Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gold Soundz: Camper Van Beethoven

Contributor Mike Bailey enjoys talking about records from yesteryear -- the 70's, 80's and 90's -- that influenced what's happening today. Thus, Gold Soundz was born. (Props to Pavement for the perfect name.) In this piece, Bailey takes a different seminal indie record every week and examines its significance and impact on the present.

Camper Van Beethoven: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
(Virgin, 1988)

I'm guessing that most people reading this blog don't really care for the band Cracker. But before Cracker front man David Lowery started making radio-friendly unit shifters, he was actually blazing quite an original path with his 1980's outfit, Camper Van Beethoven. Lowery, along with multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel (whose violin is often the bands focus), created records that touched on nearly every influence of modern popular music, including 1988's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

For more of Mike's thoughts on the album, and the video for "Eye Of Fatima," continue reading.

Even today Camper's sound remains fairly original. They pre-dated Americana and Freak-Folk, but influenced both. They post-dated the American punk rock movement, but used the influence well. They were never timely, but seem to have remained timeless. I can see there music fitting well into shuffle mode alongside Delta Spirit and Calexico, but it goes beyond that; their sound is woven into the fabric like many unseen threads.

In the mid 80's the band released 3 very eclectic independent albums and had a huge college radio hit with, "Take the Skinheads Bowling". Which lead to a recording contract with Virgin Records and their major label debut, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. I love this record for its originality, originality which is completely based on influence. They knew their music history and used it to their advantage. Taking risks and often times thumbing their nose at the sacred cows of rock.

In particular, I'm a fan of Lowery's lyrics. Allow me to indulge by reprinting the verses from the albums opening track, "Eye of Fatima (Part 1)". I think it offers a perspective glimpse of where the music is coming from:

He's got the Eye of Fatima on the wall of his room
Two bottles of tequila, three cats and a broom
He's got an 18-year-old angel and she's all dressed in black
He's got 15 bindles of cocaine tied up in a sack

And this here's a government experiment and we're driving like Hell
To get some cowboys some acid and to stay in motels
We're going to eat up some wide open spaces like it was a cruise on the Nile
Take the hands off the clock, we're going to be here a while

I love that. I want to hear Tom Waits or Dennis Hopper read that as a narrative. Throw in some Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Turkish folk music and you are on your way to getting the idea. Sweetheart is really just a straightforward rock record, especially compared to the bands previous records, but it’s streamlining really seemed to focus the band and bring out stronger, more consistent song-writing. "Eye of Fatima", "One of These Days", "Turquoise Jewelry" and "She Divines Water" are all great examples of the straight-forward approach. Any of these songs could have appeared on early albums, it's the proliferation of these songs that makes this a different record.

Like many albums I’ve been writing about, it’s impossible to hear this the way I did 21 years ago, without the last 20 years influencing you. But as I walked around the City revisiting these songs I felt they sounded very fresh and wholly relevant. Well worth the effort of investigating.

1 comment:

sk8slow said...

New Cracker Album - "Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey" hits stores 5/5/09. Let me know if you'd like a promo copy for Review or any other materials for that matter.