The Way the Cracker Crumbles


Back when the Megastore opened in Times Square, Cracker dutifully showed up to perform live. They all wore Kool Aid-colored sunglasses, like Osmonds or Partridges. The place stank of sinister synergisms: the Virgin Megastore, these live Virgin Recording Artists . . . downstairs, the Virgin Airlines ticket office. As the band figuratively broke bottles across the flagship’s mighty prow, Virgin Radio repeatedly spun “I Hate My Generation”—a stupid thing that was supposed to become Cracker’s new best-seller—introduced by a smug-voiced in-house DJ sickly informing the store’s patrons, “Hey! Everybody, I would like to say, yes—I, too, hate my generation!”

“I Hate My Generation” turned out to be the single bad track on The Golden Age, a record so otherwise brilliant it hurt to look at for long. Unfortunately, by this time—early 1996—Cracker’s Golden Age had peaked; the fans were already exiting. They turned down the band’s invitation to hate their generation (whatever that meant) and they’ve never really returned.

A decade of Cracker has now passed and here ambles up this odd double-disc release, Garage D’Or. It’s quite honestly difficult not to feel these 115 minutes of mostly recycled music as a farewell of sorts, given that the band members are in their mid forties, the fans are in their late twenties, and record buyers are increasingly in their preteens. The first disc is essentially a greatest hits retrospective, which stirs racy memories and makes one feel good; the second disc is unenlightening attic-sweepings—covers, B sides, and concert tracks, cobbled together with duct tape and baling wire—that make one feel bad. Cracker, one is reminded, achieved moments of encouragingly spaced-out atmospherics, but too too often they ended up sounding too too much like a perfectly respectable Broadway cast recording of Honky Trash Boogie-Oogie (as evinced on the new release by some unreleased instrumentals, “Eurotrash Girl,” and the live recordings of “Mr. Wrong” and a particularly unremarkable “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”).

Cracker is a rock band that works very hard at what it does and possesses considerable talent and vision. . . . So where did the thrill go? Perhaps they could’ve ceased their unending road tour (with that series of interchangeable rhythm sections), and managed more than an album every three or four years, and seemed a bit less willing to sing of themselves as such alright bitchin’ rude dudes; possibly they could’ve embarked again upon the kind of frantic songwriting spree that launched Cracker in the first place (three months in mid 1990 that they’ve mined for every record); probably they should’ve made more than one CD (The Golden Age) and a limited-release EP (Tucson) with the painstaking and particular pop producer Dennis Herring, the studio hand who understood them best and who, with attentive mikings and separations, made them sound commanding, full of color and nerve, even menacing. . . . There were things, one admits in the end, that could’ve been done.

Instead, a wee bit more every day, Cracker get forgot. Increasingly they are penciled in as one-hit wonders (“Low”), while the names of their two permanent members—David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, the Carville/Stephanopoulos of the Cracker campaign (Lowery, with his tight expression, skin drawn taut over bones, jittering with ideas, talking relentlessly, all over the place; Hickman just as charismatic and cocky but all damage control, careful hair, each phrase perfectly measured for immediate attribution)—drop further down the superstar roster.

Looking back, it becomes abundantly clear that Cracker, even when they started, were themselves about looking back; from the beginning, their arrangements stirred an especially pleasing déjà vu. It’s natural for any longtime Lowery booster to listen to Garage D’Or and feel incredibly proud—look how craftily the singer-songwriter broadened his appeal! look how many new listeners he attracted!—even if what one is hearing sounds a bit more like the band’s faux-retro pals Counting Crows than theirforward-thinking buddies Sparklehorse and FSK, even if their ’90s music turns out to be only ’80s new wave played by a ’70s biker band. They were an old-style mad band, not mad like Danzig or Reznor but politely mad like Brando used to get, fuming and handsome, articulate but pissed; lashing out, but without a lot of swear words.

Dennis Herring once said he hoped David Lowery would become Tom Petty. I think it’s possible he has.

I just wish I liked Tom Petty more.

Editor’s Note: Camden Joy’s newest novel features a character named David Lowery. Cracker’s Lowery dismisses the work as “stalker fiction.”

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