The Green Wedge
Reviewed by Greenbacks Russell
Thursday, November 30 2000, 1:10 PM
I've never had much use for music where the message is more important than the music itself; you're supposed to like and support it for its intent. But most good causes make lousy art, like this new Jello Biafra single.
Jello was of course in the Dead Kennedys, whose era-defining debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables still stands up today as a stunning indictment of neo-conservatism, two full decades later. In singing about corrupt politics, suburban complacency and boredom, Fresh Fruit was that rare combination of good intentions and great art.
Fresh Fruit was the first great post-Ramones American punk record, and its legacy sustains Jello today. The sad thing is, I'd say his last great record was the DK's last full-length LP, Frankenchrist, back in 1985. Since then, I'd give a big thumbs up to Biafra's collaboration with DOA, 1990's Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors and some of his rootsy work with Mojo Nixon. But that's not a lot for fifteen years of labor. The most recent Lard record, 70s Rock Must Die, sounded so much like 70s rock that it cancelled itself out. As someone who is also quite sick of music from the seventies--and is dead sick of music I hated in my youth being sold back to me as ironic nostalgia--Jello's execution is way off these days, even if his sentiments are totally valid.
Which brings us to Biafra's latest record, The Green Wedge. It's a speech spread out over two sides of a 7" single, and "I Have A Dream" it ain't. Chock full of good intentions, a long self-congratulatory introduction leads to a clumsy and awkward speech about corporate domination of the major parties and the need for serious leftist alternatives. Though I agree with many of its points, it's artless, and provides no pleasure or new insights. Despite Jello's long post-DK's career of spoken word performances, he's no stylist; a pity, as his vocal delivery was key to the greatness of the Dead Kennedys.
Being an independent artist running his own label, Alternative Tentacles Records, Jello can release what he likes without interference or having to answer to anyone. But Christ goddess almighty, this man needs an editor. As on his five multi-album spoken word releases, quality control is sorely lacking. I bet Biafra doesn't get many reviews like this; at this stage of his career, the sympathetic will praise his ideas while overlooking Jello's aesthetics. The rest will just plain ignore him.
However, even though Biafra's a cranky old guy, he's our cranky old guy. I voted for Nader and have no regrets, but no way would I recommend this well-intentioned pro-Nader product. What Jello really needs is a full-time slot on commercial talk radio, to be the anti-Limbaugh of the left -- not just the anti-Limbaugh of the indie rock set. That's where the green wedge would be more appropriately wedged.
The Green Wedge is available from Alternative Tentacles