Cracker fall short of their usual standards
By JOE LARSON
Scene Music Critic
Forever, Cracker's fifth studio release continues their roots-rock tradition coupling blues-based guitar riffs with their patented lyrical wit. This album explores a more mellow vibe than their previous efforts, but still mainly sticks to the solid rock 'n' roll base Cracker has clung to since their self-titled debut in 1992. That album boasts some of their most notable songs, like the rock anthem "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" and the quirky "Happy Birthday to Me."
Cracker followed that album with 1993's hugely successful Kerosene Hat, which had probably their most famous song "Low" and also "Get Off This." That album quickly placed Cracker on the map with other rock-oriented alternative bands in the early '90s like Soul Asylum and Toad the Wet Sprocket. They followed this success in 1996 with the eclectic The Golden Age, which showcased the full gamut of their musical talent, starting with the accusatory "I Hate My Generation." The album swings from angry rock to melancholy scores of strings and heartfelt lyrics on songs like "Big Dipper" and the powerful "Dixie Babylon," which boasts a beautiful string arrangement and is still probably the most touching song in their catalogue. The album was moderately successful but showed promise for the band's expanding sound.
Their next album, 1998's Gentlemen's Blues, carried on their move towards a more eclectic feel and added to the more pop-oriented straight rock that they began with. Songs like "The Good Life" and the self-deprecating "My Life is Totally Boring Without You" carry the album and more intensely incorporate the roots country sound into Cracker's growing back of tricks.
Forever is held up by the blues rock of songs "Don't Bring Us Down" and "Ain't That Strange." These songs are catchy and complement the more moody songs like "Brides of Neptune" and the title track. David Lowery and Johnny Hickman continue writing songs in the vein of classic rock with intricate musical additions that allow Cracker to do so without becoming too redundant. Cracker's lyrics are always drenched in sarcasm and a sense of humor, and this album is no different. The songs tell stories of Miss Santa Cruz County and her cohorts and a character named Emily to whom they apparently could not refrain from wishing a Merry Christmas.
The best song on the album is the soulful "Sweet Magdalena of My Misfortune," which croons and yearns for a lost lover. The song is carried by Hickman's swirling blues guitar and Lowery's strained voice that, although it is obviously strained, seems to fit the song perfectly. Lowery's lament on this song recalls the emotion and vigor of some of Cracker's early, more powerful work without getting too sappy.
Another good song that adheres to Cracker's rock 'n' roll chops is the heavy "One Fine Day," which really allows Hickman the freedom to slam soaring guitar riffs along with a Neil Young-like, chunky electric background. Lowery's vocals and lyrics with an organ round up the crunchy feel of a great, angry rock song.
Unfortunately, a few of the new renovations Cracker makes of this album are not as delightful. The successful soul vibe on "Sweet Magdalena of My Misfortune" is lost on "Shameless," which simply does not work. It attempts an almost funk/Mo-town type of feel that propels the listener to quickly click forward to the next song.
The worst renovation is the last song on the album, "What You're Missing," which is a faux-rap about what a great band Cracker is and how wrong it is that their popularity has not increased over the years. First, a rock band rapping is never good; and second, complaining on an album about the lack of popular success you have been garnering also alienates the fans who have remained loyal over the years. The song takes away from the overall feel of an album that flows from melancholy to anger to fun and basically insults the listener. It tries to add a new, funkier dimension to the album, but the ridiculous verses mostly just serve as a turn-off.
The best part of the album is the extra limited edition disc of a live Cracker show recorded in Chicago in 1999. This live disc really shows off the true talent of a band that has been around for over 10 years and can simply put on a great rock show. They tear through songs from each of their previous albums and energize the crowd with live renditions of their hits, "Low" and "Teen Angst." They also rock out on versions of the thundering "Sweet Thistle Pie" and "Seven Days." This disc is a true gift to the fans who have been loyal and have been following the band from the beginning.
On the whole, Forever is a good Cracker album, but it lacks a few of the intricacies that have made their other albums great. There are some really good songs, but the presence of a few songs prohibit the album from completely cohering, and ultimately, soften its punch. For a loyal fan, the album and the extra live disc are definitely worth it, but for a first-time listener, the album falls short of their predecessors.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, February 12, 2002