It was 15 years ago, give or take, when Cracker ruled the airwaves of
my college radio station. Kerosene Hat and the Encomium Led Zeppelin tribute album were in heavy rotation, and no one
could have forseen that the rest of the '90s, and a good part of the
'00s, would see not stunning stardom, but a series of lineup changes
and mixed success. Thankfully, Cracker is back in a big way with their
latest release, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, an
album which combines alt country "Americana" with a late '70s/early
'80s punk sensibility.
Frontman David Lowery is in fine form on album opener "Yalla Yalla
(Let's Go)," quirky lyrics a sort of tribute to the men and women of
the American Armed Forces currently serving in Iraq, layering their
swaggery slang (Yalla Yalla means "hurry up" in Arabic) atop shock-and-
awe drumming and in-your-face guitar. Equally fresh and topical, yet
classically Cracker, is the first single "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
With Me," a laid back twangy ditty about leaving a big brother society
behind for an agrarian utopia somewhere in Cascadia. Later, Patterson
Hood of the Drive-By Truckers joins Lowery on the back country ode to
dysfunction, "Friends," a slow country churn about redneck bars,
parking lot fights, and ex girlfriends that sounds something like
"Eurotrash Girl" rubbing up against "Friends in Low Places."
Much of the material here swings further towards the punk end of the
spectrum, however. "Show Me How This Thing Works" has a geeky,
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy vibe going for it, upbeat
guitar and driving drums seeming to belie lyrics about weird things
falling from the sky and physics laboratories. Former X'er John Doe
hops aboard for the practically epic "We All Shine A Light," an urgent
punk anthem (and ode to Pakistan's Peshawar Panthers cricket team)
that's half electrified surf rock, half nursery rhyme with an
insistent chorus that goes from statement to command by song's end.
Both "Hand Me My Inhaler" and "Time Machine" are short punk rockers
that get in, make a point, and get out: the former is a 92-second-
long quarrel with an ex-girlfriend, the latter a trip back in time to
1983, seemingly alongside Bill & Ted, Wayne & Garth. As if a
counterpoint, the album's two longest pieces seem to trail off into
the distance, as if not certain of their destinations: both "I Could
Be Wrong, I Could Be Right" and "Hey Brett (You Know What Time It Is)"
repeat their respective choruses over and over like a mantra before
wandering off into a lengthy outro somewhere on the horizon.
Worth special note (for somewhat different reasons) are the two final
tracks on the album. "Darling One" is a duet with Adam Duritz, a
somewhat too romantic ditty that seems as if it'd be more at home on a
Counting Crows album with Lowery pitching in, instead of the other way
around. The title track, on the contrary, is the excellent way to ride
off into the sunset: with a sunrise, epic vocals almost straining to
be heard among the music as the burning meadows rage, apocalypse
looms, and it seems as if our society's best years are behind us. For
Cracker, it seems that might not be the case.
Favorite Track: "Time Machine"