Their eclectic music encompassed their trademark loud and fast hardcore, but also surf music, spaghetti western, psychedelic, garage rock and rockabilly. Jello Biafra's biting lyrics tackled the sociopolitical concerns of the Reagan era with a distinct sense of morbid humor and satire, following in the footsteps of such earlier rock satirists as Frank Zappa and non-musical countercultural figures like Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce.
In the mid-1980s, the band was embroiled in an obscenity trial in the United States over the artwork of their album Frankenchrist, which included the explicit titular subject of H. R. Giger's Penis Landscape. The band was charged with "distribution of harmful matter to minors", but the trial ended with a hung jury.
Dead Kennedys released five studio albums before disbanding in 1986. In 2001, the band reformed without Biafra, who had been in a legal dispute with the remaining members over royalties.
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