Cracker! Where the hell have you been?
For the longest time, I had the feeling something was a bit amiss. Today, I found out what it was. It came back to me in the form of of a CD in my mailbox this morning. This "it" was the new collection of songs from Cracker entitled, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.
I admit, I've not been among the true faithful for a few years. Countrysides was fun, if sloppily drunken and Greatest Hits Redux was nice to hear, but it felt like the last gasp of Cracker as a recording group. I felt that their last effort, Greenland, was basically the final curtain for one of my favorite, enduring bands. I was so non plussed by that album, it became the first and only Cracker album I listened to once and then abandoned. Sure it was a good, well written album, but there wasn't any fire. Greenland sounded like a former Hell and brimstone band retiring to their rocking chairs. I said, "Thanks for the memories" and moved on.
Today was the wake up call. Cracker's new album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, is the musical (and lyrical) Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Greenland album. In many ways, this is Cracker's most explosive selection of material since their first disc back in 1991.
From the opening track, "Yalla Yalla (Let's Go)" [see the video here], it's clear that Cracker isn't going to be introspective or sentimental. Frank Funaro's metronome drum bash and David Lowrey's throaty rasp sell the plight of a US soldier's day patrolling the Middle East. The following two tracks, "Show Me How This Thing Works" and "Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out With Me" find the band falling back into familiar territory that one would find as filler on any Cracker album. The former tune has a Sci Fi bent with the narrator musing over a device seemingly from Outer Space. The latter tune (the weakest on the album) was selected as the album's first single. It's a pleasant song with a Jeff Lynne style production, but it's maybe a bit too MOR for the tracks that share the disc with it.
"We All Shine a Light" is a custom made lighter raising club anthem featuring "X" front man John Doe lending extra credence to the tune, while "Hand Me My Inhaler" makes the most of it's brief running time with a rollicking punk sensibility that hearkens back to Camper Van Beethoven's earliest albums.
"Friends", a Johnny Hickman penned tune that he previously recorded on his solo album, Stonehenge turns up here in duet form with David Lowrey trading verses with Drive By Truckers' Alumni Patterson Hood. The song sounds like a virtual re-write of "Mr. Wrong" from the first Cracker album and there's just a bit of wonder in this reviewers mind as to why Johnny didn't share vocals with Lowrey instead.
The last 5 songs pretty much solidify the album's brilliance quotient. "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right" lays down a sinewy funk that wouldn't sound out of place on a Zutons album. "Time Machine" is a straight ahead rocker that Johnny Hickman completely shreds with a killer guitar riff and one of his fiercest solos he's played in years.
"Hey Brett (You Know What Time It Is)" gets a bit political with it's pointed lyrics and a band in-joke chorus. "Darling One", a song written by Lowrey with Mark Linkous and Suzanna Hoffs with backing vocals by Adam Duritz, is a lovely upbeat love song with a soaring guitar from Johnny.
The Album ends with the title track, "Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey". It's a great album closer that left me wanting to start the whole album over again.
You can read from the past paragraphs that this is a new phase of production for Cracker. In the past, Cracker (that is Hickman and Lowrey) would do the majority of the writing and finish the songs with whoever else was in the band at the time. On this endeavour, the songs were written by Lowrey, Hickman, Funaro and the latest bassist, Sal Maida. I don't believe there has been this much outer assistance since the first album, when Davey Faragher (who gets a liner note shout out with his publishing company) was the first official member of Cracker.
This album is not to be missed. No matter if you haven't heard Cracker in awhile... or if the last couple of albums had left you cold... or if you're a dyed in the wool fan of Cracker Soul, you should make the purchase when the album is released on May 5th (yeah, Cinco De Mayo). It's highly recommended.