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New Roman Times

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Album Review

Camper Van Beethoven began stealthily reviving their recording career not long after reuniting in 2000 — while the official line was that their idiosyncratic 2002 re-recording of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk was an older unreleased project, as was much of the material on the 2000 anthology Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven, the truth is both were recorded following the band's return to touring. However, by 2004 they decided it was time to release a legitimately "new" album, and New Roman Times was the result. It also proved to be one of the most ambitious projects CvB had ever attempted, a 20-track concept album that imagines an alternate future where the United States has been reshaped into an uneasy association of 13 separate nations, as one young man from the Christian Republic of Texas signs up to fight in a civil war that's broken out between the Northern and Southern factions of California. As far as the album's ongoing narrative goes, it's hard to tell the players without a scorecard, but the album's themes of the nature of conflict, the trade in contraband as a form of underground governance, and how ordinary people find themselves caught up in large events all make themselves felt, even after casual listening. As the narrative would suggest, New Roman Times is somber by Camper Van Beethoven's standards, though numbers like "Hippie Chix," "I Hate This Part of Texas," and "Militia Song" show their playful side had not abandoned them, and though this edition of CvB took fewer chances musically than they did on their wildly eclectic early albums (and honestly sound tighter and more professional as a consequence), the faux internationalism of "R 'n' R Uzbekistan," "Sons of the New Golden West," and "Might Makes Right" sounds like the work of the band that made Telephone Free Landslide Victory. (And the oddball sonic manipulations of "Los Tigres Traficantes" and "Sons of the New Golden West (Reprise)" play nicely with CvB's long history of oblique, stoner-friendly humor.) New Roman Times isn't always of a piece with the band's celebrated body of work from the '80s, but it's not hard to imagine they could have come up with something like this as the follow-up to Key Lime Pie, and it's as imaginative as anything this band would ever bring forth.

Customer Reviews

yay, it's finally on iTunes!

This is truly the greatest political rock opera of 2004 (2000 lightyears better than American Idiot), with biting satire ("51-7," "Might Makes Right"), catchy pop tunes ("That Gum You Like is Back in Style"), and a cover of Reich's "Come Out." If Tusk wasn't an indicator of the power of CVB's comeback, this is. I can't wait for CVB's eighth album, which they are currently working on.

A triumphant return to new CVB music

After a 15 year absence as a band, CVB comes back with new music in the form of a political concept album. The music really shines in many spots (a great early era sounding instrumental in "R n' R Uzbeckistan," a sweeping ballad a la KLP with "New Roman Times" and perhaps one of CVB's best satirical country-esque stomps, "Unibomber Song."

Where this release falls down a bit is the weight of the concept or themed album. Occasionally, some lyrics seem to try a bit too hard to tie things together ("White Fluffy Clouds," "51-7" and "Hey Brother") with a pretty generic sound as well. There also seems to be more of a penchant for a classic rock sound, particularly the instrumental "New Sons of the Golden Age" and "White Fluffy Clouds."

Overall, a great return to writing new music.


...that a group can reform, put out a new album -- and a concept one at that -- and have it be one of the best things they've ever done. Truly an essential rock album (criminally overlooked) of the 00s. Cannot be recommended enough.


Formed: 1983 in Redlands, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Back in the day, before alternative rock was invented and indie rock was still shy of roots music and other folk elements, Camper Van Beethoven's merging of punk, folk, ska, and world music was truly a revelation. Singer/songwriter David Lowery's smart-aleck lyrics, delivered in laid-back California style, combined with Jonathan Segel's violin as lead instrument, were the band's instant trademarks. Decades after their inception, CVB's sound is still remarkably fresh and their influence on alternative...
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