The Dead Kennedys are finally celebrating the 40th anniversary of their celebrated 1980 debut album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, by reissuing a “freshly” remixed edition of the LP. A punk benchmark, the album sarcastically skewered early Eighties politics with frontman Jello Biafra’s scabrous wit and guitarist East Bay Ray’s cutting guitar lines on songs like “California Über Alles” and “Kill the Poor.” Rolling Stone counted the record among the greatest punk albums of all time on a 2016 list. The reissue is due out Sept. 30.
Engineer Chris Lord-Alge, whose credits include Green Day’s Grammy-winning American Idiot and albums by Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, and Chris Cornell, zhuzhed up the previously echoey mix by dialing back the reverb. The result, as heard on his “Chemical Warfare” remix, hits a little harder than the original.
“When the label [Manifesto Records] suggested we remix Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, [bassist] Klaus Fluoride and I were skeptical,” guitarist East Bay Ray, who co-produced the original album, said in a statement. “But we thought, ‘Why not? Let’s give it a try.’ And, wow, Grammy-winning maestro Chris Lord-Alge was interested! It turns out he’s a big fan of the band. We tried one song, ‘Chemical Warfare.’ What Chris came back with was amazing. Everyone heard the difference, so we said, ‘All right, let’s go!'”
“Revisiting Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables was such an inside peek at a band packing so much excitement onto tape for every song,” Lord-Alge said. “The style and playing has such drive and spirit. The big challenge for me was keeping it honest to its original sound and not letting it become modern but improving the separation and clarity. A major chapter in history for Dead Kennedys.”
The reissue will feature previously unpublished imagery, an in-depth essay on the album’s importance, and quotes from artists who found the album inspirational. “I went…to the DKs’ Rock Against Reagan show in Washington …the Dead Kennedys were playing…and were one of my favorite bands,” Dave Grohl, who once covered “Holiday in Cambodia” with Foo Fighters, said. “There were police helicopters all over the place and buses filled up with riot police. As a 13-year-old kid, that was like my own little revolution.”
Billie Joe Armstrong, who co-founded Green Day in the Kennedys’ hometown of San Francisco a year after they broke up, echoed that sentiment, saying, “My education was punk rock — what the Dead Kennedys said — it was attacking America, but it was America at the same time.”
Biafra, who split with the Dead Kennedys after a venomous lawsuit in 2003, looked back on punk’s importance in the late Seventies and early Eighties in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone. “When you’re talking about punk, I don’t think it was ever a ‘movement’ – movements have their eyes on a political prize,” he said. “It’s just an inspirational rebel culture that can help energize other movements, as can hip-hop, metal, folk and even country. … It lets other people scared to death of a bunch of racist neo-Nazis running the show know they’re not alone. And that’s important.”