September 6, 2016

“…For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow. We really were poised to make Rumours 2, and that could’ve been the beginning of kind of painting yourself into a corner in terms of living up to the labels that were being placed on you as a band. You know, there have been several occasions during the course of Fleetwood Mac over the years where we’ve had to undermine whatever the business axioms might be to sort of keep aspiring as an artist in the long term, and the Tusk album was one of those times.” – Lindsay Buckingham, on the motivation behind Tusk

It would have been easy for Fleetwood Mac to succumb to the pressure of following up the astronomic success of 1977’s Rumours and repeat the formula that made both it and its immediate predecessor Fleetwood Mac so successful, but guitarist Lindsay Buckingham was having none of it. You can search YouTube for any number of interviews Buckingham has done over the years – first and foremost, he considers himself as an artist, but an artist intelligent enough to recognize the natural tension between wanting to be accepted as an artist wishing to be highly creative and willing to take chances, and recognizing that in the music industry you also have to be able to produce product marketable enough to support those artistic desires.

Buckingham knew the band had already achieved the latter by making boatloads of cash for Warner Bros.; now he wished to allow his artistic side to be nurtured: the punk movement had come along, and he resisted against the idea of producing another record of formulaic rock that stifled the creativity Buckingham longed for and thought Fleetwood Mac had earned. Rather than allowing himself to be pigeonholed into creating another Rumours, Buckingham pushed the group to allow him creative license and risk less success in return for the band taking a few more chances artistically.

That’s not to say Tusk, released in 1979, wasn’t successful – it was, selling a decent four million copies – but it didn’t come close to selling what Rumours did, although it could hardly have been reasonable to suppose anyfollow-up album they might have released, no matter how good it was, would come close to approaching selling the number of copies Rumours did.

And I guess that’s why I, and so many other fans of the group, regard Tusk so fondly and for what it is. It’s eclectic, that’s for certain, with Buckingham’s contributions sounding little more than home studio demos. But the album also has a certain groove or feeling running through it that is unique within the band’s canon. To me it’s a late-night kind of listening experience, one filled with the longing for love, the remembrance of love lost, and the hopelessly-intense experience of being in a relationship with a lover that’s rarely optimistic and/or positive. From the Christine McVie tracks that bookend the album, “Over and Over” and “Never Forget”, respectively, you pretty much get Tusk‘s intentions: love is a roll of the dice, filled with longing, pain, brooding, fear, anger, paranoia, and uncertainty. Rather than crackling with the kind of tension displayed on Rumours, Tusk displays a more introspective moodiness – one of the reasons I like it so much.

To be truthful, Buckingham’s contributions, while edgy to be certain, are also uneven in terms of quality. “The Ledge” and “Not That Funny” are just OK, almost novelties. But “What Makes You Think You’re The One”, shimmers with its outlandish drums and grunge guitar work, “That’s All For Everyone” is drenched in echo, has a dreamy kind of feel, and backed with marimba and percussion, “That’s Enough For Me” is a runaway train hurtling down the tracks with Mick Fleetwood’s drums just barely able to keep pace, and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” has a pop feel to it that comes the closest to the Fleetwood Mac sound. And, of course, there’s “Tusk” – a truly original and funky track unlike anything else on the album. But it’s the uneven quality of them all that makes them so charming, especially standing next to McVie’s and Stevie Nicks’s contribution, which, while sounding more conventional by comparison, equal some of their best work.

McVie’s “Think About Me” follows closest to the classic Mac formula, and “Honey Hi” has a kind of early ’70s folkish, hippie commune kind of feel. But the intense “Brown Eyes” and “Never Make Me Cry” are very much in the Tusk vein. Nicks, on the other hand, is all over the place here (in a good way), and all of her contributions are top-notch. “Sara” is quiet, reflective, and longing, “Angel” (in my view one of her all-time best) crackles with tension, “Storms” is a commentary on love lost, “Sisters of the Moon” is Stevie doing her witchy thing, and “Beautiful Child” is gentle and tender.

Tusk isn’t one of those albums that jumps out of the speakers at you. I’m guessing most folks who have grown to love it over time found the first few plays of it puzzling, if not more than a little disappointing. But this is a piece of work that requires more than a few listens and more than a little time in order to appreciate its depth. Once you’ve tossed out all the preconceptions of what a Fleetwood Mac album should sound like, only then can one begin to appreciate Tusk. While, admittedly, it’s not the kind of album you blare over your speakers while, say, driving to the beach, it’s a piece of work perfect for certain occasions where you just want to listen to something, and that’s the way Tusk grows on you.

Years later, both drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie would fondly recall Tusk as their favorite Feetwood Mac album of the Buckingham/Nicks era, but at the time the band seemed more than happy to put the Tusk experiment in the rear-view mirror and focus on making their next release more accessible and radio-friendly; 1982’s Mirage, with the likes of Christine McVie’s “Hold Me” and “Love In Store”, and Nicks’ “Gypsy” returned the group to the top of the charts. These are, without a doubt, solid recordings, but it was obvious that the group was playing it safe, taking no chances, and, most sadly, breaking no new ground.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:41 | Comments Off on The Great White Shank’s Top Ten: #4: Fleetwood Mac “Tusk”
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