HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER - The Cramps (Vengeance)
Back in the early 80's, one of my close friends, whose woman had done him wrong and was so skint he was living in his car and could only afford to eat mustard sandwiches and instant mararoni-and-cheese, listened to nothing but The Cramps for three solid months because it buoyed his spirits. My parents felt sorry for him, took him in, fed him, and let him sleep in my bed while I was away at college. No, he wasn't in a rock and roll band. Laid-off auto worker...

While a down-and-out mindset isn't a prerequisite to the whole Cramps experience, it certainly helps to get down to their level. Some naysayers may argue that Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach's once-bright idea of hitting Sun rockabilly, filthy R&B, and juvenile delinquent film soundtracks with defibrillators coated with cobwebs, roadkill juice, and body parts stored down in the lab and shouting "It's alive!" at the night sky may have lost its sheen, but I say there's nothing wrong with finding a niche, running it into the ground for 20 or 30 some-odd years, and retiring at the top of the slag heap with a golden handshake. If nothing else, last year's "Fiends Of Dope Island" proved that although the band may be flogging a dead corpse, uh, horse, they can still deliver the goods (even though it may mean leaving you feeling a little less than minty fresh).

Chances are if you're reading this, you aren't looking for an SACD/audiophile listening experience, which is good, because the quality of some of the early material included on "How To Make A Monster" makes most bootlegs sound like virgin vinyl, with the tape hiss on the 1976 rehearsal material recorded with guitarist (and Detroit boy) Bryan Gregory (nee Greg Beckerleg) threatening to drown everything else out. What emerges from the ether, however, is what might pass as background music for a party down in the torture chamber, early passes at now-established Cramps classics like "Domino," "Sunglasses After Dark," "TV Set," and "I Was A Teenage Werewolf," with Gregory's sister Pam (rechristened Pam Balam) and Miriam Linna (later of Zantees and A-Bones fame) handling the traps. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the (wait for it) four rehearsal takes of Link Wray's "Rumble Blues" recorded with Gregory's successor, Kid Congo Powers.

Disc two is comprised of two sets of "Gravest Hits" and "Songs The Lord Taught Us" era tunes recorded at Max's Kansas City and CBGB in 1977 and 1978 respectively, when the band decided to take their vision public . Both shows were recorded in front of packed crowds of what sounds like over 15 disinterested people but apparently Lux must not have noticed, experiencing what sounds like an on-stage epilectic seizure or bout of Tourette's Syndrome, Gregory and Ivy bringing the fuzz and distortion.

As if all of this sonic roughage wasn't enough, Lux and Ivy's liner notes are some of the best ever, loaded with personal and sometimes disturbing anecdotes (like drummer Nick Knox being left blind in one eye after a rare infection), photos, flyers, and detailed recording information. The Cramps have always been their baby and, as they stress in closing, nothing they've ever done has ever been meant as schtick, a popular misconception that "cuts us to our core." Point taken.- Clark Paull



FIENDS OF DOPE ISLAND - The Cramps (Vengeance)
At this point, it's obvious to anyone who's been paying attention that The Cramps are spinning their wheels in their own unique universe of bad taste, tawdry sex, over-the-top violence, and sub "B" exploitation flicks - no apologies offered, none needed - but it ain't a bad rut to be in.

Missing and presumed dead since 1997's "Big Beat From Badsville," Lux Interior and Poison Ivy (joined in the lab this time by bassist Chopper Franklin and drummer Harry Drumdini) haven't really tinkered or experimented too much with their signature seedy, soiled take on Sun rockabilly, but it appears from the insert photos the two have been watching a lot of Dan O'Bannon's "Return Of The Living Dead" or Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark."

Nothing here really reaches the full head of steam they achieved on earlier material, like their frazzled cover of "Tear It Up" (perhaps their finest moment), but "Dopefiend Boogie" and "Wrong Way Ticket" come close, the latter a stoked, butt-ugly guitar workout from Ivy with Lux drooling and about to burst an aneurysm, going on and on about who knows what (the lyrics don't provide any clues). "Fissure Of Rolando," "Dr. Fucker M.D. (Musical Deviant)," and "Oowee Baby" may be Cramps-by-numbers, but all boast a healthy arterial flow of arsenic and a slick of petroleum, fouling the air like hoof dust from the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Ivy bending, flattening, and strangling all six strings and Drumdini whomping the skins. Their cover of "Taboo" is all shimmering, brooding reverb and "Color Me Black" cops Link Wray's "Rumble" riff, both darkening your world and branding you for having listened.

Preaching to the choir, The Cramps are unlikely to win many new believers with "Fiends Of Dope Island," but it's raucous, loose, Neanderthal spirit is what the faithful have been waiting six years for.
- Clark Paull