Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Cramps - Songs the Lord Taught Us

The band’s first full length release was the near-perfect Songs the Lord Taught Us on IRS Records. This is an incredible document of this wild group with great production from the legendary Alex Chilton and super pictures from David Arnoff, which really capture their styles.

Opening with “TV Set”, Ivy & Gregory work together to create slabs of sound while Interior channels his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” persona with creative lyrics about using someone’s body parts for his TV, radio and midnight snack! Gregory’s first solo literally sounds like he is sawing someone into pieces! Cacophonous, jarring and wonderful!

An almost standard sounding (comparatively) rockabilly tune, “Rock on the Moon” is frantic and filled with echoed effects. This leads into one of my all-time favorites, “Garbageman”. Starting with the sound of a car pulling out of a garage, Nick kicks in with a perfect rhythm, Lux belts out auto-biographical lyrics (‘just what you need when you’re down in the dumps, one half hillbilly and one half punk, 3 long legs and one big mouth, the hottest thing from the north to come out of the south”), Bryan’s solo is pure chaos, Ivy channels Link Wray and they create one of the wonders of the modern world! They also have a mind-blowing video for this one.

Stealing from Wray as well as some others and throwing it all into a b-movie blender, out comes “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, with more genius lyrics. I couldn’t possibly quote all of the quote-worthy words emanating from Interior’s throat unless I transcribed every line, but he was one of the best lyricists of modern times! This descends into complete dissonance and turns into “Sunglasses After Dark”. Here they actually credit a couple of the songwriters they used as a basis for this but the final product is even better than the originals. The original song was fairly silly, but in Lux’s hands (or voice) it sounds truly violent. Ivy really shines here, as well, and the down-tuning for the ending is terrifically fitting.

Another self-referencing tune ("6 foot 3 with my feet on the floor, hey baby what’re ya waitin’ for”) is the wild rockabilly of “Mad Daddy”. A more fuzz-drenched piece of 50’s r’n’r is “Mystery Plane” (“my daddy drives a UFO”), with tons of other-worldly sounds. Following this is the new dance craze “at the 'Zombie Dance', nobody moves, they tap their toes, they wiggle their wrists to get in the mood”!

Straight out of EC Comics comes the tale of “What’s Behind the Mask”, where Interior asks this musical question and comes to regret the answer! They pay homage to 60’s wildmen, the Sonics, with “Strychnine”. This is more stripped down than the original and actually not as manic, but the jungle beat works and lyrically, this is pure Cramps. A simple blues progression is the basis for the (mostly) instrumental “I’m Cramped”, which, unusually for this group, is pretty much filler.

But back to the craziness with the frenetic “Tear It Up”, the Johnny Burnette tune which gained notoriety from the insane live version in the Urgh!” movie. Closing this batch is a slinky take on “Fever”, which, while original sounding, owes more to Peggy Lee’s version that any of the more rockin’ takes.

The CD release of this classic includes different mixes/takes on “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, “Mystery Plane”, “I’m Cramped”, “The Mad Daddy” and their “Twist and Shout”, which later evolved into “Drug Train”.