Monday, January 20, 2014

Camper Van Beethoven: “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” (2014 re-issue) CD Review

Omnivore Recordings is reissuing a couple of excellent Camper Van Beethoven albums, including Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. It’s a total treat to revisit this music. And the re-issue includes plenty of bonus tracks, including several that were previously unreleased. Also, there are new liner notes with several photos.

This album was originally released in 1988, when I was sixteen and constantly looking for good music. It was the year of my first Grateful Dead concert (later, in 1994, I’d see David Lowery’s other band, Cracker, open for the Dead a few times). It was also a time when pop music was largely horseshit, and you sometimes had to search to find songs that meant anything. Stuff on the radio at this time included Billy Ocean, Poison, Paula Abdul, Tiffany, Whitney Houston, Salt-N-Pepa, New Kids On The Block, and Exposé. It was a rough time. But fortunately there were bands like Camper Van Beethoven to balance things out. This band always seemed fearless to me, dipping into various genres and singing precisely what they wanted. And hell, that meant something. You know? This band also has a sense of humor, but refrains from silliness. It's that their unusual perspective often comes across as humorous, something which I appreciate. For example, check out “Tania,” their song about Patty Hearst (“Tania” was the name Patty used during her time with the SLA).

“Eye Of Fatima”

Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart kicks off with “Eye Of Fatima (Pt. 1),” a great burst of pop-rock with unusual lyrics (well, unusual for the typical band, not for Camper Van Beethoven): “And this here’s a government experiment/And we’re driving like hell/To give some cowboys some acid/And to stay in motels/We’re going to eat up some wide open spaces/Like it was cruise up the Nile/Take the hands off the clock/We’re going to be here for a while.”

I like “Eye Of Fatima (Pt. 2)” even more. It begins with this great, repeated, intense acoustic rhythm, then suddenly kicks in with exuberant force. It’s an excellent instrumental track.

There are a couple of other instrumental tracks on this album, including the rock song “Waka” and the wonderfully strange, strangely wonderful track “The Fool.” All aboard the Camper Van Beethoven carnival ride.

“O Death”

The band tackles a traditional tune, “O Death,” giving a great, slow, haunting rendition. Their version is quite a bit different from other versions I’ve heard, with some different lyrics. The violin is what really makes me love this version.

“Turquoise Jewely”

“Turquoise Jewelry” was always one of my favorites, partly because of the sneer in David’s vocals. “Come down from your treehouse condominium/And start driving around that station wagon with the wood on the side/And take off that jumpsuit, you look like Grace Slick/Staying up all night and drinking that 7-Eleven coffee.” The song has a bright power, which always hits me just right. This was, and is, a good one to turn up. Plus, I dig those drums.

“Change Your Mind”

My favorite track of this album is the playful acoustic number, “Change Your Mind.” It has a nice long instrumental intro, and just when you’re settled into it, the vocals begin. I absolutely love the lyrics: “Though the moon may cross from horizon to horizon/Change your mind, you can change your mind/I’ll be glad to let you, even if you walk away.” There is something beautiful about this song.

I also love “Never Go Back.” It has a wonderful, upbeat feel, and some good lyrics.  There might come a time when things between us get just a little bit too weird/We’ll move to different cities for a temporary vacation, but it’s just as you feared/Never go back.”

The original album concludes with another highlight, “Life Is Grand.” This song has some great lyrics: “And love is real/And though I realize this is not a deep observation/To those of you who find it necessary to conceal love, or obscure it, as is the fashion.”

Bonus Tracks

There is more than a half-hour of bonus material, including covers and live tracks. The first few bonus tracks were included on Life Is Grand, the second of which is an excellent cover of The Buzzcocks’ “Harmony In My Head” (The Buzzcocks are another of my favorite bands). Never being afraid of juxtaposition, that punk tune is followed by a wonderful cover of Herb Alpert’s “Wade In The Water.”

There are several live tracks recorded in 1988 and previously unreleased. The first is that delightful tune, “The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon,” recorded in Connecticut. The other five live tracks were all recorded in Massachusetts. They cover The Damned’s “Smash It Up” and Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” (with a bit of Ringo Starr's "Photograph" thrown in for good measure), as well as do original tunes “One Of These Days” and “Seven Languages.”

The CD concludes with “Pope Festival,” an odd tune originally included on At Diane’s Place.

CD Track List

  1. Eye Of Fatima (Pt. 1)
  2. Eye Of Fatima (Pt. 2)
  3. O Death
  4. She Divines Water
  5. Devil Song
  6. One Of These Days
  7. Turquoise Jewelry
  8. Waka
  9. Change Your Mind
  10. My Path Belated
  11. Never Go Back
  12. The Fool
  13. Tania
  14. Life Is Grand
  15. Love Is A Weed
  16. Harmony In My Head
  17. Wade In The Water
  18. Eye Of Fatima Pts. 1 & 2
  19. The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon (live)
  20. One Of These Days (live)
  21. Smash It Up (live)
  22. Seven Languages (live)
  23. Kodachrome (live)
  24. Hanging Around (live)
  25. Pope Festival 

This special re-issue of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. Also scheduled for release on that day is the re-issue of Key Lime Pie, which also has several bonus tracks. Both will also be available on vinyl.

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