[Review] Cracker (1992)

The former Camper Van Beethoven frontman makes a normal rock record and gets a brief taste of fame with “Teen Angst.”

Kronomyth 1.0: Camper sans lederhosen.

It seemed like all the best alternative bands of the 80s (Camper Van Beethoven, Husker Du, Pixies, Replacements) broke up by decade’s end. At that point, the only alternative was to buy into the grunge scene or the solo discs of the aforementioned alternative act’s former, nearly-famous frontmen (Frank Black, David Lowery, Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg). I’d give Frank Black’s first the nod in that rogue’s gallery, but the first Cracker disc might be the second-best of the batch. Sure, I was bored with “Teen Angst” after two minutes, but the rest of the record delivered on the kind of sweet, nasally, left-of-normal acoustic/electric combo that you expected from Lowery.

Cracker is, to its credit, a genuine band. The core trio of players hailed from Redlands, California; Lowery and Johnny Hickman were even childhood friends. Hickman, like Victor Krummenacher, proves to be a pretty decent second vocalist on Another Song About the Rain, one of the album’s most memorable tracks. Unlike Cracker’s next album, Kerosene Hat, there isn’t anything that jumps out as a hit single on Cracker. The songs are likeable enough, but the fun of listening to Camper Van Beethoven was not knowing what to expect, and Cracker is pretty predictable. Lowery is a charming anti-hero who can turn a clever phrase when the mood strikes him; still, it’s only at album’s end (Dr. Bernice) that you get a glimpse of how interesting this album could have been.

Oddly, Bob Mould and Paul Westerberg ended up making the same kind of album as Cracker. It was as though, once you put an acoustic guitar in the hands of a punk rocker, the same sounds came out. At least Frank Black went out kicking and screaming into that good night, and you have to love him for it. Cracker, by contrast, sounds like Red Hot Chili Peppers making a country album much of the time. For me, the early 90s were a hollow time, as punks retreated from noise and rediscovered their instruments or some such nonsense. Whatever commercial appeal that Camper Van Beethoven had, had clearly left with Lowery. I only wish he’d brought at least one suitcase of that band’s defiant strangeness with him.

Original cassette version

A1. Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now) (David Lowery) (4:11)
A2. Happy Birthday To Me (David Lowery) (3:29)
A3. This Is Cracker Soul (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman) (3:38)
A4. I See The Light (Johnny Hickman/David Lowery/Davey Faragher) (5:11)
A5. St. Catejan (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman) (5:22)
A6. Mr. Wrong (Johnny Hickman) (4:34)
B1. Someday (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman/Davey Faragher) (3:19)
B2. Can I Take My Gun To Heaven? (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman) (3:59)
B3. Satisfy You (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman) (3:27)
B4. Another Song About The Rain (Johnny Hickman/Chris LeRoy) (5:46)
B5. Don’t Fuck Me Up (With Peace And Love) (David Lowery/Johnny Hickman) (3:06)
B6. Dr. Bernice (David Lowery) (6:20)

The Players

Davey Faragher (bass, backing vocals), Johnny Hickman (electric guitars, backing vocals, harmonica, lead vocals on B4), David Lowery (vocals, acoustic guitar) with Rick Jaeger (drums), Phil Jones (percussion), Jim Keltner (drums on A2/A3/A6), Jeanie McClain (backing vocals on A4/A5), Alicia Previn (fiddle), Benmont Tench (keyboards). Produced, engineered and mixed by Don Smith.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc and cassette on March 10, 1992 in the US (Virgin, 91816-2/4) and the UK (Virgin, CDVUS 48).

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