Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie

5 out of 5

Produced by: Dennis Herring

Label: Virgin

So here’s what I love about Camper Van Beethoven (…and Cracker, and David Lowery): with 1989’s Key Lime Pie – we’ll call it the ‘first wave’ of the band – CVB went out with a bang: their most mature, genre-subversive, best produced, most catchy, and yet most outright interesting album to that date – without tarnishing the particular glow of past efforts, mind you – and when they would return, decades later, it wasn’t to do the old man shuffle of reliving Skinheads Bowling, rather to continue in the same vein in which they left off.  But that still puts KLP in this unique position at the crux of a long, go-yer-own-way journey from ska-tinged fuckheads to relative radio-knowns, with Cracker – and thus more standard rock n’ roll –  around the corner.  This all translated to room to experiment with a sense of direction.

And that direction is apparent right from the opening track, which takes notes from CVB’s ska / world-music tinged past and gives it a heavy undertone, a somber, waltzing beat, which segues into the bleary, moody Jack Ruby, which fits into a montage of some of Lowery’s most delicious dark moments of ruminations sans snark.  Not that we’ve done away with humor, but even when it’s brought in for good ol’ boy tracks like When I Win the Lottery and (I Was Born In A) Laundromat, there’s still this awareness of the world looming just off the stage of the song; it’s not humor in a bubble, which gives the lyrics and music a wonderful weight.

All Her Favorite Fruit brought in a sudden orchestral flourish which is gorgeous, and makes me wish that was a style Lowery and crew would approach more often; closer Come On Darkness is the perfect baiting closer: shouting into the ether for whatever strangeness is to come.  Prior to that, of course, we get their classic cover of Status Quo’s Pictures of Matchstick Men, which – going to Hell though I may be – is damned better than the original to my ears.  To wrap back around to the enduring quality of this album, while some band’s radio hits – and we can use Cracker’s ‘Low’ as an example – may be misleading entry points to a full disc, while Matchstick Men isn’t indicative of CVB’s less direct style, I don’t think it’s such a bad lure, with that Opening Theme hecka catchy enough to reel you in the rest of the way.