Can you imagine having a Big Wheel now that you’re all grown up (that is, assuming that you are)? I mean an adult-sized Big Wheel, not the standard kid version. I think it’d be a hot seller. A big bright plastic seat for your adult bottom, the cool as hell emergency brake that causes you to spin 180 degrees, huge-ass plastic tassels flowing from the handlebars, and of course a giant Big Wheel up front to suit all your grown up hedonistic tendencies. OK, maybe it’s just a personal fantasy of mine, but after listening to Love Camp 7’s latest offering Vacation Village I feel that I’m not the only freak on this planet who comes up with such thoughts.
Of course, I was hoping for a lot when I first got this disc a month or so ago and read such groovy song titles as “Not Cool Enough For Daryl Genis’s Party”, “We Ended Up Talking All Night At Ben Frank’s”, “Cinerama”, and “By The Creek with Terry James in Summer at Frank Zappa’s House.” After playing this one the standard amount though, I tend to find Love Camp 7’s sound (and sense of humor) a bit impenetrable at best. Basically a song cycle about head Camper Dann Baker’s youth, Vacation Village is a sprawling work that in its best moments hits upon some honest nostalgia not often found within the confines of a compact disc, and at its worst fails to take the audience along for the ride.
Love Camp 7 is another one of those “critically-acclaimed” groups. I suppose that means I’m supposed to take this album in with a bit more awe. But having never heard of the group prior to owning this disc, such labels do not affect my grading of the work. I wish the accumulated praise did have some kind of effect on me, as I wish I could have enjoyed this album more, but one must be realistic and listen to the music at hand, and not allow some other critics’ words sway them, or the cool CD artwork take precedence over the real product.
I just wish there were some real hooks to allow me some entryway into these songs. There’s nice jangly guitars all throughout “The Jell-O Song”, and they feel like they’re building up to a big payoff, but that moment never arrives. And perhaps I’m just not really into Dann Baker’s voice, either. He sings the songs well enough, but he’s got that kind of nasally thing going on that for one reason or another doesn’t settle well in my ears. Plus the song’s just too damn long by about a minute. Even though it’s only a little over three minutes, “The Jell-O Song” feels like it takes twice that time simply because there’s no real rhyme or reason to the song.
“Arny Geller” is similar in its exhausting execution that leaves you wondering when the song’s either going to start, or when it’s going to hurry up and end. An ode to the man who painted the cover of the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey LP should be a bit daft, but I would hope that it would also be somewhat interesting. Instead, we are only left with some sparse rhythms, thin guitars, and Baker wailing away about one of his heroes. Not very melodic at all, I’m afraid. Same goes for “Not Cool Enough For Daryl Genis’ Party” which actually hits upon a nice groove but soon abandons it for more esoteric piddling that seems only to serve the whims of the band members (bassist Bruce Hathaway and drummer Dave Campbell).
I will give the band points for the (finally) catchy “We Ended Up Talking All Night at Ben Frank’s” that cuts away the fat and goes straight for the kill. Thank God the band can fully operate at songs under three minutes long. Good guitar work is here, along with some nice harmonies and a melody that doesn’t go haywire ten seconds into the song. And then there’s “Cinerama” which features some tasty distorted guitar soloing and again a decent structure and execution. It’s just a bit disappointing that the band doesn’t hit a good stride until the middle of the disc.
But then things go back to the original lackluster proceedings of the first three songs with “Runaway” and “Puzzle Place.” The title track attempts to amend things once more, but at this point it’s just a bit too late. Baker is not even close to being anywhere near the same league as that of his hero Brian Wilson. When he sings strange songs about “white people on 10-speeds, white people in shorts,” one isn’t hit with the same brilliant melodies and fascinating childishness that permeates such Wilson-penned gems as “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” or “I’d Love Just Once to See You.” Too bad for Baker.
While fans of the group may find a lot to enjoy here, I would say the casual listener will have a tough go at Vacation Village. It’s not that the work is entirely bad, it’s just that it seems a bit too strong on the alienating side. Baker has some good tales to tell her, but he rarely lets his audience in on the memories at a satisfying level. Whatever the case, Love Camp 7 has a way to go to pleasing more than just their core fan base, even if they were featured on 120 Minutes at one point in their career.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/lovecamp7-vacation/