Sunday, March 12, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
In one of their songs, the band sings the line, “This is Cracker soul.” Huh? What exactly is Cracker soul? Is it alt-rock or cow-punk? Camper van Beethoven stripped down? Could it be as simple as just a closing number to a live set? Or could it be a Southern Caucasian in search of himself? Maybe it’s all of these things twisted together, and perhaps the new DVD will give us another clue, so join us now as we explore Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker.
Let’s start with “Who is Cracker?” Shortly after the breakup of Camper van Beethoven, front man David Lowery formed the band Cracker along with guitarist John Hickman. With their combined skills they managed to come up with a sound mixture of country cow-punk and straightforward rock and roll. With Hickman’s playing and Lowery’s lyrics, you get a sound that reflects the very name of the band. Give this band a spin at their best and you’ll understand perfectly.
As for Cracker soul, the DVD helps in the understanding of that question. The disk, which is divided into two parts, opens with four videos and a live performance on MTV’s 120 Minutes. The first video is the wild “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” revered for the sentiment, “what the world needs now/is another folk singer/like I need a hole in the head.” The video opens in an acoustic setting with the band in a circle singing the infamous lyrics. After a direct shot of the sun, the video becomes a bit more polished, yet still maintains its low budget feel. We see the band playing in a farm field and then running amuck after a plane comes swooping down on them in North By Northwest fashion. Throughout we see scenes of David riding a motorcycle and being followed by a dog, an odd yet interesting first look at Cracker.
The next video is the first of two filmed in black and white. “Low”, is one of the band’s biggest hits and the one that put them on the map. This video features Sandra Bernhard driving around angrily on her way to a boxing match with Lowery, who sings in a boxing ring throughout the video. Maybe the boxing is a ploy to throw people off of the drug reference in the lyrics, who knows? Whatever the reason, it makes for an entertaining little piece of film. Also interesting to note is the fact that I couldn’t help thinking that Lowery looks a whole lot like Huntz Hall of Bowery Boys fame. Especially with the whole boxing thing, I keep expecting Leo Gorcey to run over and slap him a few times and call him, “you mug.”
“Get Off This” comes from another live segment from MTV’s 120 minutes. It’s a good song with a steady-driving beat and funky guitar, again there are classic Lowery lyrics, such as “If you want to change the world shut your mouth and start this minute.” The video is your standard live clip moving in and out from various cameras on each member of the band.
From here, we move to a true Cracker classic, the lyrically stylish “Euro Trash Girl.” It’s the second black and white video and is the song I like best of the videos. It sounds like a traditional country rocker, but the Lowery lyrics make it seem almost a country spoof. I say, “almost,” because of the lyrical content, yet as I said I am very fond of this number and the video. Here we have Lowery looking like a “good guy” cowboy in his ten-gallon white hat. There are girls in a police line-up, shots of Lowery in front of the Luxor in Vegas and in front of Easter Island heads. Hickman is on his search as well in parks and all over the city, all in an effort to find that “Euro Trash Girl.”
The last of the videos is for “I Hate My Generation”. This song and video are way too much of a Nirvana imitation for me. We’re never really sure with Cracker if they’re serious or spoofing something, then again they could be saying something right there in the fact that they are trying to be too Nirvanaish. The song is angry and delivered in a yell; the video even has the same feel as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I think it’s too much and too far from this band’s originality and base to be taken seriously, it just doesn’t work for them. Their image here is even more of the stereotypical grunge look, complete with shoulder length hair, a la Kurt Cobain. Although I do think the song has potential if it was done in more of the Cracker style.
The second part of the DVD is the meat and potatoes for this band. Here in this 40 minutes of live footage taken from December 4, 1993 is where we find the answer to our question, “What is Cracker soul? I’ve seen Cracker live once before with a friend of mine who knew more about the band than I did. I had heard of the band and CVB as well but had never really heard any of the music, so I went and had a good time.
Watching the live part of the disk brought back a flood of memories from the show, the feel of the music and the energy of the crowd. Live the band does all their fan favorites and puts on a good show, nothing flashy, no jumping around or guitar spins, just straight-ahead rock and roll with a country feel. These guys totally come alive on stage at full force with Hickman playing like a madman and doing back-up vocals for Lowery. The bass is more prominent live as well, giving off a Love (the Arthur Lee band from the ‘60s) sort of sound. These guys are definitely house rockers.
Evident from this ‘93 footage is the fact that the crowd responds well to songs they love. I can clearly recall the anticipation to the chorus of “Euro Trash Girl”. These cats rock so hard that my father even digs their sound and this man only digs one kind of blues, Chicago. So that’s just one more testament to the power Cracker live. And as a bonus we get to hear John Hickman sing lead on “Lonesome Johnny Blues.” He does a fine job and has a very good voice for this solid country rocker done in a Johnny Cash fashion. With that boom-chicka-boom sort of sound, certainly a highlight to the live set. The live set ends with “This Is Cracker Soul,” a kind of band goodnight to the crowd; it’s a fun number and a good way to end the show.
Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker does indeed provide us with a look at this unique band in their prime and answers the question of “What is Cracker soul?” It’s a twisted form of roots country presented in a solid rock drive that you can’t help but groove to and dig. For not being a really big fan, I dug this disk very much and now have a greater desire to hear more from them and to see them live once again now that I have more of greater knowledge of the songs. For true hardcore Cracker fans, this DVD will be that much more special and fun to watch.