Given the overwhelming mediocrity of mainstream garage rock, it's understandable that Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist so confidently claims his band to be "the best in the world." Compared to the Strokes' Julian Casablancas, Almqvist is a full-fledged rock god. But put him next to the Cramps' Lux Interior and the arrogant little Swede's about as rock 'n' roll as Pat Boone (before the dog collar). But such a showdown will never happen. Why? Because the major labels dropped the ball decades ago, relegating the Cramps to cult status while the band worked its ass off, paving the way for today's drivel-spewing punks who make tons of money waving the garage rock flag.
Coming of age in the burgeoning New York City punk scene of the late '70s, the Cramps took the stripped-down retro approach one step further, creating their own brand of deranged rockabilly meets primal garage thumpers; similarly, the band took punk's infatuation with kitsch culture to new heights, resembling something straight out of a B-movie, thanks in no small part to Interior's comically foreboding visage. The tall, dark, and vinyl-clad vocalist is equal parts creep and charismatic crooner, alternating between slithery undulations and outbursts of savage lunacy, bending mic stands like a clown making balloon shapes -- and damned near swallowing the microphone along the way. Juxtaposing Interior's spastic movements is the coolly detached Poison Ivy Rorschach, the band's guitarist and Interior's wife. Sonny and Cher they're not.
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After years of label-hopping -- including a legal battle with I.R.S. Records over unpaid royalties -- the Cramps decided to revive its own Vengeance label to release a new album, 2003's Fiends of Dope Island, as well as 2004's How to Make a Monster, a collection of previously unreleased tracks. But if you haven't seen the Cramps live, well... it's just something you gotta see to believe. Afterward, you'll wonder why people still pay big bucks to watch some alt-rock band stare at the ground for an hour. -- Jason Budjinski