Camper Van Beethoven: Key Lime Pie, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

camper van beethoven
Camper Van Beethoven
Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
Key Lime Pie
(Omnivore)
4 out of 5 stars

By being indie and alternative folk before either term was officially coined, California’s Camper Van Beethoven weren’t a natural first choice to sign with a major label. They had already released four albums reveling in something they described as “surrealist, absurdist folk” before being cherry picked as corporate fodder in 1988.

But fans who disparaged this career change as selling out only had to listen to Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart to understand that besides better sound, packaging and promotion, little changed in the group’s idiosyncratic mash-up of folk, reggae, gypsy music, prog and garage rock. David Lowery’s offbeat lyrics and dry Cali dude slacker vocals were easier to hear but no less obtuse or humorous than before, and Jonathan Segel’s fiddle lines still pushed each track outside of any discernible comfort zone. In short, the shift from indie to major only helped solidify the band’s disparate roots into more focused songs without watering down their enthusiastically eclectic take the skinheads bowling approach.

A year later Segel was gone, replaced by Morgan Fichter, and while 1989’s Key Lime Pie had plenty of what made CVB so enticing, the mojo was largely missing and the outfit disbanded while on tour. There were still some top notch songs like “When I Win the Lottery” and their cover of the Status Quo psychedelic nugget “Pictures of Matchstick Men” (a minor college radio hit at the time), but the inevitable personality tensions conspired to make this a notch or two below their best work.

Regardless, hearing both these reissues today—with crisply remastered audio, 19 bonus tracks between them, enhanced booklets with rare photos and interesting if highfalutin, somewhat pretentious liner notes from writer Jill Stauffer – makes you appreciate how unique and uncompromising CVB were, even after hooking up with the Virgin label suits. A quarter century after their recording, both discs sound remarkably fresh, spirited and genre pushing even in their less inspired moments. Last year’s unexpectedly regrouping for the surprisingly solid La Costa Perdida proved that their style remains distinctive and more importantly hasn’t dated since their heyday.

Credit the Omnivore label and compilation producer Greg Allen for rescuing these influential gems from cutout purgatory and treating these classy, imaginatively expanded reissues (available separately), with the care and respect they deserve. Only the lack of printed lyrics prevents them from being near perfect.

Camper Van Beethoven warranted better than being a footnote from the burgeoning indie rock scene of the ’80s, and these reissues help restore the luster to a wildly talented act many had, especially in the wake of Lowery’s more rock oriented Cracker outfit, simply forgotten about.

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A.J. Croce

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