Friday, March 11, 2005

Review: Camper Van Beethoven, New Roman Times

Reunions generally suck; bands who break up should stay broken up. Pretty good guidelines. But then we wouldn't have New Roman Times, one of my favorite albums of 2004, and probably a more consistently entertaining album than anything CvB put out back in their original mid-80's incarnation. On its face, it should be a total wash-out -- it's not just a reunion album, but a concept album. Ugh. Some sort of impossible-to-decipher futuristic tale of the fascist apocalypse. Geez, I feel like I'm back at summer camp listening to my stoner bunkmate extolling the virtues of Rush's 2112.

But set aside the concept, and there are an unreasonably large number of great songs here. Now, keep in mind that CvB albums usually have 5-6 good songs and a lot of filler (unless you're a fan of their bizarre Baltic-folk-polka-stomps, which I'm not). This one's got maybe 10 good songs. Still far short of the 20 tracks that appear on the album, but 10 good songs are still more than you find on most albums. And some are really great. "51-7" (no, I have no idea what that means) is their strongest anthem since... well, maybe even their first (and greatest) song, "Take The Skinheads Bowling." And "That Gum You Like Is Back In Style" is the prettiest slice of mellow Americana since... well, maybe their last good song, "Sweethearts" (from their pre-breakup swan song). The rest (excluding the weird instrumental nonsense that I mostly skip) is a pleasant, and at times captivating, blend of and indie pop, earnest songwriting and goofy humor. By all means check it out.

And check out some samples on


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