Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey

Rating: 2.0

Label: 429 Records

Not to sound like a jerk, but Cracker’s still together? I listened to their first two albums in college and saw them play at Chicago’s Metro with Counting Crows (how’s that for a 1990s double bill?), but lost track of them after their third album The Golden Age. Formed after leader David Lowery’s more eclectic band Camper Van Beethoven split (they’ve since reformed), Cracker played conventional smart-assed guitar rock at a time when guys with guitars were all the rage. They scored a couple of catchy hits with “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and the once ubiquitous “Low,” both staples of early ’90s “alternative” radio. Like Counting Crows, the Wallflowers and Sheryl Crow, they were labeled “rootsy,” which meant their songs gave occasional hints of non-rock influences like country, blues and folk.

The ironically optimistically titled Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey is the band’s eighth album (including a CD of country versions of cover songs). The constants have always been Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman. Longtime drummer Frank Funaro has played with Joey Ramone and the Dictators and there is some punk energy and spirit here. Yet mostly what’s here is generic, by-the-numbers bar band rock with clichéd lyrics like “Dying is easy/ It’s livin’ that’s hard.” The songs’ titles go a long way in suggesting a lack of originality: “Darling One,” “Friends,” “We All Shine a Light.” The better songs are the more wistful, country-rock ones like “Turn on Tune in Drop out with Me,” but nothing really stands out and they fade almost immediately after listening. The closest they get to relevancy is the title of the first song, “Yalla Yalla (Let’s Go),” which is Arabic, but has none of the exoticism of the places (Dubai, Kuwait City) that are name checked. Lowery mentions Captain Beefheart in “Friends;” even a hint of the Captain’s avant-garde weirdness would be appreciated here.

For better or worse, Cracker soldier on, doing what they have always done. Longtime fans may see it as a mark of integrity that they haven’t changed much since their burst of popularity. But they seem rather sadly out of date, like Friends or grunge fashion. Adam Duritz, who knows a thing or two about short-lived popularity, even guests on a song. Cracker gets points for still being around but they do sound stuck in the Clinton years.

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