Camper Van Beethoven – Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

The major label jump. I think the worries about this milestone are overblown; I really don’t think there are too many worthwhile examples of quality artists who “sold out” (whatever that means – let’s go with “compromised their ideals” . . . whatever that means) with their major label debut. Frankly, if the artist is going to betray their audience, then that was going to happen anyway, major label or no. Camper Van Beethoven found themselves on the Virgin label for Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (did David Lowery suspect then that eighteen years later he would write a song expressing his unhappiness with Virgin called “It Ain’t Going to Suck Itself”? Probably, yeah). While the sound is cleaner and bigger, the band turns in an excellent set of songs that does no harm to the CVB legacy.

What I Think of This Album

Producer Dennis Herring (who has worked with the Ocean Blue, Throwing Muses, Wavves, and Modest Mouse) emphasizes the rhythm section and gives guitarist Greg Lisher plenty of room to roam. Beyond that, the band takes a more unified stylistic approach than on the prior two albums, while still managing to incorporate country, ska, indie, acid rock, bluegrass and more into their sound.

But any concerns about major label interference should have been eliminated shortly into first track “Eye of Fatima (Pt. 1),” in which David Lowery makes the unlikely proclamation “This here is a government experiment / And we’re driving like hell / To give some cowboys some acid” (there is a cool vocal effect used during that line, too). Bassist Victor Krummenacher steers this catchy countrified weirdness to an unfortunately tepid conclusion. Predictable and perversely, the next song, “Eye of Fatima (Pt. 2)” bears absolutely no relationship to its predecessor. A sort of exotic hard rock instrumental rave-up, this seems like a carryover from the Camper Van Beethoven album.

Another left turn comes with the cover of traditional ballad “O Death.” At this point, I need to say I don’t love the drum sound on this album. Jonathan Segel’s excellent violin work, again supported by Krummenacher’s bass, dominates the wonderful and unlikely love song “She Divines Water,” (“And when I lie next to you / I shiver and shake / You tell me you love me / And I dream I’m awake”) which features an angelic harmonized chorus at the end, before disintegrating into a spliced tape collage (with a brief refrain of the chorus – a touch that I love), and then returning to Segel, quietly backed by acoustic guitar. Phenomenal. The angular and cynical “Devil Song” manages to be unsettling and melodic, slowly gaining momentum as Lowery asks “Do you want to start a war? / I’m tired of this old one.” Spindly country tune “One of These Days” offers a surprising bit of vulnerability and comfort by this band of merry smart-asses; Segel shines again here.

Returning to form, they mock hippies on “Turquoise Jewelry,” though with the unexpected assistance of brass and a harmonica. The drums on this track are absurd. “Waka” is another hard rock influenced instrumental, with ethnic stylings from Segel. The band builds on an oom-pah rhythm for the gentle and sympathetic “Change Your Mind.” There is nothing wrong with the energetic “My Path Belated” – Segel and Lisher both turn in fine performances, and there are lyrics about a cola importer and the Politburo, but this still doesn’t really do it for me.

There is a return to country on the harmony-rich but knowingly sad “Never Go Back.” After instrumental “The Fool” comes Eastern European folk-styled “Tania,” a mournful piece about heiress-criminal Patricia Hearst and the relief from boredom her travails apparently provided Lowery in the ‘70s; the last part is an extended instrumental during which each band member races to beat the others to the end. The album closes with the defensive-but-cheery “Life Is Grand.”

The album title is another reference to Patricia Hearst (it’s a lyric in “Tania”). Also of note, future Cracker bassist Davey Faragher provides what is credited as “4WD” vocals on this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“She Divines Water” is one of the great overlooked songs of the 1980s.

Release Date

May, 1988

The Cover Art

I’m a HUGE fan of the sheet of stamps idea, with a stamp for each song. I just wish it was larger. This was designed (as was the cover of Telephone Free Landslide Victory) by Bruce Licher, who was the head of Independent Project Records (which signed CVB) and a member of Savage Republic; Licher is a major figure in letterpress printing and has had his work exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. He has also done art for REM and Stereolab.

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