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Music Review: Tusk by Camper Van Beethoven

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Full disclosure, I am a big CVB fan. I even trekked to NY this past July to see their reunion performance at the Knitting Factory (though I was thwarted by a Con-Ed sponsored power outage that cancelled the show). That said; I really don’t like Fleetwood Mac. These two factors may be why I am so conflicted over Tusk, a cover recording of the Mac’s infamous release.

I was very excited to find this selection while in NYC (purchased along with Galaxy 500’s live cd Copenhagen, The Mink Lung’s The Better Button, and Built To Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (a $10 disc, well worth it)).

I have not yet become a fan of online cd purchasing, I much prefer to browse through indie stores and receive that instant purchase gratification, besides it gives me something to do on a rainy day.

I put it on during the drive back to the City of Egos (being D.C. of course), I thought at first my experience may have been tainted by the lack of air conditioning, loudness of the traffic or the relative bad mood I was in because of my departure from my favorite city. I just did not get it. I have given it another listen or two since my return and my opinion has not changed much. There is no doubt, I prefer their original work.

Let’s start with a little history of the recording. It was recorded in NoCal during what was to be a songwriting weekend away for the gang. Drummer Chris Derson broke his arm on a makeshift sled during a major snowstorm that later snowed the band in. Somehow, (I wonder if libations and narcotics were involved… hmm) the band decided to use the time to re-record Tusk (which was, according to rumor, the only album at the cabin at the time). Derson programmed drumming on a drum machine. The recording got lost over the years and was recently found at Greg Lisher’s parents’s store in not so great condition. The band remastered it and cleaned it up.

What to say? Mac’s lyrics have nothing on CVB. There are no great witticisms as found in Telephone Free Landslide Victory or the misleadingly named fourth release Camper Van Beethoven. Jonathan Segal’s sweeping violin was painfully limited in this recording, the sound being a lot more guitar and keyboard focused, the violin relegated to more simplistic background noise. That said, Lowrey is a more than proficient guitarist and a lot of the pieces were quite pretty… just not CVB at their best. Check out “Think About Me”, “What Makes You Think You’re the One”, “Tusk” and “Sisters of the Moon”, they seem to be the most interesting and true to form of the bunch.

I can’t say I dislike the cd. It is listenable if you flip past some of the weirder pieces. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe I underestimated my disdain for Fleetwood Mac. Whatever the case I did not feel too great about plopping down $20.99 plus NYC tax on this one. Check out the MP3’s on Camper’s website before purchase, and buy it off of Amazon. It’s only 16.99 there.

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  • James

    a big CvB fan would know the drummer’s name is Chris Pederson, aka Crispy Derson, i.e. maybe you never “got” camper in the first place…
    tusk is great, the weirder pieces being quintessential

  • I’m one of those guys who thinks Tusk is the Macs best album, exactly because of its weirdness. I’m looking forward to hearing CVB’s take on it.

  • “I know I’m not wrong” is the best song on the CD. I’m a long time CVB fan and in the case of Tusk, I just needed a second listen-through for it to really grow on me. I agree that the weirder pieces (those lacking a consistent rhythm) can be a little difficult to take for those who haven’t listened to a lot of Residents or early Pink Floyd. But the moments CVB get it right are well worth occasionally skipping a song.