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Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables 2022 Mix – Album Review

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables 2022 Mix (Cherry Red) LP/CD Out 30th Sept 2022 Buy it here Nathan Brown is left sitting on the fence with the remix of what he considers one of the most important punk albums to be released. He is left questioning the motivation behind this new iteration […]

The post Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables 2022 Mix – Album Review appeared first on Louder Than War.



Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting VegetablesDead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables 2022 Mix (Cherry Red)


Out 30th Sept 2022

Buy it here

Nathan Brown is left sitting on the fence with the remix of what he considers one of the most important punk albums to be released. He is left questioning the motivation behind this new iteration of the Dead Kennedys debut long player.

Retromania has taken hold to such a degree that remakes of old films seem to outnumber new ideas and retrospective remixes or remasters of “classic” albums clutter Record Store Day – usually holding up new material on vinyl by new, current bands at the pressing plant in the process. I’m torn. Whilst I like to look forward to and embrace the latest punk and hardcore bands I also appreciate the value of their formative influences and think others should have access to them. I’ve been grateful for a few re-releases that I didn’t buy when they came out and can’t afford record collector prices for the OG. I am also acutely aware that having reviewed a few re-releases for Louderthanwar maybe I’m helping fuel the retromania!

The debut album by Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, had a profound impact on me and all my punk rock peers. It helped forge the international hardcore scene. People should definitely hear it. But then, people could still recently get a repress of the original album direct from Cherry Red on CD, (currently out of stock but still available from retailers). Cherry Red originally released the LP and Alternative Tentacles had a licence to produce it through the ’90s (eventually revoked in 2002). So if this isn’t about making a vital hard-to-find album available at an affordable price, the obvious question to ask is whether a 2022 remix is merely a cash grab or about fixing a record that was broken.

The 2022 Mix was produced by Chris Lord-Alge, who I had never heard of before but is Grammy award-winning with such diverse acts as James Brown, My Chemical Romance and Carly Simon under his belt. As detailed in the accompanying booklet, he was assisted by East Bay Ray and Klaus Flouride with mixes bouncing back and forth before they were happy.

Dead Kennedys singer, co-songwriter and head honcho at Alternative Tentacles Jello Biafra issued a caveat emptor warning in July ahead of this release. His blog on the AT website is worth reading and addresses some of my key questions like “did they involve Jello?” saving me some research. (No, they didn’t). Jello is not happy. Meanwhile, East Bay Ray, the man with that trademark surf twang, says that he and Klaus Flouride were initially sceptical, but were convinced by Lord-Alge’s first crack at Chemical Warfare. I will outline below why this is the track that most puts me off the remix.

To really delve into the tension between the Biafra and East Bay Ray camps I would thoroughly recommend reading Alex Ogg’s book Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years including numerous arguments over who wrote what.

I am somewhat perturbed by the fact that the previously wonderfully inventive Dead Kennedys do not appear to have written anything new since reforming without Jello Biafra, a performer who never stopped writing and recording when DK split. I’m left wondering if this is the real motivation. To have a new “product”? The bills at the Old Age Punk home aren’t gonna be cheap, although it has to be said that I don’t think any of the current DK lineup relies solely upon income from the band.

With its image of burning cop cars, and even the title, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was taking no prisoners. It’s easy to forget how offensive and risque the name Dead Kennedys was in 1980. Even as recently as 1990 a mate nearly had his head taken off by a staunch Catholic football hooligan for daring to jest about the death of JFK. Fresh Fruit included new renditions of the DK debut single California Uber Alles, and an extended, faster, version of their second single Holiday In Cambodia. Kill The Poor, lifted from the album would shortly become their third.

Masters of confrontation, irony, sarcasm, wit and pranks, Dead Kennedys fused elements of 50’s and 60’s music with the fast and furious sound of punk, but even faster, leaving the first wave of punks in a dust cloud! They were one of a number of bands who helped create a hyper-fast approach to punk that would become known as hardcore. However, they didn’t sacrifice melody in the process. A willingness to embrace echo effects and chord sequences that sound like sinister fairground music gave DK a unique sound.

Vivid, eye-opening, lyrics used thesaurus levels of full language – often pushing at the boundaries of reality, using fiction to reflect back the insanity of normality. Theatrics and over-the-top yelps from Jello Biafra were the icing on the cake. Dead Kennedys had the lie behind the American Dream nailed and they dismantled it track by track on this album. The hypocrisy, greed and corruption. The world-dominating foreign policy. Arms traders, chemical companies, property developers, landlords, the boss class sewing things up. All still relevant…amend some of the names or geography and little has changed. If anything, “We’ve got a bigger problem now”. Put simply, this is one of the most important punk albums to be released. It has been a pleasure to sit down and listen to an old friend a bunch of times again.

