Cracker – The Golden Age

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

I’ve seen Cracker live a couple of times, in various incarnations (the band is basically just David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, anyway), and they are tight. Perhaps in contrast to their jokey persona, the band plays very professionally on stage, and clearly know what they are doing. They handle hecklers with aplomb (woe to he who crosses Lowery), and supposedly have an ironclad policy of playing “Free Bird” in its entirety and immediately upon hearing that tired taunt.

What I Think of This Album

If Kerosene Hat’s “Get Off This” existed to communicate the band’s philosophy (“We’re just doin’ what we wanna”), then The Golden Age is the album where Cracker first fully embraced it. Varying wildly between styles, this album is nothing so much as an expression of Cracker’s id. Which is what makes it so appealing.

At the same time, it is what makes “I Hate My Generation” seem so out of place, an inauthentic track that sounds like a contrived bid for an alt-rock hit. Other than that, The Golden Age is a very good, underrated album. Maybe not the best start for a new listener, but pretty essential for a true fan. The album works best as a whole, becoming something more than the sum of its parts, which are very good but rarely notable in their own right.

Thus, the low sparkle of the countrified title track gives way to the piercing guitar and shouted vocals of neo-psychedelic “100 Flower Power Maximum,” which turns into the drawn out, cinematic, string-laden “Dixie Babylon.” Elsewhere, the gritty, bluesy “Sweet Thistle Pie” (with fantastic backing vocals from Kristin Asbury and Shannon Worrell (who worked together in Monsoon and September 67)) precedes poppy, self-deprecating and devoted “Useless Stuff,” which gives way to the oddly funky yet still country “How Can I Live Without You.” And the pulsing, synthesizer-gilded “I’m a Little Rocket Ship” leads to the dusty, meandering riverbed of “Big Dipper.” “Bicycle Spaniard” is an alien ballad, with an otherworldly arrangement, and the sonics of “I Can’t Forget You” are a close relative.

I have to admit that Joan Osborne kicks ass with the backing vocals on “Nothing to Believe In.” Dennis Herring, last seen working on the Camper Van Beethoven major label albums, is in the producer’s seat again. Session drummer Eddie Bayers and Sparklehorse’s Johnny Hott play on this, as well as David Immergluck. Former Silo Bob Rupe handles bass duties and Charlie Quintana (Social Distortion, Agent Orange, and uh, Dylan) played drums; he passed away in 2018. The liner notes are a real bitch to read on this thing.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think “Big Dipper,” “The Golden Age,” and “Bicycle Spaniard” are the most impressive constructions, but my stupid heart lies with “Useless Stuff.”

Release Date

April, 1996

The Cover Art

If this postage stamp themed cover reminds you of the postage stamp themed cover of Camper Van Beethoven’s Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, well, then you have been paying attention. Good for you. Get yourself some Sweet Thistle Pie. I don’t know what that means. Anyway, Lowery went back to CVB’s favorite artist Bruce Licher for this excellent effort, probably the best Cracker album art of all their albums. 

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