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30 September 2010

Camper Van Beethoven (Pitch-A-Tent/Rough Trade)

You'd think by the psychedelic cover and classic-style riffings that these boys are outing themselves as neo-hippies for the third album. I mean, they're noticing Jerry's daughter (and using a firstname basis with Mr. Garcia) and soon they'll probably start hanging out with Poi Dog Pondering if they're not careful. But flip it over and look at the amateurish scrawl of the Bic pen, and it all makes sense. The target of Lowery's seemingly endless bucket of bile is just being refocused - except it's not endless, it's pretty much the last gasp before major-label recognition and Dennis Herring production. So the sixties return with a vengeance (like herpes), though actually there's so many Led Zeppelin references here maybe we should include the 70s as well. Of course these guys are deconstructing retro/revivalism in their usual way and why not? As long as that shadow is going to loom over rock music, it's fair game. 'Good Guys and Bad Guys' was one of the iconic CVB tunes for this teenager, but now it sounds just a bit too trite for me. Though the triumphant keyboard/violin part and feelgood lyrics are certainly delivered with tongue embedded firmly in cheek, I think their edge is gone. Political satire works best when you don't dig too deeply, or maybe that's the point. I still love this third album, just in different ways, and largely due to the more progressive and experimental edges on the surrealism. Case in point - 'The History of Utah'. Yeah, it's inherently as nonsensical as any of the Telephone Free jams, but with a relentless minor-key sawing and bizarre song structure. 'We Love You' is the best version of 'Devil Went Down to Georgia' I've ever heard, and 'Shut Us Down' continues their "last song on the album" style - simple, anthemic, and self-mocking. Some of the instrumentals are a bit tempered - the cover of 'Interstellar Overdrive' notwithstanding that this heretic believes to surpass the original - there's more of a tendency towards folk and country exaggerations, and why not? Eugene Chadbourne is billed as a full band member here and if you listen to 'Hoe Yourself Down' you'll hear why. But 'Stairway to Heavan (sic)' is a dysfunctional, overstudio'd fuckup of 'Mao Reminisces' and it's kind of awesome. If you want to hear beautiful songwriting you're going to have to wait, cause apart from maybe the beautiful (perhaps misplaced?) 'Folly' and 'Une Fois' (which is brief and unintelligible), the lyrics are staying distinctly distanced from human emotions. Jonathan Segel's 'Still Wishing to Course' is maybe the exception, but it's a bit of a dud, which would have been better suited to his Storytelling solo album. 'Peace + Love' is also a winner, though it's really the CVB version of 'The Murder Mystery' (or 'The Gift') with Victor Krummenacher (I think) narrating this dark tale. But I always like experiments like this, and there's some great backwards guitar soloing here that I assume are Mr. Chadbourne in action. There are times when I forget that this is supposed to be a rock band, and this is the album that most reminds me of that. But maybe I want CVB to be something else?

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