Cracker: Greenland 

Every bar has one, even the yuppie joints with the polished brasswork and the meat-market lights. You know who I mean: the guy who sits at the end of the bar from happy hour (or sometimes opening hour) until last call, talking to whoever will listen, stumbling home after the bartender gives him the heave-ho. Maybe he's lonely, maybe he's a drunk, but he's always there. If that guy had any musical talent and the desire to cut a record, it would come out sounding like Cracker's newest release, Greenland.

Sounds like it ought to be depressing, but it actually works out closer to weary. This is, after all, the band that David Lowery went on to found after pulling the plug on Camper Van Beethoven, and the anarchic glee that band trafficked in ("Take the Skinheads Bowling," anyone?) is still lurking below the surface. Most of how it comes out is in abrasive wit, as in "I Need Better Friends," or in surprising musical interludes like "Minotaur," which takes a jazzy jam-band spin on the hardscrabble roots rock that Cracker has been playing for the last couple of albums. There's even a little bit of sonic experimentation here, as in the string arrangements on "Night Falls."

Lowery, always a surprising and talented songwriter, isn't afraid to let a less-flattering world view loose on this set, and the skill and conviction he and his bandmates bring to the songs make Greenland a deeper, darker experience than they've been associated with before. It's a surprising development, but a welcome one and well worth the sticker price.

--Brandon Nolta

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