Cracker: Greatest Hits Redux

[6 March 2006]

By Jeff Vrabel

David Lowery can be kind of a dick, which is, of course, what makes him so goddamned likable. Camper Van Beethoven couldn’t have sprung from the mind of a huggable, granola-munching yes man, and neither could Cracker, CVB’s considerably better-groomed cousin, which Lowery spun off in the early ‘90s to sate his desire for providing country-fried alt-rock served straight as a base hit up the middle. Cracker’s sound was certainly warm, cozy even, but it was grounded by the gravel-tongued Lowery’s bitching about shiftless grunge kids and moaning that the world didn’t need another pop singer - which, of course, he kinda was. Even when he sounded like a codger or coot, which was often, he still knew some tricks, and despite all his rage, he could be funny, in that Bobby Knight sort of way.

But truly effective moral indignation requires a reliably worthy antagonist. And if Lowery’s moodiness was agreeable before, there evidently wasn’t much funny about Cracker’s ill-fated dalliance with Virgin Records. Lowery had already taken time to lovingly tribute their relationship on the 2004 track “Ain’t Gonna Suck Itself”, (pun lovers will note that he’s asking therein for the company to fellate him) but when he heard his ex-owners were preparing yet another Cracker greatest-hits compilation, he did the most logical thing he could think of: Record all the damned songs again and release his collection on the same day as Virgin’s. This is what relations between massive labels and past-their-prime bands have come to: dueling greatest-hits releases. We’ll now pause to let you decide how much more you want to trouble yourself with this particular fight today.

OK, welcome back. Anyway, depending on your tolerance for aging alt-rockers taking up arms against The Man, you’ll find “Greatest Hits Redux” either an endeavor worth purchasing solely for its brilliant subversiveness, or the early front-runner for Most Non-Essential Record of 2006. Unless your bedroom is decorated entirely in posters of Lowery and Johnny Hickman, it’s tough to imagine you’ll find any need for these do-overs, some of which were originally laid down all of 18 months ago. But if you’re in the mood to stick it to the nearest stuffed suit possible, knock yourself out, although downloading the Virgin set and seeding it on BitTorrent would probably cause more financial chafing in the long run. (And that is truly the only reason to pick this thing up—the accompanying press materials’ talk of persistent “fan demand” for re-recorded versions is as lame-brained as its touting of its “higher fidelity,” as if “Kerosene Hat” is only playable on a gramophone or something.)

As for the songs, they sound pretty much like the old ones, although in an illegitimate-cousin sort of way. Lowery’s voice has always been an instrument of endearing awfulness, and time hasn’t been particularly kind to it, although, again, its rugged, 20-packs-of-Marlboro-Reds-a-day vibe is the main draw of tracks like “Eurotrash Girl” and “I See The Light.” Age and 15 years of practice have lent “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)” and “Low” added dirt, though hardly enough to justify another drive to the studio. And from there, Cracker’s been the victim of diminishing returns, although they get props for knocking out the fantastic Ike Reilly’s “Duty Free.” Um, again.

The aging of the nation’s alt-rockers, a lot previously associated with infallible ethics and an irrational recoiling against selling out, is a fascinating if uncomfortable thing; the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. cop to being back on the road for money and Billy Corgan, having fallen on his bald head with his lame solo record, survived Pumpkin-free for almost five entire years. If nothing else, it’s fun to watch Lowery take on the big machine, even if it’s a fight strictly relegated to the undercard.

The thing is, it’s a good idea. A funny one, even, and if they offered it for download or something it’d be one thing. After all, these are new recordings, they are officially sanctioned by the band, and if you were in pressing need of a Cracker hits compilation, you probably already picked up 2000’s “Garage d’Or”—it had a bonus disc. “Redux,” meanwhile, is unnecessary and uncomfortable, and it casts Lowery not as the lovable rascal, but the guy who spends way too much time telling his buddies how much he doesn’t think about his ex anymore.

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