The Cramps

How to Make a Monster

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Part of the beauty of the Cramps is the consistency of their vision -- since 1976, their body of work has been one long fever dream of kinky sex, bug-eyed monsters, and switchblade-wielding juvies, married to the primal twang of an electric guitar and the malevolent thud of a drum kit. While the quality of their work has run through some peaks and valleys over the years (they've made plenty of good records, but just a few great ones), they seem to have known what they were shooting for from the very beginning. How to Make a Monster, a two-disc collection of demos, rehearsal tapes, and live recordings, documents the band's formative years (for the most part), and while a few of these takes push the boundaries of the word "primitive," this is the Cramps, alive and oozing, from the very first lo-fi run-though of "Quick Joey Small." The first two sets of recordings, from 1976, are plenty crude (in terms of both performance and audio quality), but the band's energy and abandon are already in place, and while later tapes (from 1981 through 1988) are cleaner, the band ultimately doesn't sound that much different, just tighter and better at what it's doing. While Lux Interior sounds a bit subdued in some of the earlier studio stuff, he's a live wire all through disc two, which preserves two early live shows, one at Max's Kansas City in 1977 and the other from CBGB's in 1978. The band has to put up with a too-cool-for-school audience for the Max's show, which periodically heckles the band (gotta wonder what those "hipsters" are up to today), but Poison Ivy Rorschach's deadly guitar is already on the case, and by the time the CBGB's gig rolls up, the Cramps sound loud and proud, and the crowd is with 'em all the way. How to Make a Monster is hardly the definitive Cramps anthology (this is one band that has earned a box set by now), but it's a fun and fascinating look at their early days, and if you subscribe to the notion that the older the Cramps record is, the better, then this little item's a must. Great notes from Lux and Ivy, too, along with some classic flyer art and provocative photos.

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