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If John Fogerty had been born a cynic instead of idealist, he might have been Cracker's David Lowery and come up with something like this: wiry, fundamental, bass-drums-guitar rock that bleeds hurt and bitterness, lyrics about stranded cosmonauts and beheaded starlets sung in an insistent sneer. With Cracker's second album, Lowery stakes his claim as American rock's premier crank.
Fortunately, he also has the humor and hooks to cut through "Kerosene Hat's" rough terrain. It sometimes sounds like a broadly parodic hoot, touches of Beefheart-like documentary weirdness reflect the stir-crazy spirit of its high-desert recording site, and the jokes extend to hiding bonus songs on CD tracks 69, 88 and 99.
These threads don't always mesh with Lowery's more pointed commentaries and evocative imagery, and "Kerosene Hat" tends to wear out its welcome, like a party guest whose provocations initially liven things up but eventually threaten to send everyone home early. But when Lowery pulls out something like "Infirmary," a Stones-like country dirge that summons a chilling vulnerability, it's clear that he's a crank with a heart.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).