October 31, 2005

Kid Congo Powers
Issue, Pt. 1



The Cramps

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IRS 1981 (and eternally in print)

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“Let me give you some advice…”
- The Cramps “Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk”

Once again the Cramps prove that if you can’t dig them you can’t dig nothin’. Do you want the real thing or are you just talkin? Do you understand?…

Psychedelic Jungle is by far the Cramps creepiest album and therefore the most appropriate for today’s holiday. Not only do “Green Fuzz,” “Goo Goo Muck,” “Rockin’ Bones,” “Voodoo Idol,” “The Natives Are Restless,” and “Beautiful Gardens” deal with Halloween subject matter, but the slow ones (and incidentally my personal favorites), “Primitive,” “Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk,” and “Can’t Find My Mind,” are among the eeriest of the sonic tombstones poking out of the Cramps’ thirty year fog.

I know a number of folks who will tell ya the brilliant Songs the Lord Taught Us is the best Cramps LP. Before I try to stop speaking in superlatives I will testify that I’d put my money on Psychedelic Jungle any day. Slower, tighter, and cleaner (three elements you don’t typically look for in the Cramps) than its predecessor, it still possesses a loose and trashy feel. The new elements work to the record’s advantage – resulting in a spookier, more diverse, more ambitious, and bigger sounding slab o/wax. The step up in production quality doesn’t indicate that the Cramps are trying to transcend B-movie turf – they’re merely out to prove that they are the best B-movie there is.

Here Lux Interior is in top form. Loud in the mix and reverbed out, his voice is warmer and more intimate than ever before. His vocabulary of noises continues to expand from his trademark rockabilly trembles, croons, whispers, shouts, shrieks, and howls to buzzes, gurgles, jungle noises, and a couple of freak-outs that simply defy description. As Lux accepts the Herculean task of summarizing the universal in one two part-question, “what kind of panties are you wearing and how long have you been wearing them?,” it immediately becomes obvious that he is also in top lyrical form (make way Bob Dylan). The Cramps again make some of the savviest cover choices in recording history - including a couple of better known numbers such as Jim Lowe’s unlikely “Green Door” or Ronnie Dawson’s rockabilly “Rockin’ Bones,” and completely obscure ones such as Randy Alvey’s “Green Fuz,” Ronnie Cook’s “Goo Goo Muck,” The Groupies’ “Primative,” The Nova’s “The Crusher,” and Kip Tyler’s “Jungle Hop.” As always, the Cramps’ claim the songs as their own – often surpassing the energy, style, and musicianship of originals.

Another difference between this recording and its not-so-distant ancestors is of course the new line-up change. Not long after longtime guitarist Bryan Gregory’s disappearance with the band’s van and equipment, Kid Congo Powers accepts the impossible task of filling those stylish shoes on Psychedelic Jungle. While assuming Gregory’s fuzzy wall of rhythmic trash role and embarking upon a couple of Gregory-esque freakouts, Powers’ parts are executed with just as much soul – plus more precision, restraint, and tonal variation. Furthermore, Kid’s more contemporary approach to noise-guitar adds an almost post-punk element to the post-modern band – further expanding their already vast musical grab bag.

From the opening of “Green Fuzz” to the closing of “Green Door,” Kid Congo’s fuzz and Poison Ivy’s reverb are perfect marriage – Congo blasting out chunks of rock and Ivy ice-picking linear forms in relief all over and around them. While Ivy once again proves herself one of rock and roll’s finest guitarists, young Kid Congo also steps out from behind the her Excellency every now and then and shows the world what he’s all about for the first time. Give “Caveman” another listen and check out Kid’s noise solo. Or the push and pull of his feedback riff on “Can’t Find My Mind.” Even better, look at what may well be the weirdest moment found on any Cramps album – the two-guitar car-crash freak-out on the latter half of “Beautiful Gardens.”

As a super-bonus Psychedelic Jungle has been combined on CD with another indisputable classic, 1978’s Gravest Hits – a collection of the seminal first two Alex Chilton-produced singles plus a version of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town”… Yet another righteous platter seriously worthy of your discriminating listenership.



© New York Night Train , 2005