With “Brides Of Neptune,” the intro track on Forever, David Lowery employs a self-referential device in which he uses bits of lyrics found in upcoming songs, ala The Afghan Whigs’ LP Gentlemen. But David is, strangely enough, singing about monkeys (he mentions them several times throughout the album, usually of some ferocious variety); and his frequently cryptic lyrics risk devolution into outright nonsense. Yet he escapes trivialization by a hair’s breadth, resulting in a full-length that comes closer to the band’s near-perfect 1996 release, The Golden Age, and saves them from the exercise in mediocrity that was Gentlemen’s Blues.
Forever has other parallels with The Golden Age. The sound is rich and textural through studio manipulation, without becoming too cumbersome. So at its core, Forever is the same countrified, American roots-rock that Lowery began back in the days of Camper Van Beethoven, but it’s been updated to be played alongside contemporary music that owes its very existence to the studio. And that dichotomy might explain why ex-CVB member Victor Krummenacher appears as a guest musician along with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, a studio band if there ever were one. There are ties to the first self-titled Cracker record, too. Witness the visceral organ riffs of “One Fine Day,” the soulful backup singers on “Guarded By Monkeys,” and the self-deprecating, trailer park humour in “What You’re Missing.”
Over the past 11 years, each Cracker record has had its share of minor achievements and highlights. The true achievement was just a matter of learning from experience and putting them together. Weak spots in the repertoire are still Hickman’s solo tunes (“Superfan” here; his only success being “Another Song About the Rain” from the eponymous debut); though one poor song in 13 isn’t bad odds.
Forever may not be the apex of Cracker’s career or its most quintessential record, but it comes as a relief to those who feared that the band had lost its originality and impetus. As the title of this CD implies, the duo has an endurance that is not always apparent, and will save both critics and former fans from writing them off as another blindly stubborn, past-their-prime outfit.