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Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real

Alt.rockers mix sardonic social commentary with sincerity.

Defying tired Euro-snob myths that Americans do not get irony, Camper Van Beethoven have been lacing their ramshackle slacker-punk power-pop with irreverent sarcastic wit for some three decades now.

Currently 12 years into a post-millennial reunion, these alt.rock veterans take Southern California as a theme in El Camino Real, a semi-sequel to last year’s La Costa Perdida, which covered Northern California. But this is no conventional West Coast travelogue from singer and lyricist David Lowery. He celebrates SoCal’s dystopian weirdness and multicultural energy on agreeably wonky guitar-chuggers like The Ultimate Solution and Dockweiler Beach, the latter the stuttering confessional of a lost soul living in a trailer under the LAX airport flight path.

Lowery’s man-child playfulness feels overly mannered at times, but the album settles down in its latter half into a lusty Springsteen-esque folk-rock panorama of immigrant life, poverty and family tragedy under the California sun. Behind the irony lies a surprisingly big-hearted, warm-blooded empathy.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.