Camper Van Beethoven
Reviewed by Michael Bertin, Fri., Aug. 23, 2002
Camper Van BeethovenTusk (Pitch-A-Tent)
Armed with a four-track, members of Santa Cruz's Camper Van Beethoven retreated to California's Mammoth Mountain in early 1996 to start cooking up material for its next album. Unfortunately, a winter storm hit and drummer Chris Pedersen (aka Chrispy Derson) broke his arm. Snowed in and possibly influenced by general use of Derson's meds, the band did what any self-respecting mid-Eighties college band would do: they decided to carbon copy Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in all its gloriously bloated entirety. Sadly or happily, the tapes were summarily lost until Camper guitarist Greg Lisher stumbled over them sometime in Y2K. As outlandish as the marriage of Camper with Tusk seems prima facie, in practice, it isn't absurdly outlandish, since frontman David Lowery makes a decent, pre-indie rock counterpart to Lindsey Buckingham, who left his fingerprints all over Tusk more than any previous Fleetwood Mac offering. As for the music, well, it accomplishes the perverse duty of making the original sound slightly more focused by comparison. Camper's Tusk isn't a total mess, it's just messier. Sometimes that works well. The near-industrial drowning of "Sara" rescues the song from it's own mystical vibe. Other times it works very well. The primitive techno revamp of "Sisters of the Moon" hints that there were moments of actual inspiration. In fact, the best single moment of the album might be the anachronistic one-liners tacked on the end of that murky Nicks creation. Throughout the back half of the album, momentum slows and things just get boring or even disagreeable (see "Angel," "Never Make Me Cry," and the Chambers Brothers homage in the middle of the title track). It's about the middle of things that Camper should have listened to the words of what they were pilfering (i.e. "Not That Funny"). Yet they persevered, and left us with this thing -- an 80-minute exercise in covering the really thick line between genius and annoying. For the small demographic young enough in the late-Eighties to be musical snobs, it's a rare opportunity for a double dip of nostalgia. Just be aware that the combination of flavors varies.