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Camper Van Beethoven
Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart & Key Lime Pie


Once upon a time before the internet gave us Youtube sensations and previewed new music and before Nirvana broke down the once-impenetrable (and unlistenable) wall of hair metal power ballads there was College Rock – a genre aided by university radio stations and students seeking something out of the norm.

Camper Van Beethoven fit into that mold by plying a combination of punk rock, ska, folk, country and Middle Eastern sounds on three indie releases in the mid-‘80s before graduating to a major label. The Santa Cruz band then created its magnum opus, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and followed it up with the equally memorable on Key Lime Pie.

Omnivore Records re-issues both albums with nearly a dozen tracks augmenting each release – previously released (but hard-to-find) b-sides and promo tracks plus live cuts including covers of Black Flag (“Wasted”), Paul Simon (“Kodachrome”) and The Damned (“Smash It Up”).

On 1988’s Revolutionary Sweetheart producer Dennis Herring helps the members coalesce their musical flavors into a wildly adventurous journey that begins with “Eye of Fatima Parts 1 & 2” through the country dirge of “O Death,” the psychedelic “She Divines Water,” rocking “Turquoise Jewelry” and “My Path Belated” and on and on.

Like so much of CVB, it’s difficult to distinguish whether frontman David Lowery’s lyrics are cynical or sincere or they’re just meant to set us up in order to knock us down later in the song with a verbal kick to the gut. Overall, where he rests depends on where your emotional state during each listen.

Moving away from the calculated diversity of CVB’s past work, Key Lime Pie displays tighter song structures and a more straightforward direction. Listening to it now, the album set up a smooth transition for Lowery’s next venture in Cracker. While the material here is even more focused than its predecessor, the band still follows a path of its own making. The Eastern European flavor on “Opening Theme” gives way to a look at “Jack Ruby,” the gangster and killer of President John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. And before you come to grips with that “Sweethearts” greets us with a beautiful soundtrack that masks bittersweet lines and political barbs, while the cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men” gleefully twists the psychedelic classic by using the violin to play the signature riff.

Both releases remain impressively timeless and defiantly individualistic today as they did when originally released. Revolutionary Sweetheart continues to be a woozy wonderful joy ride that’s only broken up from repeated plays by another visit to Key Lime Pie. Have you been experienced? If not, you need to be.

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