Album Reviews

Cracker – Greenland

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 5 June 2006

Cracker’s official website has the tagline of “countryband within a rock band”, and they have been ploughing thismusical landscape since the early 1990s. Cracker’ssinger/guitarist David Lowery’s history goes back muchfurther. I first encountered his blend of wit and wisdomwhen he was fronting the ’80s country punk riot that wasCamper Van Beethoven. He now was a foot in both camps sincereforming Camper and the bands often gig together.

I’m not sure if it’s the extra work load or thediverse nature of the two bands that Lowery fronts, butGreenland is a major disappointment. There seems to be alack of editing, the CD clocking in at over 60 minutes. Itshould be shorter than that – much shorter. Many of thesongs are nowhere near the band’s usual high standard. Thereare country songs and rock songs, but the winning blend ofboth together is conspicuous by its absence.

The rock songs are hackneyed and clich� ridden; something that Lowery has always been adept at avoiding inthe past. The heavy handed ghost of Led Zeppelinstalks the tracks, too many are heavy on bombast andbludgeoning riffs. They are short on subtle touches or thekeen sense of melody that marked out Zeppelin’s highpoints. Gimme One More Chance is constructed around a dumband sterile riff, and with its vaguely sexist lyrics Iwondered if the whole thing was a piss-take, twisting theclich�s of 70s hard rock inside out in the style of JimO’Rourke‘s Insignificance. Unfortunately the inclusionof too many tracks in a similar vein leaves me with theimpression that Cracker are playing it straight.

Minotaur almost defies belief that it has come fromthe same writer capable of something as great as Low. Theriff is recycled from Gimme One More Chance, the drumsthump hard and the bass is on the money, but the result isduller than a networking meeting of accountants andlibrarians. There appears to be the scent of selfindulgence in the air. The opening 70 seconds of SidiInfni is a lesson in how not to let your guitarist call theshoots: the spiralling bluesy licks allow Johnny Hickman toshow off but add nothing to the song. It’s pure musicalmasturbation and not something I thought I’d ever hear on aCracker record.

To make this kind of plundering work you need to havethe youthful vigour of someone like Wolfmother orJet. These exercises in rocking out sound tired andworn out, like a wedding band forced to learn hard rockcovers. About as convincing as an apology from a cheatingpolitian.

The LP is redeemed a little by the countrifiednumbers: the opening Something You Ain’t Got, with itsblend of piano, pedal steel and fuzzy guitars, is a whipsmart, and with its tale of heartbreak, drinking and lonelinessit has the heart that the heavier tracks seem to havemislaid. The tremolo organ and crunchy guitars of Maggieare off set by a wonderfully half awake vocal. The jauntyrhythm of I Need Better Friends is a relief after theturgid Sidi Infni. It’s not that far removed from the soundof Frank Black‘s Honeycomb LP from last year.

As a whole the record that has left me dazed andbemused. The unfocused nature of Greenland makes it soundlike the work of two different bands.Cutting outthe stupid rock stuff there is the basis of a solidLP – shame that sometimes boys just want rock out.

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