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Classic Reading Records: The Cramps – Off The Bone

Ladies and Gentlemen, dominoes and flies it’s time to break out your dames, booze, chains and boots and rock right back to the Reading Festival of 1990. Lux Interior and Poison Ivy metamorphosized the festivals main stage into their own CBGB inspired psychobilly sleaze pit. This was the year of the dueling guitars, of b-movies, of rockin’ and reelin’ rock n’ roll, of The Cramps. Topping the bill over the alternative rock heroes such as Jane’s Addiction, Mudhoney, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Faith No More; and sharing headlining duties with of-the-moment madchester troupe Inspiral Carpets, and Reading royalty the Pixes, the Cramps were clearly a force to the reckoned with.

However, In modern times some might assume that The Cramps do not rank highly in the minds of the modern festival attendee as a classic Reading band, but they should. Why? Because they’re fucking cool, that’s why! Because they helped to forge modern punk music with their role in the underground CBGB based punk scene! Because there is no better musical vessel than that of Psychobilly! and Because they released one of the most iconic punk albums of all time, and thus is a true classic Reading record.

Right first off, Off The Bone is technically a compilation album. But it’s a UK exclusive (which makes us feel special) and was to many their first glance of this gluttonous goo-goo muck, so it counts okay?

Consisting of their debut EP, a shitmix of various hits from their first 3 albums, and a huge whodunnit style surprise.

The EP entitled ‘Gravest Hits’ has the garage icons’ most recognizable and renowned tracks. ‘Garbageman’ is the definition of garage rock, and ‘Drug Train’ chugs along like a crack den on wheels. The legendary ‘Human Fly’ skulks across a landscape of lo-fi fuzz and b-movie tomfoolery, while ‘The Way I Walk’  drives us hog-wild with an infectious oozing groove and declaration of defiant self.

The band have always been a unique and unashamed force in music. Lackadaisical drumming, lo-fi fuzz, ghoulish vocal fluctuations and an attire more usually adorned in the confined of the basement of Max Mosley, The Cramps are nothing but themselves. And it’s because of this sheer  ‘Goo Goo Muck’ best exemplifies their sound, it’s the swingin’ 60’s meets the mental health act of 1983. Shrieking, whaling and unintelligibly barking over a hypnotic trance of distorted rockabilly.

…and the big whodunnit reveal? These tracks are mostly all covers of 50’s and 60’s rockabilly and doo-wop and not original Cramps tracks. Most notably Roy Orbison, Eddie Cooley & The Dimples, The Trashmen, The Novas, Ronnie Cook, The Phantom and Hasil Adkins. Not that anyone would be any the wiser on first listen, each cover is a work of hypnotic, psychotic reinvention. For instance we have the eccentric ‘Surfin’ Bird’ a full 30 years before it was ironically rediscovered in tedious style by Family Guy. We also have a surfin’ 60’s acid bath cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Domino’, plus a sinister, creeping and somewhat predatory version of classic song ‘Fever’. Every song is contorted into the inimitable sound of The Cramps. Off the Bone is therefore an odd title. It’s more like the shavings hacked off from others peoples bones, and forged together in a sonic, sinister, and psychedelic rock and roll frankenstien monster. Hatcheting away at the forgotten, and creating something unrecognizable, original and truly great.

In 1983 Edwin Pouncy of ‘Sounds Magazine’ described the album as “a hell-fire cocktail of gutter riffing and chattering Rockabilly voodoo strum into which is dropped an electric sugar cube of psychedelic power”, and if Reading Festival is missing anything these days it is undoubtedly that. Adam Grylls

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Author: david

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