There’s a Bush presiding over ill-thought out Middle Eastern adventures from the White House, tabloid headlines and nightly newscasts are pretty much indistinguishable and people are losing their shit over the swine flu. Sound familiar? While that may read like a quick recap of the past six months, Tumor Circus prove that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Essentially a post-Dead Kennedys/pre-lawsuit Jello Biafra fronting Steel Pole Bathtub, Tumor Circus were a one off collaboration melding that familiar punk screech and scalpel sharp satirical verve with early
’90s brand noise rock. While lacking the heft of contemporaries like the Melvins or Helmet, Tumor Circus scrape the chrome off of abstract Frankenchrist side A-style guitar meanderings giving Biafra a new platform from which to pontificate.
The broader musical foundation gives him more room to explore new lyrical and vocal themes as with the crack pipe cowboy yelp of “The Man with the Corkscrew Eyes” or the black hole wail of “Calcutta-a-Go-Go” with vocals cutting against the steel door slam of the guitars.
While Biafra’s inimitable sarcasm teases and cavorts, he actually steps back from the political tirades (George H.W. Bush’s masturbatory introduction to Skull and Bones on “Hazing for Success,” aside) that built his rep to fulminate against sensationalist reporting on “Take Me Back or I’ll Drown the Dog” or sneer at viral apocalypse on “Swine Flu” (the whole reason I pulled this album out in the first place recently).
As a one shot album, Tumor Circus still holds up pretty well almost two decades later, but there are the occasional misstep like the 15 minute assisted suicide dirge of “Turn of the Respirator.” Pushing Jello’s already shrill vocals into even more nut-clenching, nerve shredding territory over top the kind of repetitive drone that reminds you that not everyone can hang with Earth or Sunn O)))’s no tempo trudge.
That aside, there’s always room for Jello.