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The Cramps make a monster

The Cramps

The Cramps - How To Make A Monster
(Vengeance Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 4, 2004

Review by Tony Bonyata

"Cramps Fiends Only!" warns the back cover of The Cramps' latest release How To Make A Monster, a two-CD set featuring previously unreleased studio rehearsals and early live recordings of the band. And with a collection of ludicrously ultra-lo-fi recordings from this influential punk band it's a warning that should definitely be heeded by the casual fan. But for those hypnotized by the crude early sounds of '50s rock & roll, rockabilly and surf music mixed with mid-'60s garage punk and all set to a creepy backdrop of B-Grade Sci-Fi and silver screen monster flicks, this collection should come as quite the treat.
The first disc features home demos, rough practices and studio rehearsals dating back as early as 1976 when singer Lux Interior, guitarists Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory and drummer Pam Balam first started laying down tracks in their newly adopted hometown of New York City. Considering that the best of The Cramps studio output has always had a purposely lo-tech sound to it, the quality of these unearthed rarities will hardly come as a shock to Cramps fans. In fact, songs from their extensive vault, such as the psychobilly stomper "I Was A Teenage Werewolf," the three full takes of the gritty "Rumble Blues" (great tune, although one take would've done just fine, thanks) along with "TV Set," all complete with hum and tape hiss, sound as if Lux was singing under a wool blanket and using a coffee can as a microphone.
Likewise, Disc Two also features tinny live recordings of The Cramps spreading their own monstrous brand of blood-and-guts rock & roll at two of NYC's venerable '70s punk clubs - Max's Kansas City in 1977 and CBGB's one year later. While the Max's stuff sounds as if it was recorded with a cheesy portable cassette recorder from the last stall in the guys john, the material from CBGBs sounds much cleaner. Surprisingly enough, however, many of these tracks, such as the troglodytian lumbering of "I'm Cramped," and the creepy humor of "I'm A Human Fly" ["I've got 96 Tears and 96 eyes"], as well as the barbiturate-suppressed version of The Sonics' early '60s garage rock anthem "Strychnine," somehow manage to rise above the technology - or lack thereof - and actually offer a strange, morbid attraction.
So if sleazy, scuzzed-up punk rock is your bag, then consider picking up this collection of Cramps rarities. Even if it's not, Halloween's right around the corner, and with this stuff blaring out of the windows there's no better way to scare the shit out of the neighbors.

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