Key Lime Pie was the second major label release (following 1988’s Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart) for Camper Van Beethoven, after putting out three albums and a couple of EPs on the independent Pitch A Tent label.
This album finds the band in top musical and songwriting form, though most of the humor that had endeared them to their fans in their earlier days was gone. Gone also was one of their key members, multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel, who was replaced by Morgan Fichter.
The production of Key Lime Pie is big and loud, and has not aged much in the years since it came out. Camper Van Beethoven was always a hard band to categorize (not hard rock, not country, not folk, but a bit of each) and this album is no exception. It does rock harder than all of their previous offerings, but the Eastern-sounding violin leads and fills put CVB in a world of their own.
Camper Van Beethoven — Key Lime Pie: Track-by-track review
1. “Opening Theme”
When a band titles the first song on their album “Opening Theme,” they better take you on a musical journey. Otherwise they are just being self-promoting egomaniacs (I’m sure there is more than one rap album out there with an opening theme).
In the case of Camper Van Beethoven, they deliver the goods. This first song is a violin and mandolin driven instrumental appetizer. The Eastern sound of this song also serves as a reminder that Camper has not totally abandoned its crazy alchemy of sounds that they regularly treated us to on their first three albums.
This song is so good that most bands would not be able to top it. Key Lime Pie, though, is definitely a journey, one with many peaks and valleys.
2. “Jack Ruby”
Following the wild musical promise of “Opening Theme,” “Jack Ruby” comes riding in as a menacing rock song with a loud thumping beat courtesy of drummer Chris Pederson and angry lyrics from singer David Lowery. The song proceeds in linear fashion, with no chorus or bridge to be found.
Despite this, Lowery’s quasi-tale of the man who shot the man who shot President Kennedy holds a captivating spell over the listener.
The weeping steel guitars in the countrified “Sweethearts” lend themselves well to David Lowery’s lyrics, which are usually filled with sadness and longing.
There is irony in this song too, because Lowery mentions President Reagan’s gears turning and grinding at a time when Alzheimer’s was probably already robbing the president of his mental capacities. Another strong song from Key Lime Pie.
4. “When I Win The Lottery”
Probably the weakest song from Key Lime Pie, which is saying something because it’s not terrible, but David Lowery’s lyrics are almost preachy and that’s enough to kill even the best of songs.
This song might lose the casual listener, but giving up at this point would be a mistake because the balance of this album consists of one terrific song after another.
5. “(I Was Born In A) Laundromat”
After the somewhat lackluster “When I Win The Lottery,” “(I Was Born In A) Laundromat” comes in roaring and ready to dazzle us. It starts off with a classic rock n’ roll riff which is followed by Chris Pederson’s heavy drum attack.
David Lowery delivers the dirtiest rock vocal he has probably ever recorded. His lyrics are usually better when they are mostly undecipherable, which is the case here. This is the first song on this album to have a proper chorus and it’s great one.
The song finishes with a mini-jam that comes to crashing halt as the next song on this wild ride gets ready to go.
With a harmonica driven intro and quasi-reggae beat, “Borderline” has a beauty that is simple yet deep, and disarms the listener like only the best music can. It draws us in and keeps our focus for the stranger, more complex, but equally rewarding songs that are to come. It also features the great line “On the borderline nothing is real except for you and I.” Love that line.
7. “The Light From A Cake”
“The Light From A Cake” is a wicked waltz awash in violins and David Lowery’s cannabis-inspired lyrics. This song clocks in under three minutes and leaves you asking for more, which is the case with most of the songs on this album.
This song is Key Lime Pie’s high point.
“June” is really two songs in one: the first half is a sad melody about the bitterness of love and spring; the second half is a mind blowing instrumental trip.
One can only imagine what this song must have sounded like live. Once again they leave us asking for more.
9. “All Her Favorite Fruit”
Back again to the countrified sounds that we heard on “Sweethearts.” It is a beautiful, sad ballad that marks the beginning of the end for Key Lime Pie. This song has some of the most memorable lyrics of this album. My personal favorite line is:
And I can almost smell her breath
Faint with a sweet scent of decay
This guy is truly in love if he finds his girl’s bad breath adorable.
It’s just what the title says. It’s a one minute accordion melody that comes and goes before we know it.
Flowers are growing everywhere in this song. While that may sound romantic at first, we soon learn that the flowers seem to be growing wildly in some post apocalyptic dream. It’s a solid mid-tempo rocker.
12. “The Humid Press Of Days”
This song could be about the experience of being on drugs. Whatever David Lowery is singing about, he sounds mostly angry about it, except for the bridge where he sings with a soft, innocent yearning that is rare for him.
Not the best song on this album, but it’s still a cut above what most bands call music. Chris Pederson’s snare drum rolls and Morgan Fichter’s violin fills are both standouts in this song.
13. “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”
This cover of the Status Quo classic almost sounds like it was put together to appease their label’s request for a hit. It’s about as radio-friendly as CVB ever got and it’s not a bad song.
“Pictures Of Matchstick Men” is instantly catchy, has a great violin riff for an in intro, and has a killer bridge. It’s just a bit too polished for this band.
14. “Come On Darkness”
We have come to the last song on Key Lime Pie, and while this was never a joyful album, this song reaches a new level of melancholy.
It’s a sad way to end this record, knowing as we do now that Camper Van Beethoven would split up while touring in support of it.
Key Lime Pie by Camper Van Beethoven
“When I Win The Lottery”
“(I Was Born In A) Laundromat”
“The Light From A Cake”
“All Her Favorite Fruit”
“The Humid Press Of Days”
“Pictures Of Matchstick Men”
“Come On Darkness”