Review Summary: A classic piece of angry pissed-off 80's hardcore tinged by hints of jazz and mental disorders2 of 3 thought this review was well written
Glancing at the band name and several of the tracks (“Cops for Fertilizer” and “Go Bankrupt and Die”) leap to mind, you would be well within your rights to consider this just another angry, no-talent punk band and walk away. Give it a thorough listen, though - when I say thorough, I mean THOROUGH, because there’s no way you’ll like this guy’s voice the first time you hear it - and you’ll soon come to realize that there’s a lot more to the Cruci***s
than they let on at first.
The vocalist, Doc Dart
, suffered from severe obsessive compulsive disorder, which he describes in detail on several of the songs. The most remarkable thing about the band isn’t this diversity in lyrical content, however - it’s the subtly surprising technical proficiency. There are multiple points in the album (most notably in the closer, “Down on My Knees”) that almost resemble jazz breaks, and the drumming is absolutely superb. In fact, drummer Steve Shelley
would go on to play in legendary band Sonic Youth
The first thing that’ll jump out at you in your first listen of the band is the lead singer. Doc Dart’s yelps are infamous, and are, now that I find myself trying to describe them, almost impossible to describe. He half-sings, half-shouts; Wikipedia says that his vocals have been described as “like paint-stripper”, and although that quote isn’t sourced, it’s pretty accurate. They make the album hard to listen to at times, but for those willing to endure them, they can end up adding to the album’s value - they fit perfectly with the music, and I couldn’t imagine any other vocalist doing Doc Dart’s job.
The music is essentially straight-up 80’s hardcore - resemblances to Dead Kennedys
and Black Flag
jump out at first - but with extra touches, similar to what made those aforementioned bands so good. Guitarist Gus Varner is all over the place, with a harsh, rough sound (the production really reminds me of the muddy production in the Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters
, one of my favorite DK albums), interspersing rawly picked power chords with fretboard explorations. Track five, “Legal Genocide”, is a good example of this style. The bass player, Marc Hauser, plays very consistently - his playing isn’t anything too remarkable, but the bass stands out very well in the mix, and provides a solid foundation for the guitar and drums. As mentioned before, Steve Shelley joined Sonic Youth
after his time in the Cruci***s, and a good listen to this record will tell you why. The drumming is incredibly solid and gives the band a groove I have yet to find in very many of their contemporaries; he executes the beats with grace and finesse.
The lyrical content of the band can be a lot to deal with. They interspersed their songs with skits involving the band arguing with policemen over the phone, prank calling cops, and listening to reports of vandalism on the television with laughter, among other topics, and the songs themselves are quite controversial. In “Hinckley Had a Vision” (for those of you unfamiliar with the name, Hinckley was the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in the early 80’s - he allegedly did it out of love for the actress Jodie Foster, inspiring yet another punk band by the name of Jodie Foster’s Army), Doc declares of the president with a snarl, “I’d like to chop off his head and mail it to them in a gaaarbaaage baaaag!”.
While the first half of the album is dominated by this shock political content, the second half explores a much different concept - Doc’s ever-worsening mental issues. “By the Door” and “Similar Items” are eerie rants about where Doc likes his items to be placed, and “Oh Where, Oh Where” finds him in despair because he can’t find a piece of paper. From “Similar Items”:
Are there any clean washcloths, dear?
I am going to empty this ashtray…in about…half an hour…
Should this glass be sitting on this particular corner of the table?
I have nothing but praise for this album. It combines everything great about 80’s hardcore - incredibly offensive political lyrics, speed, and aggression, and adds its own unique schizophrenic touch.