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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Camper van Beethoven

Popular Songs (Cooking Vinyl)

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  It’s time to say it: Camper van Beethoven was one of the great bands of the ’90s. They had a wacky sense of humor that sometimes delivered serious observations. They were a collective, a true band with various songwriters and multi-instrumentalists contributing to a sound that couldn’t be categorized because it took in so many influences.

  Camper’s new retrospective CD shows the band in all its glorious, almost gonzo diversity. They recorded Balkan ska (“Skinhead Stomp”) and Mexican ska (“Border Ska”), psychedelia (“Circles”) and hardcore (“Club Med Sucks”), Appalachian country (“Sad Lover’s Waltz”) and violin-powered prog (“The History of Utah”). There was usually an exuberance underlying the irony, a yearning melody undergirding the comedy. Through it all, Camper van Beethoven managed to pull many threads together in a tapestry of sound recognizably their own.

  Surprise: The handful of re-recorded tracks on Popular Songs actually sounds pretty good, even if it could be a lame move to push sales. Although Camper echoed the ethos of ’90s college rock, their songs remain timeless. The refrain of “Ambiguity Song,” which runs, “Everything seems to be up in the air at this time,” perfectly sums up the national mood 20 years after it was recorded.

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