove-laden garage vibe with brighter but no less uncompromising lyrics from Jello.
Themes veer wildly between the serious and inane. “We built Mujahideen in Afghanistan/To trick the Russians who hadn't yet invaded” he yells on the title track, and above the Cramps-style riffing of the vaudevillian Hollywood Goof Disease, he mocks “What has Charlie Sheen done now?/Michael Jackson dead is never old.”
8. Jello Biafra with The Melvins – Sieg Howdy! (2005)
Essentially outtakes and remixes from the previous year’s Never Breathe… sessions, Sieg Howdy! remains a worthwhile partner album to the debut.
Immediately establishing a theme of spooky discomfort, it kicks off with a customary Melvins live cover, their typically unnerving interpretation of Alice Cooper’s psyche-prog classic, Halo of Flies. Alienation and anxiety are ratcheted up with Lessons in What Not to Become and Voted off the Island.
Jello also takes corporate punk rock – and his former DKs bandmates – to task in Those Dumb Punk Kids (Will Buy Anything) with a riff sounding like an accelerated Too Drunk to Fuck. In addition, a live track hilariously updates California Über Alles yet again, with former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger the subject this time.
7. Jello Biafra with The Melvins – Never Breathe What You Can't See (2004)
Following the success of Lard, combining Jello’s acerbic vocal delivery with the Melvins’ weighty sludge was a no-brainer that created the perfect soundtrack to the tense mid-00s fear-driven post-9/11 war on terrorism.
Islamic fundamentalism and western capitalism are equated as mutually beneficial on the conspiracy theorising McGruff The Crime Dog and Caped Crusader. Full of double entendres, The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism is an irreverent take on power-mad, entitled security and customs officers using the threat of hidden devices for their own questionable ends. And then there's the discordant and demented Dawn of the Locusts, an appropriately distressing close to a soundtrack informed by the wreckage of early 21st century international political intrigue.
6. Tumor Circus – Tumor Circus (1991)
A missing link between the late 80s/early 90s avant post-hardcore noise punk psyche of Butthole Surfers/Alice Donut/Big Black and later drone/mathcore movements. This one-off collaboration between Jello and Steel Pole Bath Tub plus Grong Grong/King Snake Roost guitarist Charles Tolnay received mixed reviews for its abrasive, distorted, and brilliantly hectic sounds with true furniture-splintering value when the rest of the world was intently focused on Nirvana’s latest collection of adolescent anthems.
Jello yelps his way through the punishingly discordant The Man with The Corkscrew Eyes and screams as if acting out the title during the Christian censorship themed Meathook Up My Rectum. Delightfully unsettling.
5. Lard – Pure Chewing Satisfaction (1997)
The second full-length from the collab between Jello and Ministry’s frontman Al Jourgensen and bassist Paul Barker along with two late, great drummers of the industrial genre – Ministry/RevCo/NIN et al – Jeff Ward and Bill Rieflin.
More varied and less furious than the debut, but darker and more nightmarish, Pure Chewing Satisfaction explores deeper subject matter in some of Jello’s most opaque but inventive lyrics. Faith, Hope & Treachery surveys a generation’s poverty of empathy wrought by growing up under Reaganomics, emphasised by a grinding servile march underlaid by a guitar riff that spirals like anxiety. Like a sickly descendent of Moon Over Marin, the sinister repetitive bass-heavy Sidewinder describes a post-apocalyptic wasteland where only desert and asphalt remains.
Jello and Jourgensen are said to have been working on a third Lard album for the past decade or so.
4. Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype (2009)
The GSM was a band that grew out of The No WTO Combo supergroup who performed at the 1999 Seattle WTO protests.
While the title and sleeve parody Obama’s 2008 Presidential election campaign and book (artist Shephard Fairey even spoofed his own Obama ‘Hope’ poster artwork for the album), the main theme of the album is anti-globalisation. A decimation of the worst corporate working practices, Electronic Plantation’s prophetic lyrics "Put the whole world against each other/For who will work for the lowest wage/The rest of you can die as epidemics rage", picks up where the DKs’ At My Job left off.
Proving Jello had lost none of his acute analysis for laying geopolitics bare with insight and humour, The Terror of Tiny Town challenges US imperialist hegemony while Strength Thru Shopping tackles rampant consumerism.
3. Jello Biafra with DOA – Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors (1990)
Erstwhile touring partners with the Dead Kennedys, formed at the same time in 1978, Canada’s DOA back Jello on what is probably his most traditional punk album since the DKs.
Ferocious opener That’s Progress encompasses familiar Jello lyrical themes with a tune and vibe reminiscent of Frankenchrist’s Stars and Stripes of Corruption. Riffs are meaty and frantic riffs throughout thanks to the dual attack of DOA guitarist Joe ‘Shithead’ Keithley and Chris Prohom. And a fantastic and poignant cover of The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place somehow manages to sound both bleak and uplifting at the same time.
Just under 30 minutes in total, the six-track album is rounded off with the 14-minute Full Metal Jackoff, a diatribe that links the import and sale of hard drugs in the USA with the government’s 1980s foreign policy.
2. Jello Biafra with Nomeansno - The Sky is Falling and I Want My Mommy (1991)
The single most underrated Canadian band of all time, Nomeansno's jazz-inflected hardcore made them one of Alternative Tentacless most popular outfits of the 90s.
This collaboration with their label boss was released following their classic 1989 album, Wrong. Featuring some of Jello’s angriest yet most incisive post-DKs lyrics and Nomeansno’s exceptional craftsmanship, The Sky Is Falling… features the groove-laden but frenzied pace of Jesus Was a Terrorist, while the badass garage/surf rock of Ride The Flume indicates what a follow-up to the DK’s Bedtime for Democracy might have sounded like. The chilling slow burn of Chew, meanwhile, recalls Plastic Surgery Disaster’s Riot and The Myth Is Real – Let’s Eat is classic Jello on the hypocrisy and double standards of American socio-economics.
1. Lard – The Last Temptation of Reid (1990)
On an album chock full of highlights, the searing scorch of opener Forkboy immediately demonstrates Lard’s high altitude of post-hardcore industrial mayhem – the track later soundtracked a prison riot scene in Oliver Stone movie Natural Born Killers.
The Laibach-influenced militaristic march of Pineapple Face piles into the beautiful clamour of Mate Spawn & Die. Upcycling the bass riff from the DKs’ Holiday In Cambodia, it sounds even more menacing and foreboding than the original, underpinned by the relentless piston machine drums of Bill Rieflin. “Hair by mail/Tit jobs for teens/Go broke appearing rich/Searching for rosebud in the fire” taunts Jello with his usual caustic delivery. It’s impossible to listen to it at anything less than mind-shearing volume.
The chaotic and distressing Drug Raid at 4am ironically pre-dated a 1995 FBI SWAT team raid on Jourgensen’s Texan compound. The excruciating but amusing Can God Fill Teeth? takes aim at conspiracy theories (with Jello seemingly even poking fun at his own work on 1982 DKs album Plastic Surgery Disasters) while a reworking of wacky one-hit wonder by Napoleon XIV’s They’re Coming to Take Me Away is the ideal cover for the unhinged, affecting, and occasionally comical material.
Then there's the 15-minute industrial prog of album closer I Am Your Clock, like a postmodern conceptual soundtrack to a Fritz Lang movie – an analogy for oppressive social conditioning.
The ultimate sonic dismantling of the American Dream.
Jello Biafra appears on the new debut album Who Are We? by middle-eastern psyche collective Al-Qasar.