The Cramps

Big Beat from Badsville

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The Cramps could always be relied upon to deliver an impressive degree of rock & roll lunacy, but the truth is the band simply wasn't as consistent in the '90s as it had been in the '80s, especially after drummer Nick Knox left the lineup. While Knox's style was brutally simple, he brought ominous, just-behind-the-beat pulse to their music that was the perfect complement to Poison Ivy's dirty rockabilly leads and Lux Interior's wailing vocals, and when they lost him, the band was never quite the same. Released in 1997, Big Beat from Badsville was a genuine improvement on 1991's Look Mom No Head! (probably the group's weakest album) and 1994's Flame Job, but at the same time, the album never sounds or feels as inspired as the band's best work. Percussionist Harry Drumdini is more than competent, but he lacks Knox's narcotic genius; bassist Slim Chance provides a solid pulse without adding much flavor or texture to the chaos of these songs; and Lux Interior's vocals, while a fine example of his trademark style, don't conjure the glorious mania that drove Songs the Lord Taught Us or A Date with Elvis, with the singer sounding just the slightest bit tired. After close to two decades, the Cramps were as obsessed as ever with sex, drugs, sex, rock & roll, and sex, but they were starting to run out of fresh perspectives on their own deviance. That said, Poison Ivy's guitar work was still a gloriously twisted evocation of a dozen rockabilly guitarists run through a wall of reverb, and even at their weakest, the Cramps were truly the gold standard of psychobilly and Big Beat from Badsville is still filled with more fire, sweat, and sheer rock & roll snazz than nearly anything created by the dozens of acts that emerged in their wake. Ultimately, Big Beat from Badsville is a lesser work from a great band, which means it manages to satisfy even if it doesn't live up to the Cramps' most iconic work.

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