Cracker’s Forever is a straightforward, enjoyable, nonessential rock ‘n’ album.
Made up of singer/guitarist David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman, Cracker holds its own among the ranks of better known American bands of the same generation and sound, namely Counting Crows and the Wallflowers. It’s guitar-driven, full-bodied stuff, made fuller by the well-used Hammond B-3 organ on almost every track.
But Cracker cannot be taken as seriously as Counting Crows, as Lowery and Hickman never hit highs anywhere near those found in the sweeping choruses of Adam Duritz’s most wholly conceived works. Cracker’s lyrics are neither as creative nor their hooks as inventive, but, this easy comparison aside, Cracker gets the job done — perhaps just not with a little red star next to its name on the alt-rock checklist.
Like so many rock groups today, Cracker wears its influences on its sleeve while adding nothing new to the genre. With “Sweet Magdalena of My Misfortune,” Lowery and Hickman seem to have mugged Bob Dylan in a dark alley circa 1968 and forced him to write a song almost exactly like “Queen Jane Approximately.” Even the title reeks of Dylan, and the song makes good on that promise, though without the lyrical genius expected of him — just the genius expected of Cracker.
It’s a very strong song.
On “One Fine Day,” Lowery beats Tom Petty senseless outside a country bar and rips off the chord progression and sluggish momentum of “Last Dance with Mary Jane” (which, for that matter, Petty has already ripped off from himself, using and reusing it for 30 years). Maybe Tom won’t gain consciousness before this album is released, or else Cracker might have a lawsuit on their hands.
The album opener, “Brides of Neptune” is perhaps the strongest tune on the album, partially because it is so different in tone from all Forever’s others. It’s a fantastical, brooding, imagistic landscape of a song — vividly invoking mermaids and monkey guards (a completely left-field addition that I loved) and pot dealers on pirate ships. What follows “Brides of Neptune” is never as lingering or beautiful as this song.
What momentum Cracker does build up with its album’s solid, sometimes driven tunes, is unfortunately sapped by the final song, “What You’re Missing.” This is one of those final “party” songs so indicative of ’90s rock, in which we are supposed to hear just how much fun it must be to be in the band and to record an album. It worked for Counting Crows on This Desert Life, with the hidden track (and best song on the album) “Kid Things.”
It does not work for the boys of Cracker. With sloppy instrumentals, playful, awful pseudo-rapping and a bevy of un-funny Cracker in-jokes, “What You’re Missing” is a perfect example of the excesses of a band that isn’t quite as good, quite as clever as they think they are, like so many of Cracker’s comrades, most of whom are now defunct. And for good reason.
It’s a frustrating, self-indulgent end to a harmless record.
Forever is an ambient rock album. It’s good music to write a music review to, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t sit down and simply listen to it. In the end, the songs become indistinguishable from one another, melting into mediocrity with choruses that are simply repetitions of the title of the song.
That’s not a rock ‘n’ roll sin; it’s been done before, but it’s not going to win me as a fan.
The sound and worth of Cracker are encapsulated in lead singer Lowery’s voice, a rock drawl outstanding in no way. As soon as he finishes a line, Lowery’s voice fades from our memory. The great voices of rock hang in the air, lingering in the room, the musical equivalent of smoke. You can’t un-hear them. They scar you.
No such luck for Lowery. His voice is a serviceable center to a completely serviceable record.