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1 October 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart' (Virgin)

The big sound of Dennis Herring rips out of the speakers here. This is Camper Van Beethoven's major-label debut, the last record with Jonathan Segel, and the first time the band will stack the cards in favour of non-funny songwriting. This is also the first Camper Van Beethoven album I ever heard, and I was lucky enough to check it out from the public library some fateful day in the early 90s. This is a damn solid set of songs, though it pains me to realise now that they are a bit less meaningful to me than they used to be -- despite being probably more meaningful to D. Lowery, get it? For while 'The History of Utah' might be a bit of nonsense, it's was dramatic, inspiring absurdity at one point in my listening days. And now it's easier for me to recall than feeling than to connect with songs like 'One of these Days'. It's like stepping halfway towards true expression - but don't worry, we'll get here. There's still surrealism all over Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. 'Eye of Fatima pt. 1' is an 80s reinvention of Blegvad's 'Casablanca Moon' and 'She Divines Water' is maybe the most perfect merging of sentimental acoustic-janglestrum and epic nonsense. The instrumentals are decent enough - sounding not a million miles away from Telephone Free's sound but with far more baroque production - the power-folk of 'Eye of Fatima pt 2', the rolling 'Waka' and the dirge-like 'The Fool' are all excellent (and the traditional 'O Death' fits better with these than the other vocal songs). 'The Devil Song' has a meandering modal guitar line that makes it a keeper, and the stunning gypsy stomp of 'Tania' (a song for Patty Hearst that's just as much history lesson as fingerpicking madness) is still breathtaking. 'Life is Grand' seemingly addresses their major label sell-out in the same chuckling way that all of their other albums end, bearing a structural resemblance to 'No More Bullshit' but with the maturity of a few more years packed in. The horn sections are the most obvious sound of WEA/Virgin/Atlantic's investment, but on 'Turquoise Jewelry' they sound kinda cheap and fake, like some thin ska-core tune. It's when the band slows it down a notch that I enjoy this record the most -- 'Change Your Mind''s lyric of 'How far can you walk/in a night so restless?' presages the beauty to come one album later. But don't worry, we're almost there.

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