In 1989, Camper Van Beethoven made what many consider their best album ever: Key Lime Pie. Now, 25 years later, Omnivore Recordings has re-released it, along with nine bonus tracks that really deserve to be heard.
Camper Van Beethoven crossed and combined musical genres when it really was not common to do so. They mixed folk, country, punk, ska, world music and anything else they felt like to make music that stood out from just about anything else in pop music at the time. The musical genre-bending on Key Lime Pie still sounds fresh and innovative today.
The album begins with the Middle Eastern-influenced “Opening Theme” which flows seamlessly into the incandescent “Jack Ruby.” This is followed by “Sweethearts,” with its lovely melody and bizarre lyrics that tap into Ronald Reagan’s dreams of World War II and mom.
The theme of this album is dreams – the strength and the frustration that comes from not being able to reach them. This is particularly obvious in “When I Win the Lottery,” with its powerful mix of bitterness and humor and in which when the singer wins the lottery, “[T]he rights will shake their heads and say that God is good but surely works in mysterious ways.”
Other examples of this frustration and yearning are “(I Was Born in A) Laundromat,” “The Humid Press of Days” and the dark love songs, “June” and “All Her Favorite Fruit.” The violin on “All Her Favorite Fruit” is exquisitely expressive and as fine as any violin interlude this reviewer can bring to mind.
Other favorites on this consistently great album are the haunting “Flowers,” with its eerie and poetic lyrics and the amazingly good cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” where once again the violin elevates the song to something extraordinary.
Closing the original album is “Come on Darkness,” a world-weary cry for rest and quiet that features acoustic and slide guitar as well as a prominent-pounding drum. It is probably not coincidence that the band broke up for a long time shortly after this. It may be that the feeling that the end was near for them contributed to the sorrowful tone of this one.
This brings us to the bonus tracks. I was thrilled to see that a live version of “Take the Skinheads Bowling” was one of these tracks. This silly little song happens to be this reviewer’s favorite Camper Van Beethonven song just for its absurdist humor. There are also great live versions of “Wasted,” the purely country “Before I Met You” and the scintillating instrumental “L’aguardiente.”
Key Lime Pie proves that Camper Van Beethoven’s music has not only held up but even improved with age. It will be a pleasure for old fans to have this album again with the bonus tracks and it should gain the band new fans as it gets shared. Do your part and buy the CD and share it today!