Cracker has long balanced between a few different worlds: a bit alt-, and bit rock, some country, some jam – even some bluegrass at times. This is the band that had alternative radio hits in the early nineties with “Low” and classic “Euro-Trash Girl” – but has also toured as country band, The Ironic Mullet. While forged around the traditional guitar-bass-drum axis, they’ve got a dedicated fan base more akin to that of a jam band. Much like singer/guitarist David Lowery’s prior group, Camper Van Beethoven (which has since reunited – QRO live review), the balance has confused or put off some part-time fans, while won the undying devotion of others – Lowery’s own lyrics veer from massive irony to heartbreak to working class politics. With their latest, Sunrise In the Land of Milk and Honey, Cracker go more towards the ‘straight’ alt-rock, giving a record that might not have quite as many breakthrough tracks, but is solid from start to finish.
The slightly indeterminate rocking upswinger “Yalla Yalla” starts things off, and it sets the stage for an album of catchy rockers – with particularly great guitar from lead axe-man Johnny Hickman, like on the following “Show Me How This Thing Works” or later piece “Time Machine”. The strong guitars do sometimes overshadow Lowery’s great ironic lyrics, though they still come through on such numbers as “Hand Me My Inhaler” – not to mention “Friends”. Sung as a duet by Lowery and Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, “Friends” was actually written by Hickman for his 2005 solo record, Palmhenge. The ironic white-trash anti-hero of such previous Lowery-penned Cracker songs as “When I Win the Lottery” seems to have rubbed off on Hickman, making this Sunrise’s clear stand out.
For a band that can range so far, Sunrise is a little lacking in variety. There is the relaxed, wistful-wry monotone single “Tune On Tune In Drop Out With Me”, and the record ends on its somewhat darker title track. Right before that comes “Darling One”, the welcome return of the sadder, heartache Cracker – Sunrise would have done better were this piece in the middle of the album, and considering how well the group can do sadness, one can’t help but want for more. Instead, decent, but not outstanding rockers like “Yalla”, “We All Shine a Light”, “I Could Be Wrong I Could Be Right”, and “Hey Brett (You Know What Time It Is)” sort of blend together.
After suffering through the ups & downs of the record industry (including being dropped by Virgin in 2003 – though that did lead to the hilarious kiss-off song, “Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself”), Cracker have found more stability in recent years, even allowing such excursions as the reunion of Camper Van, Hickman’s solo record, and the annual Cracker-Camper outdoor festival, Campout. That stability comes through on Sunrise In the Land of Milk and Honey, as the band returns to their four-piece alt-rock sound, which might not wow the ears of longtime loyalists as much as other records, but should hopefully open them up to some new fans.
MP3 Stream: "Friends"