Music

Cracker: Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey

Sixteen years past its moment in the sun and in the face of critical indifference, Cracker builds sardonic wit and musical in-jokes into what is possibly the best album of its career.


Cracker

Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey

Label: 429
US Release Date: 2009-05-05
UK Release Date: 2009-05-05
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Ask your average music listener about Cracker and you're not likely to unearth many memories dating later than 1993. For a band that was nearly inescapable during the heyday of "alternative rock" radio, David Lowery, Johnny Hickman, and company have continued to float at an unfortunate distance below the radar -- even though they've remained plenty active in the years that ensued. The albums that followed Kerosene Hat provided enough solid moments to maintain a loyal fan base, but not enough sparks to bring the band back into the level of limelight it enjoyed in the early and mid-1990s.

Cracker's latest release, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, rekindles the band's glory days with a pointed collection of raw rock 'n roll that extends the spirit of its first two albums. Although the rhythm section has seen its share of personnel changes, the core partnership of Lowery and Hickman remains intact; over the years the pair has evolved into a sharp-witted extension of the Jagger/Richards paradigm. But the duo adopted a new methodology for Sunrise, inviting current drummer Frank Funaro and bassist Sal Maida to participate in a collaborative approach to songwriting that has clearly infused the band with renewed energy.

The times may have changed, but Lowery hasn't lost an ounce of his wry gift for observational details; songs like "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right" and "Show Me How This Thing Works" brim with the smart-assed wit that has always been the connecting factor between Cracker and his musically disparate "other" project, Camper Van Beethoven. But there's something deeper at work on Sunrise that infuses the band with an unhinged punk rock vigor rarely glimpsed in its past discography. Perhaps it's Funaro's background as drummer for the Dictators coming to bear on the band's compositional style, perhaps not; whatever the cause, Cracker has rarely rocked harder and more succinctly than on "Time Machine" and "Hand Me My Inhaler".

There's also a guest appearance by John Doe on "We All Shine a Light" that elevates Cracker's newly focused punk credibility; his vocal harmonies enhance a melodic uptempo song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early X album. And on the subject of the album's guests, Cracker cashes in on producer David Barbe's Drive-By Truckers connection to enlist Patterson Hood as Lowery's duet partner on "Friends", a honky-tonk tale of a particularly dysfunctional bromance. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows also adds vocal harmonies to "Darling One", a stellar example of Cracker's gift for infusing mellower tracks with bluesy, Southern guitar work and an edge that keeps them far from sappy.

In an unusual yet masterful bit of sequencing, the band saves the title track for last. It ends the album on a powerfully wistful note, capturing the decline of American prosperity with a poetic relevance that could also be taken as a metaphor for the band's own perseverance -- "dying is easy / it's living that's hard" indeed. Here they are, 16 years past their moment in the sun and in the face of critical indifference, building sardonic wit and musical in-jokes into what is possibly the best album of their careers.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image