CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN: CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN IS DEAD, LONG LIVE CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN (2000)
1) Broadcasting Live From The MCI; 2) L'Aguardiente; 3) Tom Flower's 1500 Valves; 4) All Her Favorite Fruit (orchestral version); 5) Closing Theme; 6) Loose Lips Sink Ships; 7) Who Are The Brain Police?; 8) Stayin' At Home With The Girls In The Morning; 9) Klondike; 10) S.P. 37957 Medley; 11) Balalaika Gap (demo); 12) The Perfect Enigma Machine; 13) We're All Wasted And We're Wasting All Your Time.
Leave it to Camper Van Beethoven to make an ideal mess out of a comeback-reunion album. After a decade of independent projects, such as Lowery's Cracker, Lowery, Krummenacher, and Segel come together to see if there's still any future left for the good old Camper — the proper test being the ability to produce a record of unpredictable, but controlled chaos and see if it holds water. (Spoiler: if it does hold water, it's probably not worth a damn. Who needs a Camper Van Beethoven that holds water, rather than spills it all on your pants?).
Many of the song titles here are recognizable from past records: in fact, upon first glance one might actually take this for a live album, but only a few tracks seem to come from actual live performances, with the others being an eclectic mix of old demo versions, outtakes, and some newly recorded material, all purportedly tangled together with the aim of not letting you properly distinguish between «vintage» CvB and «modern» CvB. Accordingly, I'm not even going to try to sort this out or focus on minor details, such as, for instance, ʽBalalaika Gapʼ being almost the same track as the original, only a little bit slower, or ʽWasting All Your Timeʼ being exactly the same track as it used to be on the Take The Skinheads Bowling EP, for some reason.
Of the new, or, at least, previously unheard material, some relative highlights are: (a) ʽS.P. 37957 Medleyʼ — a six-minute mash-up of Led Zeppelin's ʽDazed And Confusedʼ with ʽHava Nagilaʼ, because, I mean, what two songs in the world could be spiritually closer to each other?; (b) ʽL'Aguardienteʼ, a cool acoustic-and-violin instrumental (featuring Morgan Fichter and actually played live) that, technically, is also a mash-up, with Iberian flamenco motives seamlessly flowing into Balkan dance music and vice versa; (c) ʽKlondikeʼ, a long, morose, dreary country waltz with quite a bit of a Leonard Cohen vibe to it.
Curiously, all of these excellent tracks are quite lengthy, whereas shorter tracks tend to float by as relatively unnoticed, or relatively unimpressive — thus, there's really no point in Camper Van Beethoven covering Zappa's ʽWho Are The Brain Police?ʼ, an originally mega-weird track that could not be made any weirder by anybody; and brief instrumentals such as ʽClosing Themeʼ, an exercise «progressive blues-rock», are simply boring, because nobody in the band could play the guitar at the level of «guitar hero» anyway (incidentally, the song was at one time available under the tongue-in-cheek title of ʽGuitar Heroʼ). They still get by on the strength of diversity — almost every single track is in a genre of its own — so, ultimately, it's still fun, and the orchestrated version of ʽAll Her Favorite Fruitʼ even adds a bit of a baroque-pop flavor which, so far, has not been noticed on any CvB record at all.
Like Vantiquities, this is primarily a record for completists, but its release at the turn of the century may have been somewhat symbolic — a reminder that there will always be a place for a bit of post-modern surrealism in the new millennium as well, even as, with all these covers of Zappa and Led Zeppelin, it is obvious that Lowery & Co.'s primary influences are still firmly rooted in the past: be it a resurrection of old recordings or work on the new ones, there is no attempt to recognize any of the «progress» that the musical world went through in the Nineties, and you certainly won't find me complaining about this.