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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Camper Van Beethoven: Camper Vantiquities


1) Heart; 2) Never Go Back; 3) Seven Languages; 4) Axe Murderer Song; 5) SP37957; 6) Crossing Over; 7) Guar­dian Angels; 8) I'm Not Like Everybody Else; 9) A. C. Cover; 10) Porpoise Mouth; 11) We Workers Do Not Under­stand Modern Art; 12) We Eat Your Children; 13) Six More Miles To The Graveyard; 14) Ice Cream Everyday; 15) Processional; 16) Photograph / Om Eye.

Naturally, with the band no longer existing, what a better time to start digging in the vaults? From the loving hands of bassist Victor Krummenacher comes this odds-and-ends package that inclu­ded, in its entirety, the EP Vampire Can Mating Oven, originally released in 1987, along with ten previously unreleased tracks from various sessions. Considering that the EP is also available today on the expanded CD issue of the self-titled third album, and that the non-EP odds-and-ends do not add any startling surprises to what we already know about the Campers, this is not a very essential release, but still a nice one.

Actually, Mating Oven was a damn fine EP that is well worth having in any configuration. It has some of the band's catchiest tunes — Lowery's ʽHeartʼ is a very ʽOb-La-Di Ob-La-Daʼ-esque piece of guitar-based ska-pop, with an almost unnoticeable tongue-in-cheek attitude; ʽNever Go Backʼ is also ska-pop, but this time with a swampy slide guitar lead and a folksier vocal melody, ironically admonishing us all to "never go back" (nice to hear from a band that always went back... then again, to be fair, it's more like they were all walking forwards while looking back­wards); ʽIce Cream Everydayʼ is one of their few stabs at synth-pop, with cold electronic patterns matching the "ice cream" lyrics — not great, but amusing; and leave it to Camper Van Beethoven to resort to «oblique strategies» and pull a Ringo Starr cover out of their sleeve — ʽPhotographʼ remains as cool as the day Ringo and George put the final touches on it, though there's hardly anything of importance that the band adds to it here (unless you are so seriously biased against Ringo as a singer and as an artist that you only agree to listen to his good stuff when it's being done by somebody else — in which case, shame on you).

The one true masterpiece on the EP, however, is ʽSeven Languagesʼ, one of Camper's most blissfully arranged tracks — funky, with a threatening, serpentine, «poisonous» wah-wah lead line driving the song, light-Gothic keyboards, and lyrics that could, for once, relate to most of us as we bumble through life without really managing to do anything worthwhile. If only there were some space left for hooks in the vocal melody, it could be a great classic of the decade — as it is, it does not quite amount to, say, the level of mopey Cure classics, but it comes fairly close.

As for the rest of the tracks, it's mostly generic CvB rootsy stuff — sometimes with really cool titles like ʽWe Workers Do Not Understand Modern Artʼ (seems like an early version of or a vari­ation on the ʽMao Reminiscesʼ instrumental, actually), sometimes with really incongruent titles (ʽWe Eat Your Childrenʼ is a bit of Mexican folk, with prominent acoustic lead parts — unless we're talking real tender, playful, soothing cannibalism here), and sometimes with shocking lyrics (ʽAxe Murderer Songʼ is like Lennon's ʽWorking Class Heroʼ, only with a completely new set of existentialist questions such as "why do axe murderers only attack when we're making love?"). Hiding somewhere in the middle is another randomly gratuitous cover of a classic — this time it's ʽI'm Not Like Everybody Elseʼ by The Kinks, a song that could certainly serve as a household anthem for Lowery and Co., but hardly one which they could sing in a more defiant and aggres­sive manner than Dave Davies.

So, overall, this is essential for completists, and a few of the tracks from Mating Ovens are essential for best-of compilations; the stylistic world of Camper Van Beethoven is so large and diverse that even here you can still discover some sorely missing pieces of the whole puzzle. But, of course, odds-and-ends will always be odds-and-ends.

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