Camper Van Beethoven originally split up in 1990 and reformed in 1999, but it was 2004 when they finally released a reunion album, New Roman Times. For fans, the eccentric, tongue-in-cheek rock opera proved that “CVB,” as they are affectionately known, was still the same talented, wacky and unpredictable band they knew and loved.
Now the band has re-released New Roman Times on Omnivore Recordings in honor of its 10-year anniversary (a few months late). This is a deluxe edition, with four previously unissued bonus records, a booklet explaining the plot of the “opera,” and even a few comic book pages based on the story. Be sure, if you are listening to this album for the first time, that you read the plot. While the music is interesting by itself, the story makes it much more so.
David Lowery explains in the liner notes, “It is intended as a political farce, a sarcastic commentary on the whole notion of a red state/blue state America. It is not directly a commentary on the Iraq war, although much of it reads that way.”
Using a mix of laid-back California surfer music, psychedelia, Tex-Mex, and all sorts of weird stuff, the 24 songs more or less tell the tale of a disillusioned soldier in a sci-fi alternate reality where the United States has broken up into political and religious “nations” that are at war with each other. Oh, and there are two kinds of aliens who get involved too. You’ll have to read the booklet to understand the plot – no need to fully spoil and dissect the complexity of it here, but it does provide a flexible background for some very entertaining lunacy.
Some of these songs work better than others. There are two dozen of them after all. Which ones you like best will probably depend on which CVB songs you’ve liked best, or whether you preferred CVB offshoot bands Cracker or Monks of Doom. For this reviewer, highlights are “That Gum You Like Is Back in Style,” “Might Makes Right,” “I Am Talking to This Flower,” “Hippy Chix,” and “I Hate This Part of Texas.” The songs like “Los Tigres Traficantes” that feature a great deal of backwards recording and chaos make very bad driving music but are somewhat intriguing if you are not listening in your car
While the four bonus songs are nice to have, they are probably not worth buying the new edition if your old edition is in good shape, but by now it probably needs replacing anyway. If not, buy this one for someone you think will enjoy it. It should not be hard to think of someone. Camper Van Beethoven has something for just about everyone with a sense of humor and a thirst for good music.
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