Graded on a Curve:
Dead Kennedys,
Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

On September 30, Manifesto Records will reissue Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the debut album from iconic Bay Area punk outfit Dead Kennedys on vinyl and CD in a freshly remixed version courtesy of Grammy-winning producer Chris Lord-Alge. Setting aside the question of whether the record actually needed a remix (it didn’t), nothing abhorrent transpires as these 14 tracks (there are no extras) blaze forth; those who love and own the original mix should test drive before buying, but for those looking to get acquainted with this band through their first and best LP, this edition will serve that purpose just fine.

It’s no secret that Dead Kennedys’ vocalist Jello Biafra and his bandmates, guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Fluoride, and drummer D.H. Peligro, have been at odds, and for a couple decades now, all due to the most banal of reasons. That is, money. Of course, I don’t have a dog in that fight, though this doesn’t mean I haven’t formulated opinions on the subject. It’s just that my viewpoint on this particular falling out isn’t pertinent to the matter at hand, which is, you know, the music.

So, when I say that this 2022 Mix of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables exists for the most banal of reasons—that is, money, it’s not a dig at the band, but simply an observation, as money is the reason for the vast majority of remixed and remastered records (and quite a few straight reissues). And in turn, I can’t help but feel somewhat blasé about the existence of this new mix.

But on the other hand, Fresh Fruit isn’t just the best Dead Kennedys album, it’s my personal favorite. And yet, I hadn’t listened to it in a few years, so that I had to pull my vinyl copy off the shelf for a couple reacquainting spins prior to checking the new mix. The bottom line is that the input of Lord-Alge (a professed fan of the DKs) is far from egregious. He’s essentially just beefed up and subtly streamlined the record for the Epitaph Records generation.

Peligro wasn’t yet the drummer when Fresh Fruit was recorded, the seat taken early by Ted (the succinct stage name for Bruce Slesinger), but the other three members were in place and the band’s sound fully formed, with the album offering superior rerecordings of the A-sides to their first and second singles, “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” respectively, both ranking high on the list of their most celebrated songs.

The same is true for Fresh Fruit’s opener “Kill the Poor,” also their third single, though the album and the 45 versions are hard to differentiate at this point (the LP came out in September of 1980, the single a month later), their closeness really emphasizing the band’s deftness as a unit. The long-popular misconception that punk bands could barely play was easily eradicated by actually listening to a few of the great Cali units from this era, e.g. X, Black Flag, Avengers, Dils, Flesh Eaters, Minutemen, and yes, Dead Kennedys, for evidence, look no further than Ray’s surf guitar solo in “Let’s Lynch the Landlord.”

That song might be my favorite cut on the whole record, spinning a variation on the Ramones template (one distinct from “Class War” by the Dils) and reinforcing that many of these “dawn of hardcore” bands had solid rock rudiments, even as the DKs wrap up Fresh Fruit with a piss-take cover of “Viva Las Vegas.” It’s a finale driving home one of the band’s defining qualities, a sense of humor that never faltered into the goofy, even when it sometimes wasn’t all that funny.

Instead, they preferred to push buttons, as in “Stealing People’s Mail” and “Chemical Warfare,” a song that flaunts another of the band’s essential characteristics, namely Biafra’s theatricality. It’s an aspect that would become a tad abrasive at time wore on, but it’s largely kept in check on the debut, in fact aiding “Ill in the Head” in becoming one of the band’s most underrated songs.

But while there are a couple lesser tracks here (“When You Get Drafted” and “Funland at the Beach”) there really isn’t a bum cut in Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’ bunch. It’s the one bona fide classic full-length album the Dead Kennedys made, and anybody with a budding interest in 20th century punk rock needs a copy in their lives, remix or not.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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