On first listen this remix did nothing to remove the urgency, severity and frantic nature of this crucial album. The all-important lyrics weren’t buried behind a wall of sound. Maybe the drums were louder and at times the bass lacked something but I was immediately singing along and immersed in the brilliance of the songs rather than plunging into the navel-gazing level of technical difference. As I listened it dawned on me that the guitar seemed somewhat less abrasive and beefier. It had less of that scratchy, tinny, garagey surfy sound – part of what made DK so different to other bands. Or was that a false memory? There was nothing for it but to sit down with the new version and play it alongside my battered copy of the 1981 reissue of the 1980 Cherry Red UK release. Not a like-for-like comparison – especially given my copy has been played to death – but the best option I had.

Overall, in the 2022 mix, East Bay Ray’s twangy guitar certainly sounds crisper, with more depth and is more upfront, akin to the sound on later DK albums. The drums definitely have a bit more punch and you can hear more clarity of the cymbals and hi-hats. This is particularly noticeable on the slow mid-section of California Uber Alles. The drums really pound away, akin to the original single recording. But these extras are often at the expense of the bass guitar, even though the overall sound profile has more bottom end. Klaus Fluoride’s wonderfully chunky bass is an important element of the DK sound, providing a lot of the drive and melody.

Yes, you can hear the glorious bass in isolation but when both the drums and guitar are present at full volume it gets swamped, losing its prominence and is relegated to a bottom-end supportive tone. This is my problem with the 2022 Mix. It is a particular bug-bear of mine and seems to be a modern sound engineering trend. At the mixing stage of recordings I have been involved with I have often insisted on “more mids” on the bass so it can cut through and still be heard as an instrument. For me, there is no such thing as “the bass is too loud”.

In the positive column, When You Get Drafted and Let’s Lynch The Landlord may actually sound better with the louder guitar and drums. There are moments when previously hidden aspects of the soundscape are pushed up and more audible. I’d never noticed keyboards on the verses of Drug Me before, which I found a distraction and didn’t enjoy, but I’ll get over that. Weirdly, the picking of 4 guitar notes at the close of Viva Last Vegas being louder than before bothered me more than it should.

One thing that is a definite negative feature for me is the treatment of the song Chemical Warfare, which ironically was picked as the showcase, and released early to generate interest in the 2022 mix. Towards the close of the song, the maniacal anti-hero uses nerve gases on the elite Country Club set who were probably responsible for their production and sale in the first place. Chaotic instrumentation sits beneath the screams of The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Choir and then emerging from this horror-cum-poetic justice comes the last chorus. It’s a moment of genius and theatrics, typical of the approach that made DK so noticeable. The instruments now drown out the screams and the impact of a scene that fires the imagination and really underlines the whole point of the song is buried.

So I do return to the question, what was the point?

Sometimes it is good to appreciate the art in its original form to realise how amazing a job bands pulled off given the technical constraints of the time, when they were smashing boundaries and making a bonfire of mainstream culture. Yes, the original Fresh Fruit was a little tinnier, but it had never caused me to dismiss this album. I could understand remastering, but remixing? I’m not sure. Now then, Bedtime For Democracy is a DK album that DID deserve a better mix IMO.

Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables CDThe package hasn’t been hastily thrown together. The booklet with the 2022 Mix contains some great photos of the band playing live in their early years which really captures their energy, with a few flyers included for good measure. A 2-page endorsement from Amy Linden, former DK roadie, underlines the impact of the band lest we forget that this isn’t just great music. It meant something. East Bay Ray outlines the process the remix project went through, complete with a pandemic to deal with, and Lord-Alge shows his appreciation for the material he was working with. Meanwhile, a host of luminaries testify to the importance of DK – most of them with the band to thank for blazing the trail they later followed. Duff McKagan (Guns’N’Roses, but more importantly The Fartz), Howie Klein (Reprise Records), Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks, Bad Religion), David Ellefson (Megadeth), Fletcher Dragge (Pennywise) Billie Joe (Green Day), Dexter Holland (Offspring), Youth (Killing Joke) and of course Dave Grohl (who?). The CD is made up as a replica of the Ampex master tapes from which the album was remastered which I thought was a nice touch.

Although Biafra is pissed, the 2022 mix is not highly offensive* to listen to, just different – despite my annoyance at how they ruined Chemical Warfare. Some people are going to prefer this because it has more punch, others will hate it, some will be indifferent – it’s very subjective. People new to DK won’t even notice. *I recognise the irony of that statement given DK were one of the most offensive bands on the planet in their day.

Some in the punk community will outright reject this remix, siding with Biafra. That may be fueled by distaste at the legal case and recognition of all Biafra has done for the international punk community since DK spit in 1986. Some folks love to pick a side. Some folks hate change. Others will give this a listen to make up their own mind. I imagine a considerable number will see this as another unnecessary re-release and continue gorging themselves on the stream of new releases instead. Others will NEED to own it because it’s a DK release they don’t have!

I’m not saying you should rush out and buy the 2022 mix because my overall conclusion is that it aims to fix something which wasn’t actually broken, but equally, if you receive it as a gift from a grand/parent or more likely grand/child don’t go running off to your bedroom in a sulk, give it a listen and make up your own mind.

Available from Cherry Red and also from Sister Ray.


Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.


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