The pressure was on. Fleetwood had scored a monster worldwide hit with their album Rumours in 1977, and after a grueling two-year recording process they finally released the sequel, a two-record set of twenty songs called Tusk. Predictably, many fans didn’t think that it lived up to the pop genius of Rumours, some arguing that the double-album contained too much filler and not enough pure pop songs. Sales of Tusk were a fraction of Rumours, which no doubt dismayed their record label, but it also caused some critics to dub the album a dud. Which was all nonsense. Tusk was a daring and thrilling album, packed with great songs that still sound marvelous thirty years later.
In 2003 the American band Camper Van Beethoven released their own version of Tusk, remaking all twenty songs, but giving them a unique Camper Van Beethoven twist. The band actually began recording this “special project” back in 1987, but the sessions were soon shelved, other projects commenced, and the tapes sat in someone’s closet for over a decade. After locating those tapes, a “reconstruction” process began, and several more songs were recorded in 2001 and 2002. Finally, the CVB version of Tusk was finished!
While it may not warm the hearts of the more traditional Fleetwood Mac fans out there (in fact, it will most likely piss-off the majority of the Stevie Nicks Fan Club), it’s clear that this was a labor of love for the Campers. Yes, there are some weird and wacky moments to be found (their version of “Honey Hi” is just too off the wall, and the title track meanders on for too long), but re-doing the entire Tusk album was an ambitious, audacious undertaking for anyone, and in the hands of Camper Van Beethoven it actually works … at least most of the time. Highlights include “Sisters of the Moon” which has a tribal, trance-like vibe, while “Not So Funny” incorporates a propulsive barrage of bagpipes. On “That’s Enough for Me” the band breaks out their rusty old fiddle in what amounts to a hillbilly hoedown. My favorite track, though, is “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” which is so full of effervescent energy that I can never sit still when it plays.
If you aren’t familiar with the music by Camper Van Beethoven, you’re missing out on some real treats. Their first album, 1985’s Telephone Free Landslide Victory was a sheer delight, mixing various folk and ethnic instrumental music styles to create a wickedly addictive platter. Listening to the guitars, violin, sitar, organ, drums, and other instruments all colliding made for a thrilling listening experience. Song titles such as “Take the Skinheads Bowling” … “Where the Hell is Bill” … “The Day that Lassie Went to the Moon” … “Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China” … and “Club Med Sucks” only give a hint as to what’s in store for the listener. Listening to this album, at times you think you’re at a Greek wedding, or perhaps an Egyptian barbecue, or a Rasta Ska party. This album was all over the place, and delightfully so.
The band continued their diverse musical ways for several more albums (their second album II & III, is also excellent) before signing to Virgin Records. They toned down their weird element for the next few albums, but still showed a flair for composing catchy material and ended up becoming quite the college radio darlings in the USA for a few years. Lead Singer David Lowery later left CVB and formed a new band, Cracker, which made even greater inroads (and more money) in the “alternative” music scene. In 2004 Fleetwood Mac released their own “reconstructed” version of Tusk; a two-disc set that includes extra tracks (mostly demos) that were not on the original album.