Soundtrack of the Apocalypse

Cesspools in Eden * Dead Kennedys * Bedtime for Democracy * 1986

This song ties in nicely with Nature’s End, especially considering both this album and that novel came out in the same year. Scratch below the neon and beige surface of the 1980s and it was an intense turbulent decade. Pop music of the era would lead you to believe it was all New Wave and hair metal, but even that was just a frenzied attempt to ignore the more serious issues of the time. There were underground scenes that embraced that suppressed sense of of chaos and immanent doom, and the Dead Kennedys are among the loudest and angriest of the punk/hardcore scene.

Most of the Dead Kennedys catalog qualifies as apocalyptic, and Jello Biafra (vocals, lyricist, songwriter) rages forth about various dire situations with suitable outrage and vitriol. This particular song is a screed against the casual poisoning of the environment by enormous corporations. If I had to guess, it spawned from the Love Canal incident, but it’s probably safe to assume that such was not an isolated event. Of course, whenever any of these toxic dumping/spills incidents happen there is a lot of initial public outrage about it, but then it fades from the news cycle and after that it’s a big bunch of who cares until the next horrific nightmare scenario happens. And then we do it again. Whatever, the environment can always take another one for the team.

As for the song itself, this is probably one of the best the Dead Kennedys ever recorded. It sure as hell stands out on this album, which largely consists of short, fast, flat-out hardcore tracks. It is certainly the funkiest DK song, just listen to that dope bassline. Biafra turns in a typically sincere performance, dripping with his trademark bite and sarcasm. The band, which would shortly cease to exist (and later turned on Biafra in a long, ugly, litigious manner), is on point as well. “Cesspools” is heavy, ominous, yet still fuzzy and kinda surfy around the edges, which is East Bay Ray putting his touch on the song. It’s great. Listen to it if you want to bob your head while getting angry and depressed at the same time.

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