It's been ten years since old friends Johnny Hickman and David Lowery decided to re-team and form the rock-country outfit Cracker. Since then, the band has released four full-lengths, a "Best of", an EP, and innumerable contributions to soundtracks and tribute albums. On Forever
, Cracker proves that they still have what it takes to compete in the highly saturated field of rock and roll.
What makes Cracker's sound so attractive is its simplicity. Built largely around the poetic yearnings and sardonic musings of college radio hero Lowery, sweetened with the innately tasteful and continental guitar playing of Hickman, the band's sound hasn't ceased to entertain.
The danger for any established artist is of repeating oneself, and Forever does contain some very familiar moments. "Ain't it Strange", written at the time of Cracker's first LP, Cracker Brand, has that album's same good time vibe. "Sweet Magdalena of My Misfortune" is another go at Kerosene Hat's "Take Me Down to the Infirmary", and "Miss Santa Cruz County" could easily swap bridges with "Can I Take My Gun Up to Heaven". Cracker also adds a few new styles to their purview -- the British cheekiness of "Shine", the redemptive slow menace of "One Fine Day", and the funkiness of "What You're Missing" (for better or worse, but mostly for better).
In many ways, Cracker also fulfills the promise set forth by the their masterpiece The Golden Age and the brooding Gentleman's Blues. Recorded in the band's Sound of Music studio in Richmond, a staple hard rocker like "Guarded By Monkeys" now receives a preamble in the form of a throaty cello that announces the guitar riff -- a sign of increased attention to production. The disc's first track, "Brides of Neptune", is also a signal that Cracker is more comfortable throwing in samples and keyboard-based accompaniment. The song, although solid, suffers from the lack of a third verse and an extended outro/chorus -- an arrangement that has worked well for Cracker in the past, but now seems well-worn at best.
Niggling flaws aside, Cracker has produced a truly solid album, which augurs well for the ten years ahead. If I were you, I'd go and place an advance order for their next few discs.