Cracker – Cracker

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

David Lowery has a blog where he goes into impressively minute detail about various Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker songs, obviously meandering off into other topics, including the mechanics and moralities of the music business. I have the utmost affection for Lowery, a grinning smart aleck, who in addition to fronting two great bands is also a musician’s activist, a lecturer at the University of Georgia, a radio host, and a mathematician specializing in quantitative analysis. Cracker formed out of the ashes of Camper Van Beethoven; Lowery and high school friend Johnny Hickman left California in 1991 and settled in Virginia (at some point joined by fellow Redlands native Davey Faragher), where they proceed to crank out rootsy, melodic, and intelligent songs.

What I Think of This Album

God, I love this fucking thing. I played the shit out of this way back then, and it still sounds amazing. Johnny Hickman is a tragically unknown guitarist, and bassist Davey Faragher does fine work, aided on three tracks by consummate session pro Jim Keltner on drums, and superguest Benmont Tench on keyboards. But the key to all of this is Lowery, whose smart-assed cynicism neither curdles nor crosses the line into smarminess. Running at full speed away from the eclectic sounds of Camper Van Beethoven, David Lowery crafts undeniably catchy but earthy and sinewy songs, with some critical songwriting contributions from Hickman (as much of a court jester as Lowery is) and others, including Faragher. This album is the perfect marriage of insightful cleverness with bar band sonics, and it is a delight.

Hit “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” expertly mocks and empathizes with its target, a moody youngster who just wants to get laid; Lowery’s strained vocals at around 3:40 are a favorite of mine. The odd but irresistible “Happy Birthday to Me” finds Lowery casually employing the absurdist lyrical approach he excelled at with his former band, with a stellar harmonica part from Hickman. Lowery vents his spleen some more on the not at all subtle “Don’t Fuck Me Up (with Peace and Love),” with fun rolling toms from . . . someone (maybe Rick Jaeger), a thrilling lead part by Hickman, and excellent backing harmonies. “Someday” is sadly self-pitying (“Someday / Well, I’ll get it right / Yeah, one day / I’ll get it right”) and also romantic, with an appropriately dusty and weepy Hickman, and lovely backing “oooh”s. The bitter “Satisfy You” is a case of Lowery unleashing inventive vitriol (As far as I know / The world don’t spin / They carry you around in your bed / And rearrange the stars all night / To satisfy you), but the cowbell, the backing vocals and Hickman manage to steal the show anyway. Hickman’s “Mr. Wrong” is hilarious, packed with colorful lyrical details that Lowery digs into. Hickman sings on the ironically dusty “Another Song About the Rain,” which maybe goes on a minute too long, but it otherwise pretty good. The spooky waltz “Dr. Bernice” is like staring into a deep well until you lose consciousness and fall in; I can never get over “Baby, don’t you drive around with Dr. Bernice / That ain’t a real Cadillac / It’s a Delta 88 / Spray painted black / With fake leather seats from Juarez.” Brilliant. The funky “Cracker Soul” is fun but slight. “Can I Take My Gun to Heaven?” ends up working just when I think it won’t. A few tracks don’t do it for me, but honestly those are quibbles.

The Best Thing About This Album

Hickman’s lead parts are revelatory.

Release Date

March, 1992

The Cover Art

Cracker’s self-deprecating take on their corporate outing is refreshing and amusing. The font is cool, as is the color scheme.

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