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Cramps, Fiends of Dope Island

The back cover to the Cramps’ newest foray into psychobilly dementia, Fiends of Dope Island (Vengeance), tells the tale. Our heroes are posing and glowering menacingly at the viewer, all blackened eyes and bad-ass retro costumes, gold drapery behind ’em like something out of David Lynch’s lavatory. It’s the same background the group used for 1986’s A Date With Elvis, which makes perfect sense since it’s pretty much the same album, anyway.
Hell, the Cramps have been reworking the same record ever since their first long-player, Songs The Lord Taught Us, debuted in 1980. Those of us who love the band’s brand of psychotronic psilliness won’t complain: it’d be like beefing because Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead all have the same basic plot. “So what?” the answer goes, “it’s what I wanna see/hear!”
Cramps fans know what to expect by now: revamped Link Wray instrumentals and record junkie obscurities, Ivy Rorscach’s ear-scraping gee-tar fuzztones, Lux Interior’s inbred tone-free Saturday afternoon horrorshow vocals (he growls as much as he sings), lyrics emanating from some late-nite drive-in speaker of your mind, echo chamber production. It’s all part of the show, and if some of these elements have since been overplayed by scores of wannabe Rob Zombies, the Cramps arrived there first – and they did it with purer elements: deranged rockabilly (Jerry Reed’s “Oowee Baby” gets the patented Cramps treatment here) and Pebbly garage punk (“Hang Up”), all-but-forgotten crudities closer to the roots of real rock out-there-ness than any punk or metal band could’ve imagined.
“I want to stay out of trouble, but trouble is too much fun,” Lux snarls on “Dopefiend Boogie,” mere moments before he denies contemplating stealing your stereo. Elsewhere, he’s calling on “Dr. Fucker M.D.” (helpfully parenthesized, “Medical Deviant,” in tribute to a cheesy Italian cannibal flick) for two weeks worth of pills, hiccoughing psychotically and announcing that he’s “Elvis Fucking Christ,” dedicating a crude electric blues cut to John Agar, and admiring some sweetie out of a Russ Meyer exploit-flick by proclaiming that “She’s Got Balls.” All the while Poison Ivy keeps on strummin’ them junk guitar riffs, proffering feedback and engaging in the best sustained psychedelic freak-out (“Wrong Way Ticket”) since her advantageously inept work on the band’s premiere single, “Surfing Bird.”
The Cramps are primarily the Lux & Ivy Show, though the strength of their albums has also waxed and waned with their shifting rhythm section. Without strong bass-&-drums, this swampy play-acting can grow plenty sludgy, but happily, that isn’t the case with this outing. Returning drummer Harry Drumbini and bassist Chopper Franklin ground the album and keep it from oozing too deeply into the googoo muck.

“You can go to Devry Beauty School or get a job,” our rockin’ anti-savior sez. “Or you might join a devil cult o’ some evil heart throb like me. . .” In these benighted days of molded American Idols, of forced piety and patriotism, the Cramps’ brand of z-pic sleaziness and keep-it-simple r-‘n’-r throbbery are just what Doctor Fucker ordered. . .
(Yeah, I know that closer was predictable – you wanna make something of it, bub!?!)

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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