Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine – Enhanced Methods of Questioning (Music Review)

Enhanced Methods of Questioning cover

Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine – Enhanced Methods of Questioning

The centerpiece of Enhanced Methods of Questioning is the 18-minute hidden track, “Metamorphosis Exploration On Deviation Street Jam”, which is basically one of Jello Biafra’s spoken word pieces put to music. The Gauntanamo School of Medicine’s meandering space-rock provides a backing for Biafra to riff off of as he gives an inspirational speech about his life as a freak. My first impression was that there would be no point in ever hearing it again, but it actually is worth returning to from time to time. Like a punk take on jazz jams, it works as both a twisted sort of background music and as a bravado performance piece.

That experimental jam actually provides a contrast to the rest of the album, which otherwise feels like the return to form that Dead Kennedys fans have been hoping Biafra would deliver for years. Don’t expect it to be exactly the same, of course – Biafra is unlikely to ever repeat himself. But the normal tracks have the hard, angry edge and vocal focus that is often missing from Biafra’s side projects. The hardcore foundation and vocal delivery is combined with a more metal sensibility, and the songs tend to go on longer with more variety.

The main problem with Enhanced Methods is that it has only five tracks. I’m told it’s an EP, but I have no idea whether to believe that: Ignoring the hidden tracks, it’s actually longer than the band’s nine-song debut album. And while the total play length sounds satisfying, the mix of punk intensity with drawn-out songs makes it feel skimpy as a whole.

The Guantanamo School of Medicine may be the stars of this, with a flexible style and thrashing delivery that sometimes has to cover up for a lack of ideas from Biafra. Songs like “Victory Stinks” (about the danger of ignored veterans snapping) and “Invasion of the Mind Snatchers” (proselytic Christians) could be pulled from any point of his thirty-year career, while the Bob Dole-takedown in “Miracle Penis Highway” is well over a decade late. (It would have been a career highlight for Biafra if it had come out on time, though. The contention that Viagra cured Dole’s politics is inspired.) “Dot Com Monte Carlo”, on the other hand, is a clearly present-day complaint about the gentrification of San Francisco. Without any clever things to say, though, it just sounds like the mean-spirited ramblings of someone who wants the kids off his lawn. The only unexpected topic is Henrietta Lacks’ story, told in “The Cells That Will Not Die”.

Yes, that’s every album track covered in one paragraph. None are perfect (unless you ignore the timing of “Miracle Penis Highway”), but Biafra’s strange charisma shines through even when his ideas sound stale. That high-pitched, sardonic voice is one of the defining features of American punk, and it’s great to hear it in this context. Enhanced Methods may feel lacking in some ways, but the potential shown is thrilling. Between the classic approach in the main tracks and the experimentation of the hidden one, this is a step in the right direction for Biafra.

Grade: B-

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