The Cramps

Stay Sick!

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"I dig that god damn rock & roll/The kind of stuff that don't save souls." Less than three minutes into 1990's Stay Sick!, the Cramps had summed up their entire aesthetic in a mere 16 words, and even if Lux Interior hadn't bothered to wail that deathless phrase, the buzzy, reverb-soaked report of Poison Ivy Rorschach's guitar and the primal earthquake stomp of Nick Knox's drums reminded us this band liked its music dirty, both sonically and thematically. If 1986's A Date with Elvis was an impressive return to form after a long recording layoff, 1990's Stay Sick! was in some respects an even more powerful example of the Cramps' singular oozing psychobilly madness; with Candy del Mar, they had their best fourth wheel since Bryan Gregory left the band, a bassist whose solid, ferocious low-end thump made more room for Ivy's feral guitar work, and the band rarely sounded tighter or more effective than it did here. Songs the Lord Taught Us was arguably Lux Interior's high point as a vocalist, but he rarely sounded as strong and committed as he does on Stay Sick!, howling and hiccupping like a madman and keeping up with the band at all times. The Cramps remained obsessed with sex at its least wholesome on Stay Sick!, but "Daisys Up Your Butterfly," "Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon," and "Journey to the Center of a Girl" demonstrated they were capable of finding new varieties of perversity around every corner, and the opening cover of Macy Skipper's "Bop Pills" is on hand to reassure us that they hadn't forgotten about the importance of dangerous drugs. The production (by Poison Ivy herself) is big and boomy but absolutely fits the outsized personality of the band, and these celebrations of all manner of bad behavior are funny, exciting, and suitable for exotic dancing. Stay Sick! would prove to be the band's last album with Nick Knox on drums, and the Cramps were never quite this good again, but these wild grooves are a pulsating reminder of what they could achieve at the height of their powers.

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