Got Cramps?

How does one even attempt to introduce the Cramps? They’re one of those monstrously monumental, staggeringly influential bands that simply can’t be summed up in a few paltry, shallow sentences.

So we’ll just skip all that crap about how they invented psychobilly, inspired a literal tidal wave of imitators, and are cited as profound influences by megastar bands of multiple genres spanning the past three decades.

Lux Interior and Poison Ivy have been brewing their black magic voodoo beats since the mid-1970s when he picked her up hitchhiking, and the two proceeded to turn the musical world on its (severed) head.

But they’ve remained poignantly silent since their stellar 1997 release, Big Beats from Badsville.

Thankfully, the silence has been shattered, like a brick through a window, with the Cramps’ eagerly awaited new album, Fiends of Dope Island.

For those of you who were wondering, yeah, they still got it. But it’s a little more complex than that.

Although their trademark tongue-in-cheek kitsch remains, this album presents a darker blend of Cramps, distinctly grittier and murkier than earlier releases; Lux still growls and caterwauls like a circus clown from the wrong side of the tracks, and Ivy still rips apart your ears with guitar licks lifted from Link Wray’s bad acid trip … but the collective result is more brooding than previous albums, a bubbling toxic cocktail that’s going to leave you with really fucking bad hangover.

Some critics may argue this latest effort is simply Cramps-by-numbers, a regurgitated, recycled goo-goo muck of zombie-swamp-she devil-psycho-sex-a-billy.

Well, of course it is.

What the hell did you expect them to put out, a techno album?

Despite her “I’ll rip out your heart and drive my stiletto heel through your skull” appearance, Poison Ivy has a wisp of a Southern belle’s drawl lingering in her voice, and affably chatters a mile a minute, like your best friend you love to death who just won’t shut up.

“We just keep doing what we do,” she says of the highly anticipated tour and new album. “The Cramps are a natural expression of ourselves. There’s people who are pissed off because we haven’t changed, and people who are pissed off because we have changed … we don’t even begin to think of what they want, we just do what we do next.”

Throughout their career of camp, the Cramps have cultivated a sordidly sexual and seedy theme by using cheeky innuendo instead of blatant vulgarity, as illustrated in such classic lines as “Can Your Pussy do the Dog,” and “There’s a Devil Behind That Bush.” In fact, the only time the Cramps got around to cussin’ was on “Let’s Get Fucked Up.”

However, the F-word is tossed around with abandon on Fiends of Dope Island, peppering lyrics and slapped on song titles like “Dr. Fucker M.D.” and “Elvis Fucking Christ.”

Not particularly shocking, mind you, just a little curious.

“Ah, I guess we were just in a fuckin’ mood,” Ivy explains with an insouciant, gravelly laugh. “We were in a pretty black mood when we made this record … but still in a comical way.”

“But I think we might just have been born that way,” she adds. “Lux gave me this ring for Valentine’s Day, it’s a little black heart. I think I was born with my little black heart.”

And, for Ivy’s tastes, there aren’t enough little black hearts in the music scene today.

Of the garage rock resurgence, Ivy likes many bands but feels some are lacking the critical edge of the original ’60s and ’70s sleaze rock.

“It could be more dangerous and threatening, it could be sexier,” she says. “I like it fast and rough and sexy and dangerous. That’s what I like in men, that’s what I like in life, that’s what I like in music.

“Some of it just seems like whining about teen romance, not like a man and a woman getting it on. It feels like their career is the main motivation. Where’s the passion?”

The Cramps have given up the love to the D-town, by enlisting two Motor City bands to open for them during the tour, the Gore Gore Girls and the Von Bondies. In fact, Ivy became particularly attatched to the Gore gals.

“We miss them already,” she says in an almost motherly manner. “It was really hard for us when they left us to go tour Europe.”

And the Cramps are looking forward to playing our fair city, because apparently we’re some weird, twisted mofos, according to Ivy’s own “only-in-Detroit” tale.

“During our last tour, we had these his and hers shoehorns at our merchandise table,” she says. “They were pretty weird, and we hardly sold any of them throughout the tour. Then, when we played Detroit, we sold hundreds of them. It was so bizarre.”

Only in Detroit.


See the Cramps at the Majestic Theatre (4120 Woodward, Detroit) on Saturday, May 24, with the Von Bondies. Call 313-833-9700 for information.

Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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