Sunday, 29 June 2008

Review - Camper Van Beethoven - Popular Songs Of Great Enduring Strength And Beauty

Camper Van Beethoven - Popular Songs Of Great Enduring Strength And Beauty

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7 out of 10

Even in the late '80s golden age of eclectic American punk, hardcore and alt. rock, cult Californians Camper Van Beethoven stood out. They played the same venues as the Minutemen, Sonic Youth and Black Flag but fund the punk and hardcore scene too restrictive, often confounding crowds by mixing country, ska and folk from Mexico and Eastern Europe into their sound (In no small part due to violinist and mandolin player John Segel). That they shared a label with REM, Black Sabbath and Jools Holland probably says more about CVB than the posters reproduced in the booklet accompanying this compilation. After disbanding in 1990, they got back together again in 2000 and put out their first record for fifteen years in 2004, 'New Roman Times'. This is a collection of songs from their initial 1985-1990 period, some of which have been re-recorded but you'd hardly notice.

Never afraid to be stupid or absurd, CVB sang lo-fi, Pixies-esque punk rock about Lassie going to the moon and sounded like ZZ Top playing songs about ZZ Top going to Egypt in the face of punks who took themselves too seriously. They covered a Status Quo song about the artist L.S. Lowry ('Pictures Of Matchstick Men') and had a unique take on punk's class war. On 'Opie Rides Again/Club Med Sucks', sounding like grungy hillbillies, they shout, "Authority sucks! I hate golf! Authority sucks! I want to play lacrosse!"

Their best songs, however, are some of the more straightforward ones, sunny fan's favourite 'Take The Skinheads Bowling' and 'Ambiguity Song', which act as a precursor to The Hold Steady's more literary bar band rock. The highly strung 'Seven Languages' and the post-punky (With sitars) 'Circles' follow similarly conventional lines, but CVB can be obscure with a straight face too. Country numbers like 'Sad Lovers' Waltz' and 'When I Win The Lottery' are good songs, as are the ska instrumentals 'Border Ska' and 'Skinhead Stomp'. A bizarre and occasionally brilliant compilation.


1. The Day Lassie Went To The Moon
2. Border Ska
3. Take The Skinheads Bowling
4. Pictures Of Matchstick Men
5. Skinhead Stomp
6. Opie Rides Again/Club Med Sucks
7. Eye Of Fatima Parts 1 & 2
8. ZZ Top Goes To Egypt
9. Sad Lovers' Waltz
10. When I Win The Lottery
11. The History Of Utah
12. Seven Languages
13. All Her Favourite Fruit
14. Good Guys And Bad Guys
15. Circles
16. One Of These Days
17. Ambiguity Song
18. Shut Us Down

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