Cracker may be best known for their 1993 single, “Low,” and its prominent use of the word “stoned” in its chorus. In another well-known song, “Teen Angst,” lead singer David Lowery claims, “What the world needs now is another folk singer like I need a hole in my head.” Some of you may even remember them as the band that made Uncle Cracker change his name from the more succinct and apt moniker “Cracker” (seriously). Many of you may not know what the hell I’m talking about. But what I bet most of you don’t know about Cracker is that they were one of the best rock bands of the ’90s.
Born out of the ashes of the college-rock favorites Camper Van Beethoven when they broke up in 1990, Cracker fused the eclecticism of that band with a country sensibility to create an alternative/rock/country mix that sounds totally new and totally familiar at the same time. Yet besides Kerosene Hat’s flirtation with platinum sales, the band has never received the attention it deserved.
Listening to Kerosene Hat, it’s hard to understand why. There’s hardly a dud song on the whole album. Besides two incredibly catchy singles — “Low” and “Get Off This,” which display everything that was right about early ’90s pop rock — the album offers numerous other pleasures, such as the beautiful “I Want Everything” and the jingly pop gem “Nostalgia.”
The album’s highlight, though, comes on track 69 with the song “Eurotrash Girl.” (That’s right, track 69. There are 57 blank tracks of four seconds each before you get to it. And if the fact that the album has a song on track 69 doesn’t make you want to go out and buy it right now, I don’t what will.) Over a rock-solid, laid-back country groove, lead singer Lowery sings of backpacking through Europe, selling his blood in Amsterdam, sleeping in a fountain in Athens and getting ripped off by a Swiss junkie in Turin, all while searching unsuccessfully for his “angel in black.” It’s a great song, and it contains, for my money, one of the greatest shout-out choruses of all time, yelling “Eurotrash girl!” over and over.
Although the lyrics of Cracker’s songs occasionally verge towards the too-precious and self-consciously wacky — see the song “Movie Star,” which contains the lyrics: “The movie star/She crashed her car/But everyone said she was beautiful even without her head/Everyone said she was dangerous.” But the music is never anything less than straightforward. Studio tricks are nowhere to be found on Kerosene Hat, save for the Peter Framptonish wah-wah guitar lick on “Get Off This.”
Nine years ago, considering myself the luckiest 12-year-old in the whole wide world, I sat in the fifth row with my parents for a triple-bill concert with Cracker, the Gin Blossoms and the Spin Doctors, all of whom were at the height of their popularity. Since then, the Gin Blossoms have disbanded, and the Spin Doctors survive only as a nostalgia band, playing “Two Princes” and “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” on a loop to drunken frat boys who can’t remember the words but sing along anyway. Only Cracker has continued to grind the rock ‘n’ roll ax, putting out five albums over 11 years, all of them exceptional, especially their 1992 self-titled debut album and 2002’s Forever. But Kerosene Hat finds them at their least affected and most catchy. It’s simply a terrific rock album filled with great hooks, solid grooves and catchy, sing-along choruses. What more could you ask for from a rock ‘n’ roll band?