5 out of 5
Label: SpinART / Cooking Vinyl
Produced by: Various
Camper Van Beethoven’s various early releases were maybe never especially hard to track down, but they also weren’t of the same used-bin caliber as, say, Cracker’s Kerosene Hat – that is, something so ubiquitous that you can pretty much be assured most any CD shop will have one in racks, and likely to be found in, like, Good Wills and whatnot as well. But CVB – and Cracker, for that matter, though less so – are one of those bands who are not exactly cult, as they’re too known for that, but they’re not exactly popular, either. Certainly enough people owned their material, meaning if you do a dedicated (non-internet) search, you can likely find some reasonably priced copies, and so by the early 2000s, I was already sitting pretty on a CVB collection. However, you’re damn right that I like convenience, and that collection wasn’t exclusively in CD form, or maybe of the best sound quality. So when SpinART / Cooking Vinyl announced reissues, plus a ton of bonus material, it was the kind of release that really sung to me, and really felt worth it, even for those albums I did already own in a couple of formats, like Telephone Free Landslide Victory.
But I get that the above effort – a few steps beyond just going to a store and stumbling across something – isn’t going to be worth it for someone who’s heard Take the Skinheads Bowling before, or liked that Low song, and wants to check out this Camper Van act, and even those reissues could be a puzzle: 4 different albums at once? Which to buy?
So although it sucks for getting CVB a paycheck, this reissue sampler – a freebie promo that was pretty ubiquitous around the time of those reissues (you could definitely find it in plenty of used bins at that point) – is pretty much perfect for your casually interested listener, and could almost act like a greatest hits of sorts.
You get an appreciative selection – 4 or 5 songs – from each of the reissues, and it’s a mix of both singles and some off-album cuts. Sequencing might’ve been accidental – the group’s growth from slacker anarchists to more layered popsters was a natural progression – but even the Vantiquities tracks featured here (a compilation album that had some early material plus rarities) tend to lean toward their later, richer sound, suggesting that some thought was put in to what might work best as a disc. And the cardboard sleeve packaging does all the advertising you could ask for: clearly detailing which songs are from which album, and showing you album covers and catalogue numbers to make it especially easy to go track down more, if’n you’re so inclined.
Even as a bum who owns this stuff, I put this on now and again as a compressed run through CVB’s ska and rock and punk and pop stylings, reigniting a desire to listen in full to whichever album. But if I wanted to introduce someone to the band, this would also be a best bet to balance out their humor with their polish, and absolutely zero clutter.