Album Reviews

Camper Van Beethoven – Popular Songs Of Great Strength And Enduring Beauty

(Cooking Vinyl) UK release date: 23 June 2008

There was psychedelia, there was punk, there was folk and there was the birth of indie pop. Camper Van Beethoven was the mummy, daddy and little, bitty baby of all of these. As a hybrid, or as ‘alternative’, the band set itself apart from anything or anyone else.

With such classics as Take the Skinheads Bowling and The Day Lassie Went to the Moon, Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength And Beauty spans their whole career and presents it as a best off with balls.

Due to some very tightly wrapped red tape (damn those record boss fat cats), the band had to re-record some of its old classics, including the wondrous ‘oh my God, is that really Status Quo‘ cover of Pictures of Matchstick Men. But, so as not to leave fans puzzled about where some of their greatest hits are, they have been recorded as close to their originals as possible.

New ears may not notice any difference. Die-hard fans will probably pick up on the extra slick-ness of the percussion, the smoother production without the gappiness of the late 80s and the slightly raspier, matured vocals of David Lowery. It’s nice to have them on this compilation though.

For those of us who try and pretend the 80s never existed, apart from the obligatory Sunday afternoon viewing of The Goonies and Back to the Future, Camper Van Beethoven is a little breath of fresh air.

It’s the gateway to an era where fans of 60s music – from the Stones, Small Faces, The Doors and Pink Floyd – huddle in a dark corner, clad by brown corduroy, rearranging their vinyl collections by date. It was bands like Camper and XTC who saved these poor souls.

Popular Songs… shows that Camper were a band that shook hands with the New York garage scene while dosey doe-ing with a million other genres.

The country twang is evident throughout the band’s ‘secondary and tertiary’ periods from 1985-90, none so more than Sad Lovers’ Waltz. You have to commend their persistence to include the mate who some how bull-shitted their way into playing violin.

The playing gets better as the years go on, but the quality in those earlier days is laughable, if not incredibly sweet and endearing. Take the ska romp of Skinhead Stomp, where strings accompany a round and exquisitely played guitar as lead instrument. I’m sure their mum was very proud of the playing, but the rest of us just grin and bear it. Listening back though, it couldn’t be any other way.

Then there’s the classic of the teen angst, psychedelic punk and ‘stick two fingers up to mum’s gardening group’ Opie Rides Again/Club Med Sucks. Without this band and this song, there would be no Teenage Fanclub and no Tripping Daisy (whose singer, Tim Delaughter, later formed the Polyphonic Spree). Fantastic, dark, gritty – and echoing the voice of many a youngen forced to endure their father’s golfing attire.

It’s a joy to hear this songs again, or even for the first time, and it’s a reminder of how good, original and of the time their song writing was. McFly? Pah!

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Camper Van Beethoven – Popular Songs Of Great Strength And Enduring Beauty