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.