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Cracker is a great live band, but the group’s incessant touring seems to have taken its toll on David Lowery’s songwriting, flattening out his songs into near-tuneless one-riff workouts and leading him to toil exclusively in road-tested tempos and genres. Apart from a couple of Angelo Badalamenti-ish touches (“Dixie Babylon,” “Bicycle Spaniard”), the songs on Cracker’s new disc are all direct descendants of tunes on the group’s first two albums. Lowery’s stylistic range is so compressed that listening to Golden straight through creates a feeling of déjà entendu; some of the songs seem to be on there twice: “Big Dipper” and “I Can’t Forget You,” “Nothing to Believe In” (Warning: Features Joan Osborne) and “Sweet Thistle Pie,” “I Hate My Generation” and “100 Flower Power Maximum.” Still, two factors make Golden quite appealing despite Lowery’s self-repetition and the fact that his beautiful-loser tales don’t really add up to anything: Lowery’s ingratiating slacker tour-guide persona, and lead guitarist Johnny Hickman, who consistently takes Lowery’s melody-challenged songs and comes up with just enough of a riff or solo to hold them together. —James Lochart