Fresh off their publicized spat with former label Virgin Records, Cracker is back with their first original album with new label, Cooking Vinyl. David Lowery has always been one of the crown princes of quirky alterna-rock ever since his days with Camper Van Beethoven who bowed out at the top of their game with Key Lime Pie, only to reunite recently with a pair of eccentric releases. His second band, Cracker, had slightly more success than Camper Van, especially with its breakthrough hit, “Low.” Yet, Lowery always seems destined for `cult-classic’ status, ever just short of massive stardom, and considering his experience with a major label, that’s probably just alright with him. You’ll have to forgive the pun, as I simply can’t avoid it, but Lowery is now that seasoned and salty veteran of alt-country rock with the Northern California accent that we, who grew up in the ’80s, remember fondly. With Cracker’s seventh album, Greenland, Lowery and his bandmates prove themselves to be, as do most other Cooking Vinyl artists, far from washed up like the whale that graces the cover of the album. In fact, Greenland is Cracker’s most diverse and accomplished album to date.
“Something You Ain’t Got” is a sweet little song of heartbreak featuring the guest vocals of Caitlin Cary, a song that was previewed on Cracker’s re-recorded collection, Greatest Hits Redux. Lowery invokes the ultimate female patron saint of rock songs in the second track, “Maggie.” Just as Rod Stewart had something to say to “Maggie May,” the Beatles found her cousin `dirty,’ and Dylan discussed her farm, Lowery pleads with Maggie not to break his heart. “Where Have Those Days Gone” is one of the standout tracks, a trip down Lowery’s Northern California memory lane including references to Thomas Pynchon and Rob Brezny (he of the Free Will Astrology column). “Fluffy Lucy” coyly recalls a band that was once repeatedly compared to Camper Van Beethoven, the Replacements, as Lowery sings that he “won’t tell a soul.” The enthusiastic “The Riverside” and the hard rocking classic rock guitar driven scorcher, “Gimme One More Chance” find Cracker sounding as youthful and polished as ever.
“I’m So Glad She Ain’t Never Coming Back” is like a bluegrass-meets-world music folk song (if that makes sense) in which Lowery sings over bass, acoustic guitar and tabla about the girl who got away, which is just alright with him as his `shotgun keeps (him) warm at night,’ which turns the song in a different direction altogether. Centerpiece “Sidi Ifni” delves into Pink Floyd prog territory, with guitarist Johnny Hickman playing the other half of the David Gilmour role, as if it were a cut track from either A Momentary Lapse of Reason or The Division Bell. “I Need Better Friends” has a title that says it all, and is another self-reflective NorCal song from Lowery’s experiences. “Minotaur” seems to combine the driving guitar of “Gimme One More Chance” with the drifting prog of “Sidi Ifni.” “Better Times Are Coming Our Way” changes things up yet again with a reggae dancehall beat. “Everybody Gets One for Free” acts as both party song and clever commentary with political jibes, pokes at Virgin, and admittances that their last album didn’t do very well, and this album is full of `freedom rock.’ The album closes with the most `alt-country’ tune on the album, the poignant “Darling We’re Out of Time.”
There’s actually no real mention of the country of Greenland throughout the album that shares its name, but maybe like the old story of the Vikings who switched the names Iceland and Greenland (the former very green, the latter very icy), its meant to throw you off. There are mentions of seafaring, Spain and Africa, but other than the title, Greenland is nowhere to be found. Those who want to delve deeply into the album could probably come up with some kind of theory having to do with illusory misnamed places or hidden utopias, but then you might miss out on some good old-fashioned rock and roll, a little bit of reggae and whole lot of moxie. And maybe now Lowery should be called the `Prog’ Prince?
Paul Westerberg- 14 Songs
Soul Asylum- Grave Dancer’s Union
Sparklehorse- Good Morning Spider