Tumor Circus

One Part Jello, One Part King Snake -- Mix in Bathtub

Tumor Circus - Alternative Tentacles 1991.
Rating = 8

Now I admit that this is just my personal musical tastes creeping through, but really - what other frame of reference do I have? Am I supposed to listen to all those other Dead Kennedys fans who write this off as a "questionable Jello one-shot"? Hell no! Because this isn't an album for Dead Kennedys fans. This is an album for all them folks who, like me, became enamored with the idea of "grunge" music before Nevermind and Pearl Jam came along and ruined the whole concept.

See, Tumor Circus was a collaboration between former DKs vocalist Jello Biafra, King Snake Roost noise guitarist Charles Tolnay, and San Francisco one-trick pony grungesters Steel Pole Bathtub. And let you tell me something - played at top volume, not only does this mess of wiry frazzle gash burn the bridges off all past Steel Pole B product (which, though at times catchy, is nevertheless mostly very plodding and predictable) and tear the trunk lock off of the annoyingly tuneless catalog of Australian superstars King Snake R (aside from Ground In The Dirt, a really, really good noise CD you should pick up if you get the chance), but it dang near comes close to kicking the kneecaps off of the original Kennedys albums!!!!

Yes, it's hard to follow - I'll admit that. This is because the Steel Pole guys, noisy enough on their own, are darn near indiscernible when joined by King Snake Charlie, who does nothing but play sickly dissonant and jarring whangy bar bends all the damn time. And then you got dang JELLO up there with his crazy-ass vibrato smookin' the mikepipe with all this paranoid crap about George Bush masturbating for his Yale fraternity brothers, women who screw ya over cuz they's all bitches, and assorted and sundry crud like 'at.

But seriously - there are very few grunge bands out there, past or present, who could conjure up an unholy racket like the one you'll hear on this release. Listen really really close through the din - and you might even hear some guitarwork!!!! I love it. I'd give it a nine or ten if it wasn't mixed like a dang shoe. For example, the intro to "The Man With The Corkscrew Eyes" is one of the freakiest guitar riffs I've ever heard, all twisted and mucked up and spooky, then the other instruments come in, and you can't hear ANYTHING any more!!! That's what I mean. I'm all for noise, but when it totally obscures a neat guitar noise, I get bitter and take some points away.

Beyond that gripe, these songs are awesome. "Fireball" is an updated version of Frankenchrist's sinister psycho-rock, "Swine Flu" pounds like The Melvins but in a dancey way, "Calcutta A-Go-Go" shudders and shimmies like a salted slug, and "Take Me Back Or I'll Drown Our Dog" has one of the kookiest twisty-wisty guitar lines I've ever been unable to replicate in my free time. The others are cool, too. Just buy it, for the love of God. If it's in a store near you, it's undoubtedly gonna be in the cheapy bin, so look there. And crank it up LOUD in headphones late at night. Damn ahoy, kick Soundgarden - THIS IS GRUNGE'N'ROLL!!!! Go Jello Go!!!!!

Reader Comments

rojanko@pacbell.net (Rob Krohn)
I liked Tumor Circus. Lots of tortured guitars. There are some great songs - tracks 2-6 are really good cranked. Were these songs written only by Biafra or were they a collaboration? Most of them seem too complicated for a Jello tune. There's no songwriting credits in the CD (I should have special ordered the vinyl--I think I got gyped out of some inserts!). Last track...hmmm. 15 minutes long. The respirator should have been turned off much earlier. I'd give TC 8/10 mostly because it *sounds* completely different than anything else I have! Maybe 2nd best thing Biafra has done since DK. Word of caution: it's not the kind of album the media would call "accessible" - only hardcore fans need apply. But, if you like other post-DK Biafra stuff, you'll probably like this one too.

I purchased Tumor Circus a few months ago and have listened to it many times. I bought it because i'm a jello fan. But it's awesome... I don't like the sixteen minute song at the end about turning off the respirator. But that's about the only song I dislike. Definitely a need for better production in this album... but it's still damn good, I have to admit. Quite different, and it seems to work with Jello's distinct voice...

tljb@idt.net (Jon Bloom)
I bought Tumor Circus several years ago. I listened to it twice before banishing it to the back of my tape case. Is the music good? I don't know and never can know because the recording quality and the production quality suck major ass. That can kill an album. I love grunge like the next guy (if the next guy happens to be George Bush Jr...actually I really do love pre-nirvana grunge), but I cannot enjoy this album. I prefer the Jello Biafra / Nomeansno collaboration.

Mdcgeek@aol.com (MDCgeek Jake)
I thought Tumor Circus was pretty bad. I bought it a while back, and I'm not even sure if i could listen to it all the way through. Now, I'm a pretty big Jello fan.. I liked Dead Kennedys and his solo stuff.. but Tumor Circus was all but almost unlistenable. I love "Headlines" and his lyrics are great.. but I just don't think it's one of his best efforts. Many of my friends who are also Jello fans share this sentiment. It's just not his thing.. the whole "rock" thing.. if you want GOOD Jello projects, check out Lard. They are one of the best team-ups around right now, Jello with Al Jourgensen and crew. But keep Tumor Circus in your closet. Sorry. I think I'd give the album 5/10 at the most.

jello_biafra42@deadkennedys.com (sid vicious)
as not only a jello biafra "fan" but as a person with, well, ears.. i must say that if you dont absolutley love anything that has come out of that man's mouth than you have a seriously duped mind and some potential problems. hmm.. oh, and i have a rather important question... does anybody know the outcome of the klaus flouride/ east bay ray vs. jello biafra and alternative tentacles case? has it been postponed again?? it was supposedly to be held 2 days ago, on april 17th but i havent heard anything on it since it was postponed originally. oh and by the way.. i absolutely adore tumor circus regardless of the sound quality/ distortion/ whatever the hell else you call it and blah blah blah ill shut up now. =


Sloppy slop.

Moe Aboulkheir
Tumor Circus should get a "9", it has nice ambience.

Add your thoughts?

Purchase your very own Tumor Circus here. But HURRY UP!!! It's about to go out of print 4-ever!!!

Return to Martin Scorcese's Beanie Baby Shrine