Dead Kennedys's debut: still satirical, still subversive, now with extra shine

The Dead Kennedys' hardcore punk classic Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables has been sonically retooled for a new generation

Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (2022 Mix) cover art
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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A benchmark of the political hardcore movement, the Dead Kennedys’ debut left a significant stain upon its original 1980 release. Vocalist Jello Biafra’s incisive and satirical lyrics coupled with East Bay Ray’s subverted surfrock guitar stood out against the scene’s increasingly generic sound. Early DKs material was influenced by the militancy of Crass and also took direction from The Clash by addressing wider societal issues as opposed to single-issue politics. 

Brimming with ideas and tunes despite the lyrical confrontation, the DKs lampooned everything from the American dream to the punk scene itself and even nihilistic misanthropy – as on the shockingly jaundiced Forward To Death

The long-running feud between ex-vocalist Biafra and the rest of the band who now control the Dead Kennedys' back catalogue (guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, drummer DH Peligro) has seen Biafra voice his displeasure over this release, issuing a dismissive ‘let the buyer beware’ communiqué. 

Fresh Fruit’s original release sounded toppy and low-fi – a raw garage tone that was arguably part of its appealing passion and urgency. Nonetheless, mixed by veteran industry engineer Chris LordAlge, this version delivers a fuller clarity of sound, most notably on early classic like the knowing Holiday In Cambodia, the distressing Chemical Warfare and the comical yet subversive cover of Viva Las Vegas.

Alex Burrows

A regular contributor to Louder/Classic Rock and The Quietus, Burrows began his career in 1979 with a joke published in Whizzer & Chips. In the early 1990s he self-published a punk/comics zine, then later worked for Cycling Plus, Redline, MXUK, MP3, Computer Music, Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines. He co-wrote Anarchy In the UK: The Stories Behind the Anthems of Punk with the late, great Steven Wells and adapted gothic era literature into graphic novels. He also had a joke published in Viz. He currently works in creative solutions, lives in rural Oxfordshire and plays the drums badly.