I never quite believed the stories that young people would be oblivious to the fact that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. The idea that anyone would not have ever heard of the Beatles is patently ridiculous. I do, however, believe that there are lesser-known bands that suffer from those misconceptions. Anyone who started listening to `alternative’ music after 1990 all probably at least familiar with the band Cracker, fronted by David Lowery. In 1993, it was almost impossible to avoid their rock radio staple “Low.” That one song alone almost had more success than the combination of albums made by Lowery’s previous band, the exquisite Camper Van Beethoven. A major label, who put out the last two CVB albums and the first four from Cracker, decided to release a hits collection from the latter band, much to the surprise of Lowery. Since the label never included the band in the process, Cracker decided to take matter into their own hands by not only putting out their own compilation of former material, but also by completely rerecording every song to give them more of an organic `concert’ feel, as Cracker are infamous for their live shows.
Lowery selects songs from the band’s history rather democratically, with only one album dismissed, that being 2002’s well reviewed Back Porch (legal reasons, mayhap?). “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” is still as witty and relevant as it was back when it appeared on their first album in 1992. “I See the Light” is one of the songs that the major label left off of their comp, so its inclusion here is a nice treat for fans of the band’s early work. Hearing Lowery’s Redlands, California accented scratchy vocals still sounding as fresh as when I first heard “Take the Skinheads Bowling” was somewhat of a surprise. It’s been over twenty years since the first CVB album hit shelves and Lowery’s voice hasn’t suffered in the slightest. After Camper Van broke up, Cracker went in a decidedly different direction than Lowery’s former band. Their music could easily be put into the `alt-country’ category at a time when the genre was just bubbling up to the surface. Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks were just hitting their peaks and the Counting Crows, the more radio-friendly version of the genre, was just getting started. Listening to these country-fried songs all over again, now that alt-country is getting bigger every day, makes me realize that Cracker was either in the right place at the right time (alongside the above mentioned bands), or the complete opposite.
“Low,” the song most people will recognize, will either make people think that they hadn’t been listening closely enough back in the early ’90s, as a newly added accordion highlights the re-recorded hit, or that the song is made better with its inclusion. The new version is close enough to the original to please hardcore fans, but accented enough to pique their interest. The EP and compilation only track “Euro-Trash Girl” is one of the highlights as the Virgin version truncates it from its, as it is on this collection, nine minutes plus glory to just under five. Johnny Hickman’s solo is worthy of `Bob’s Country Bunker,’ just as the Blues Brothers’ version of “Rawhide.” What’s a label competitive version to be without the anti-major label mastery of “Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself?” As a funny addition, Lowery purposefully omits the lyrics from the liner notes, adding instead, “Forget the lyrics – read between the lines.” As an added bonus for the consumer, Cracker also adds a new track, “Something You Ain’t Got.”
If you’re a fan of Cracker, you might want to get this band-approved version of their greatest hits over the major label version. Not only is it sanctioned and loved by the band itself, but also it is cheaper than the other one. Those who truly believe in artists’ rights, and not just the meaningless drivel that major labels feed you about piracy, will see the importance in what Cracker are doing with this unique collection. The market can’t bear two greatest hits at the same time, and the major label version probably cost next to nothing to make. The fact that Cracker chose to do their own version at some expense means that they believe strongly in their music and their rights as a band.
Paul Westerberg- Besterberg
Buffalo Tom- Asides from Buffalo Tom
Camper Van Beethoven- Camper Van Beethoven is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven