The Golden Age

Cracker

Virgin Records, 1996

http://www.crackersoul.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/05/1998

K-Tel and various "collection" records documenting the passage of a musical era can be viscous judges when it comes to "one hit wonder" bands. I laughed, almost spilling my beer when I saw the "Hair Metal" series. I laughed at the immortal "Freedom Rock" ad on TV. But, the 90s collection made me wince like I sucked on a grapefruit after sipping Newcastle.

"90s Rock!...featuring Deadeye Dick with 'New Age Girl', Better than Ezra with 'Good'." Then, they put Cracker in that collection with their semi-hit, "Low". Ohh...stop right there, boys. That can't be right. But in every sense, it is. Cracker did not have a hit after "Low". They're too rockin' for the country-alternative crowds who dig Sun Volt. And they're too countryish for the electronica-leaning bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage.

Lead singer David Lowery has a memorable voice that draws comparison to Tom Petty. Lowery also has the wit and experience to make Cracker a definitive "alternative" band of the 90s. His last band, Camper Van Beethoven, was one of the founders that have spawned more successful acts like Matchbox 20. Still, Cracker is a fairly safe band. It's the type of music that you're accustomed to in jukeboxes in sports bars and your run-of-the-mill college bars. More than enough classic rock with just a dash of something different to make them relevant in today's world.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That all said, The Golden Age, their last album, was a commercial letdown. Never mind that it sold more than all of Camper Van Beethoven's albums combined. But, when Kerosene Hat went gold, record execs thought this album would be a million seller. While Kerosene Hat may have had more inspiring moments, The Golden Age is a more well-balanced album.

Johnny Hickman and Lowery have improved in their chemistry to make a compelling guitar duo. The countryish sounds of "How Can I Live Without You" and "Big Dipper" are perfect for people who like the genre, but just aren't ready to start a Wilco/Uncle Tupelo collection. And their punk roots are evident in "100 Flower Power Maximum", sort of a hippie/punk/whiskey ranting number.

With all the genres covered in The Golden Age, it's easy to take pot-shots of the album. Bands like Bush and Sugar Ray try new directions such as electronica or ballads and try to chalk it up to experimentation when it really is just a sham to sell more records. And The Golden Age has classic rock, country-alternative and hard rock plus a nifty duet with Joan Osborne in "Nothing to Believe In". The difference? Lowery has a track record. After over fifteen years in the business, Lowery deserves to let loose and play it safe with The Golden Age.

Violins keep popping up throughout much of The Golden Age. The swelling sounds veer dangerously into sentimental cheese, but are constantly off set with Charlie Quintana's subtle percussion work. The strings are best used in the beautiful last track, "Bicycle Spaniard", a great summer backyard porch sitting song.

What does all this mean? In essence, The Golden Age is a good album. If you're a fan of the band, it's a must buy. If you think Cracker is a one hit band, this album probably won't change your mind. Maybe a few more risks or a genuine outburst of inspiration, like the drunken-sprawl anthem of "Eurotrash Girl", off of Kerosene Hat could have elevated The Golden Age from a really good album by Cracker to a really good album of the 1990s. Sadly enough, it looks like Lowery may be headed back into obscurity. They sound about as fit for modern rock radio as Soul Asylum sound right now. In a good way though, this means Cracker has more freedom than ever to become one of the great hidden-gem bands of the 1990s. With little pressure from the label to turn out a hit, 1998 may indeed be The Golden Age for the band. In the meantime, check out this 1996 gem.

Rating: B

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© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.