A couple of years ago I worked with a guy who was all about Camper Van Beethoven. Every day, all I heard was Camper Van this, Camper Van that … enough already with the Camper. So when the opportunity arose to review Reissue Sampler, the compilation of four out-of-print records (Telephone Free Landslide Victory [originally released in 1985], II&III , Camper Van Beethoven , and Camper Vantiquities ), I naturally felt obligated, even if only to provide myself the ammunition for a somewhat snide and childish e-mail dig. Kevin, if you read this, cram it with walnuts.
For those who are unaware, much as I was, Camper Van Beethoven was David Lowery’s band before Cracker, that ever-popular early-’90s band of “What the World Needs Now” fame. With a sound that ranges from alt-country to ska to folk to indie to surf rock, Camper seems like Lowery’s laboratory for perfecting his craft prior to forming Cracker. Worthy of note is the skill with which all the genres are handled. “Good Guys and Bad Guys” could easily be on any Blur greatest hits record if they were a country western band, and aside from the identifiable nature of Lowery’s voice, the same could be said of “Chain of Circumstance” in reference to Superchunk. Lowery’s voice is relatively consistent between the two, but the work he did while in Camper is, put bluntly, more immature and less refined than the polished pop of the later Cracker years.
As re-issue compilations go, this one is competent — a pleasant mix of clear, simple pop songs, like “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and the more edgy and lyrically challenging songs like “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac” or “Love the Witch.” I found myself especially smitten with their country western morphing into a Cure-like version of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” originally by the Kinks. It was noticeably odd that “She Divines Water” and “Sweethearts,” which are typically considered two of Camper’s more endearing songs, were omitted. Reissue Sampler is not the opus of a delicate genius as described by my former co-worker, it certainly won’t disappoint diehard Camper fans.