Camper Van Beethoven

New Roman Times
(Vanguard)

Returning after a 15-year-long hiatus -- during which leader David Lowery launched the far more successful Cracker (remember "Low"?) -- Camper Van Beethoven melds the quirkiness of its earlier incarnation with Cracker's pop sensibility and a newfound relevance on New Roman Times, thanks to a rich conceptual conceit. Though CVB's offbeat music always harbored a political undercurrent, the band's new album goes further, offering an Americanized The Wall in expressing contempt for (among other things) our penchant for offering "assistance" where it's not welcomed. In this veiled parable, a young man joins the elite military unit, grows disillusioned, is discharged, enlists with an anti-government militia and becomes involved with the religious/lifestyle war in occupied California. It's a funny, often sublime commentary that is matched by the band's effortlessly eclectic arrangements (abetted by Jonathan Segel's virtuoso violin), from the Ted Nugent-worthy stadium rock ode to weaponry "White Fluffy Clouds," to the folky, pedal-steel pop song "That Gum You Like (Is Back in Style)," to the Gypsy/klezmer waltz "Might Makes Right." It's an astoundingly complete and focused work from an act that, in the midst of recording its third album, decided to record Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in its entirety.

 
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