[Review] Cracker: Kerosene Hat (1993)

Cracker’s second album is a more worthy successor to CVB, with songs that actually rock (“Low,” “Get Off This”).

Kronomyth 2.0: Hats off to Cracker.

This is the part of the story where our hero, taking a hiatus from highbrow jazz reviews, rediscovers his inner Cracker and with it the disturbing revelation that he could listen to David Lowery sing the words “titty ring” on an endless loop all day. “Low” and “Get Off This” are currently in heavy rotation in my mind. Sometimes I decide that the secretly stashed “Euro-Trash Girl” (track 69) is worth an extra sixty clicks, and rarely begrudge “I Ride My Bike” another twenty.

At its best, Kerosene Hat invites comparison to those absurdist and absurdly catchy Camper songs (“Nostalgia”). At its worst, it sounds like flat Camper outtakes (“Take Me Down To The Infirmary”). I’m not building a Cracker Van Beethoven mythology yet; the dynamics are different. Yes, there’s still Lowery’s nasal-drip delivery and absurd sense of humor, the ghost waltzes (“Kerosene Hat”) and alt-country/punk rock adventures. But CVB wouldn’t have done a serious reading of “Loser” or played a straight country song like “Lonesome Johnny Blues.”

It’s tempting to see Cracker as just another alternative icon slouching their way back into the spotlight (and into our hearts) with bar-chord fury and half-baked ballads like Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg and Frank Black. But Cracker is more fun, less predictable and, okay, maybe guilty of a little more mainstream baiting in ready-made anthems like “Low” and “Get Off This.” Hiding two killer songs from their last EP in a nest of “hidden” tracks is just the kind of bribe that makes me look the other way when charges of commercialism come up. Color me one happy Camper with Kerosene Hat.

The Songs

1. Low (David Lowery/John Hickman/David Faragher) (4:35)
2. Movie Star (David Lowery) (3:32)
3. Get Off This (David Lowery/David Faragher/John Hickman) (4:19)
4. Kerosene Hat (David Lowery) (5:34)
5. Take Me Down To The Infirmary (David Lowery) (4:03)
6. Nostalgia (David Lowery/David Faragher/John Hickman) (3:29)
7. Sweet Potato (David Faragher/John Hickman/David Lowery) (3:14)
8. Sick of Goodbyes (Mark Linkous/David Lowery) (3:07)
9. I Want Everything (David Lowery) (5:51)
10. Lonesome Johnny Blues (John Hickman) (2:40)
11. Let’s Go For A Ride (David Lowery/John Hickman/David Faragher) (3:06)
12. Loser (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (6:06)
15. Hi-Desert Biker Meth Lab (David Lowery/John Hickman/David Faragher) (0:40)
69. Euro-Trash Girl
88. I Ride My Bike
99. Kerosene Hat (demo/outtake)

* Tracks 13-14, 16-68, 70-87 and 89-98 consist of several seconds of silence.

The Players

Davey Faragher (bass, backing vocals), Johnny Hickman (electric guitars, backing vocals, lead vocals on 10), David Lowery (vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar), Michael Urbano (drums) with Heliat (warm howl, cold nose) and Phil Jones (percussion, drums on 8/9). Produced by Don Smith; engineered & mixed by Don Smith and Rich Hasal.

The Pictures

Collage by James Ward Morris, collage photograph by Holly Lindem. Art direction by Len Peltier. Trusty desginers: Jean Krikorian and Rowan Moore. Inside booklet photos by David Lowery, Don Smith, Jackson Haring, Jeff Bender, Mark Wiliams, Gary gratzer and Amy Lehman.

The Plastic

Released on CD and cassette on August 24, 1993 in the US (Virgin, 39012-2/4), in the UK (Virgin (CDVUS, VUSMC-67) and Japan (Virgin, VJCP-25080); reached #59 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record) and #44 on the UK charts (charted on June 25, 1994 for 2 weeks).

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