Hardcore punk doesn’t come much better than Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Dead Kennedys’ iconic debut still boasts some of the most brilliant and uncompromisingly cynical songs the genre has ever seen. It’s not wholly consistent, but its manic, rapid-fire approach retains momentum throughout. It’s an absolute fucking riot: the sound of true rebellion. It makes the Ramones sound like nursery school punk.
Jello Biafra’s intrusive vocal style suits the music down to the ground – chaotic and unhinged, though more musical than, say, Mark. E Smith of The Fall. Biafra’s presence is a vital part of the formula, and a clear influence on many of today’s more unconventional vocalists. You can hear the snark in every word he sings (or spits).
The songwriting itself is incredibly inventive. Song structures gradually get more dynamic as the album progresses, making way for some remarkable musical moments. The surfer-rock guitar solo in “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” is a wonderful contrast that constantly catches me off guard. The absurdity of “Drug Me” reminds me hugely of System of a Down and their silliest moments. Closing the record with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas”, drenched in sarcasm, is simply inspired.
I’m no expert in the realms of hardcore punk. However, alongside Black Flag, Dead Kennedys stand out as a vital band to spawn from the late 1970s. Fresh Fruit is a key listen for anyone eager to delve into the genre. Gaunt production does slightly dampen the impact, but then this is punk, after all. It’s a proper DIY recording, showcasing the band for all their credentials with no stabilisers attached. Unfortunately, the harsh high frequencies (mostly found inside the vocals and overheads) become slightly too grating when playing the record at high volumes. And that’s a huge shame, because I’m often listening to this high-octane glory as loud as possible.
Fast-forward 40 years from the release of Fresh Fruit, tyranny and greed is still rife. I have a feeling anti-establishment art is going to evolve again sometime soon. The political and social landscapes of the Western world hints at inevitable revolt, and music is always at the forefront. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables will be an essential reference point for all defiance. Rise up. And don’t forget to have fun in the process.
8 out of 10
Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables hums along a dirt track between punk and post-punk. While it has all the snarling ‘fuck you and fuck this’ venom you’d hope for from a punk classic it’s also wry and clever, relishing how much fun it’s having at the world’s expense. As a Dead Kennedys newbie I’ve had a great time with it.
Motoring through its 33-minute run time, the album is comprised mainly of wiry, frenetic arrangements, with Jello Biafra sneering along over the top. For me “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” and “Holiday in Cambodia” are the standout moments, but no track lets the side down. From start to finish the album rattles and whirs along like a loosely assembled Harley-Davidson motorcycle with flame spitting out the exhaust pipe. It’s a wicked ride. There are shades of John Lydon (Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd) and Mark E. Smith (The Fall) throughout — both in the instrumentation and Biafra’s delivery — though I do think the impression left here is slightly more fleeting.
There’s no getting around the production being on the muddy side. Still, although it’s a shame the instrumentals seldom sound as sharp as they could, they’ve force enough to punch through all the same. Punk is perfectly capable of being beautifully produced, but it can still charm and delight when it’s not. This is one of those times.
8 out of 10
I didn’t enjoy Rocket to Russia, and Ramones fans were peeved to say the least. With that in mind, I was worried that Dead Kennedy fans might be lynching me, rather than their landlords.
I needn’t have worried. “Kill the Poor” makes an opening statement that quickly snowballs into a flurry of noisy, energetic rock. From that point on, I’m glued to this album for the remaining half-hour, without a moment of peace, tracks fly past at a mile a minute. Jello Biafra’s vocals, a distinctive, quivering bellow, are front and centre and backed by a band of raucous, rumbling, cacophonous sound.
Noisy rock doesn’t need to be quite so literal though, and Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables exemplifies the point perfectly. The whole band’s sound is cutting and while the likes of “Forward To Death” have a sense of urgency, with vocals almost tripping over themselves, this is a tight performance throughout. Track-to-track, listeners are met with the surfer rock guitar solos of “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” in one moment and beaten with the intense explosion of sound in “Drug Me” in the next, decades before nu-metal arrived with similar madness. “Chemical Warfare” is a showcase for innovative, borderline theatrical writing and instrumentation, with a blinding chorus, and a bizarre waltzing bridge which quickly descends into pandemonium.
All the above still leaves the album’s lead singles unmentioned. “California Über Alles”, with its ominous, chuntering instrumental and unforgettable chorus hook, and “Holiday In Cambodia” with its swelling dynamics and clattering drumline, are both certain highlights but by no means diamonds in the rough. Top it all off with an insane, fidgety cover of “Viva Las Vegas” and you’ll fall out the bottom of the tracklist spinning.
It’s been a pleasure of an album to listen to, and forty years on, it’s still a riot. Energetic, agitated and rowdy, it’s well worth a listen.
9 out of 10