Rock GPA: The Cramps [part 7]

Three years later and a new Cramps album was dropped down to a waiting world. Amazingly, the band lineup was unchanged from the last one, and their tour came within driving distance, so the wife and I made tracks for Atlanta and their show at The Roxy.

The Cramps – Big Beat From Badsville | 1997 – 4

This new Cramps album appeared on yet another label, Epitaph, and sported a crisp, streamlined production that was tougher than “Flame Job” yet retained the all important swing that Harry Drumdini’s kit brought to the party last time. Most importantly, the program of songs was diverse, memorable, and with nary a cover in sight – a first for The Cramps! When the songs and performances are this good, you don’t need to hedge bets with cover tunes.

“Cramp Stomp” opens the program with a “new dance” song based on themselves. Lux manages to keep the energy level subtle in some parts while he redlines in others, making for a wide dynamic range with lot of impact. “God Monster” barely crosses the four minute mark and is the only tune that begins to wear on my ears. The album would be that much better if they had trimmed 25-30 seconds from this track, but with an array of tunes this good, I feel churlish to niggle.

The single was “Like A Bad Girl Should” and features Lux in “come hither” mode as he counts the many traits his amour has which send him over the edge. “Queen Of Pain” draws on Ivy’s past as a dominatrix [she bankrolled the band’s early days while doling out discipline to the demimonde of NYC] to hilarious effect.

The spread of songs keep interest throughout the album and Ivy’s guitar sounds fantastic; by this album she was on a peer level with her idols. The pacing in particular on this album marks it as perhaps the best example of sequencing in The Cramps canon. Unlike any of their previous albums, this one seems to get better as it goes to end on a very high note with a trio of tunes as good as they’ve ever committed to wax.

“Wet Nightmare” features a flummoxed Lux recounting a turbulent night’s events as the sound goes for psychedelia with heavy effects and another Cramps first – Ivy soloing on Theremin! “Badass Bug” tells of his epiphany that occurred when watching girls dance so that he now dances too. The capper to the album is the incredible “Haulass Hyena!”  The lyrics don’t make sense and completely resist analysis – they’re that great! The music and sounds leave nothing to the imagination. The result is completely hopped up cartoonish mayhem complete with ripping solos and high-pitched giggles from Ivy and some very satisfying car crash sound effects. This takes an already great album up to a rarefied plane to depart on. This album certainly goes out with a bang.

The Cramps – Fiends Of Dope Island | 2003 – 2.5

The last Cramps album appeared finally, on their own Vengeance label. I imagine they got seriously tired of suffering fools. The three covers here [“Hangup,” “Taboo,” and “Oowee Baby”] are all damned good. The originals continue down the path begun on “Flame Job” of increasing lyrical bluntness and a retreat from  double entendre and continue to chip away at the level of wit listeners had come to expect from The Cramps. The sound is crisp and noisy with a slight edge of ragged distortion on the guitars that’s echoed in Lux’s voice. He sounds hoarse on much of these songs.

“Fissure Of Rolando” is my favorite of the originals. It’s based on the John Agar movie “The Brain From Planet Arous.” Lux’s phrasing really takes it home. “Color Me Black” is the band’s take on “Rumble” with “good guys wear black” lyric imagery. “Dopefiend Boogie” overstays its welcome at 4:21. Boogie woogie should be more short and to the point.

Lux does a magnificent job of singing “Taboo” with all of the sensitivity that the rest of the album deliberately lacks. His dark, haunted crooning is a wonder to hear. Their take on Jerry Reed’s “Oowee Baby” adds some sorely missing rockabilly twang to this program of tougher sounds. If anything, the weakness of this record is that it strays a bit into Reverend Horton Heat territory. That it sacrifices swing for a touch of their machine-like brutality that saddens me. That it was The Cramps final studio album bothers me a bit. Had they gone out on “Big Beat From Badsville” it would have been a finer legacy.

The Cramps – How To Make A Monster | 2004 – 2

Just a year following from “Fiends Of Dope Island” came this completely unexpected piece of Cramps archaeology in the form of a double CD of early recording, demos and live concerts. You can literally hear the band willing themselves into being over the course of their first year. The range from the bubblegum cover of “Quick Joey Small” to “Sunglasses After Dark” in the course of their first year is astonishing. Some of the demos included are the first recordings of tunes like “TV Set” with Lux singing quietly over the music bed so that Ivy wouldn’t wake up in the next room!

As you may imagine, the sound quality on most of these recordings is strictly bootleg with all of the hiss left in [thank god] on the C-60s that some of these takes were probably recorded on. The best quality recordings on the set are the unimpeachably fantastic 1982 A+M demos that show the band in a full studio setting. The cover of Third Bardo’s psychedelic garage classic “Five Years Ahead Of My Time” is flat out magnificent. The band also covered the King/Goffin-slash-Tommy James classic “Hanky Panky” and Lux manages to take the dynamic range of the song from whisper to scream like the pro he was. The final of the A+M demos is the only studio version of soon-to-be-favorite “The Call Of The Wighat” which only exists otherwise on the “Smell Of Female” live EP. Rehearsal and demo recordings from 1988 take this record as far forward as it gets.

Disc two are two separate live concerts [possibly in their entirely] bookending the band’s first year live starting with their debut gig at Max’s Kansas City on 1/14/77 where a tentative Cramps first appear before a trembling world. The show features hecklers and drug deals going down as the group take their first steps outside of the nest. The second show, dating from CBGB a year and a day later evidences tremendous growth. Anyone listening to this would recognize the mature Cramps as they would appear two years later on “Songs The Lord Taught Us.”

As the back cover plainly states, these recordings are for “Cramps Fiends Only!” Novices would be insane to start here. That said, if you are a fan, the view The Cramps offer on their genesis and early development is startlingly generous. Perhaps better than the discs themselves are the contents of the thick booklet as written by Lux and Ivy. It’s no less than a manual of self invention given freely [or at least at affordable cost] to their fans. In a just world, Ivy would embellish this booklet into the ultimate Cramps coffin table book, elaborating on their decades of decadence as they crawled from Ohio to become the foremost degenerate rock and roll group of their time. As it remains, “How To Make A Monster” was the final, poignant salvo from The Cramps before the untimely death of Lux Interior on February 4th, 2009.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Rock GPA: The Cramps [part 7]

  1. Brian Ware says:

    Well done Jim. Even a non-Cramps person like myself found it most interesting reading. Your Rock GPA series is always welcome no matter who you’re profiling.


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