Songs the Lord Taught Us is a defining album of a minor genre. The sound of ‘psychobilly’ is an anachronism, evolved music in a world where madness is fitness. Aiming both to reintroduce the energy of rockabilly music to an audience the old stuff had gone stale to and wed it to punk and B-horror influences, The Cramps crafted a truly deranged and delightful set of songs.
Echoed, neurotic, hiccuping vocals are a constant. The level of theatricality makes the connection to goth music more apparent, though the gloom of the macabre is diluted by campy lyrics and replaced with fiery energy. Fun horror is still horror though, and The Cramps do not hold back in atmosphere: screaming guitars and almost tribal drums compliment the wild vocal fluctuations of Lux Interior. The incessantly echoing rockabilly licks, sweaty pace, and brash rhythm guitar strokes of “Rock on the Moon” transform a goofy aside into a two minute trip into the crazed fantasies of a teenager at a drive in. Everything is exaggerated, reanimating a dead genre by transplanting on top of it their obsessions and manias.
None of this is to suggest any kind of gimmick is the main draw here, these are great and innovative post punk songs. “Sunglasses After Dark” opens with raw noise and continues with a thunderous riff before a teetering guitar line brings to light the anxiety essential to the genre. “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” and “Garbageman” lay the influences clear, with the former referencing a 50s B-movie and the latter name dropping The Kingsmen and Trashmen’s songs Louie Louie and Surfing Bird. The closing seconds of “Werewolf” — half cackle, half scream over wet, distorted guitar — epitomize the goal of The Cramps. The lyrics are outrageous and over the top, describing teachers diagnosing our werewolf’s nightly urges as growing pains and his freshly lupine teeth as “so long”, but are sold so well and with such adoration for the material that you can’t help but love them.