[Review] Camper Van Beethoven: Key Lime Pie (1989)

On the eve of the grunge revolution, the Campers pack it up with one last hurrah, followed by the ‘Mats and the Pixies.

Kronomyth 5.0: Songs in the key of lime.

This is the album that made a Camper out of me. “Sweethearts,” “(I Was Born In A) Laundromat,” “June,” “Flowers,” “The Humid Press of Days,” “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” great stuff all of it. David Lowery’s clogged vocals suit the kitchen sink arrangements: violins, organ, ringing guitars, prickly percussion and lead guitars that lean over everything like a bent, black rainbow. You’d have to look to Pixies to find a another band that could render oddball observations with such musical joy. Jack Ruby in portraiture, Ronald Reagan in dementia, a leftist lottery winner in America, the band’s eye doesn’t rest for a minute.

Like the Pixies, the band gives every song their all. Sure, the riffs behind “(I Was Born In A) Laundromat” and “Pictures of Matchstick Men” have Winner written all over them, but these are fourteen favored children with no filler among them. (“Interlude” is a tiny connector, but it sets up “Flowers” so perfectly I can’t imagine Key Lime Pie without it.) New violinist Morgan Fichter fits in just fine too, in case you were wondering where Jonathan Segel flew off to. Though I tend to pick up Pie at “June” and devour the second half in one sitting, you can eat the whole Pie at once (crust and everything). “Borderline” and “Come on Darkness” don’t resonate with my daily mood so much, but they go down easy enough.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where Key Lime Pie belongs next to their other works, since I don’t own them yet.* (Chance, my enemy, conspires to keep Camper at a distance.) However, comparing it to Pixies isn’t going to kill anyone, so let’s say it’s like Bossanova. (Okay, everyone: It’s like Bossanova.) Playful, pointed, inspired and unpredictable, Key Lime Pie is a keeper, even if it’s the only Camper company I currently keep.

*I’ve since heard all the original Camper albums and would tell you that they got tastier over time.

Read more Camper Van Beethoven reviews

The Songs

1. Opening Theme (2:21)
2. Jack Ruby (5:22)
3. Sweethearts (4:45)
4. When I Win The Lottery (3:38)
5. (I Was Born In A) Laundromat (3:43)
6. Borderline (3:48)
7. The Light From A Cake (2:43)
8. June (4:24)
9. All Her Favorite Fruit (5:14)
10. Interlude (1:03)
11. Flowers (Eric Curkendall/Chris Hart/David Lowery) (2:58)
12. The Humid Press of Days (2:44)
13. Pictures of Matchstick Men (Francis Michael Rossi) (4:08)
14. Come On Darkness (3:14)

All songs written by Victor Krummenacher/Greg Lisher/David Lowery/Chris Pedersen unless noted.

The Players

Morgan Fichter (violin, vocals), Victor Krummenacher (bass guitar, vocals), Greg Lisher (lead guitar, vocals), David Lowery (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Chris Pedersen (vocals, drums, percussion) with Tim “Steelbone” Cook (pedal steel), Danny & Davey Faragher (additional backing vocals), Garth Hudson (pump organ, talking and stuff), Don V. Lax (strings, crazy avant-garde Gipsy and Indian style fiddling), Mary O’Neil (additional backing vocals), Hammer Smith (bitchin’ harmonica) and Wally Sound (additional backing vocals). Produced by Dennis Herring; engineered & mixed by Csaba Petocz.

The Pictures

Photography by Andre Lansel. Package design by Bruce Lisher. Physical plant by Elba Gomez.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, compact disc and cassette on September 5, 1989 in the US (Virgin, VUSLP/CDVUS/VUSMC-8) and the UK (Virgin, 91289); reached #141 on the US charts.

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