February 5, 2019

It’s a solid #4 on my list of all-time greatest albums of all time. Do yourselves a favor: take 90 minutes out of your time, pour yourself the cocktail of your choice, and just listen. No, it’s not “Rumours” – it was never guitarist Lindsay Buckingham’s intention to play the music industry’s game of churning out one chip off the old block after another in order to sell gazillions of albums while losing your soul. Buckingham – much like Brian Wilson did with the Beach Boys’ Love You album – had been influenced by the emerging punk, anti-corporate rock movement of that time, and had been wanting to push the band to explore something a little different. As I wrote about the album at that time:

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.

I’m not sure the group bought into it totally. Still, Tusk sold millions of albums and remains (at least in my view) the finest work the group has ever done. In addition to the above I would add that it’s edgy, bitchy, passionate, moody, eccentric, and uniquely odd for its time. The musicianship is incredibly tight and (particularly Buckingham’s guitar work) intricate throughout. More than anything else, whether overtly or quietly, it’s intense beyond intense – something meant to be listened to with your significant other, perhaps late at night over a glass of wine or two. The way its passion, intensity, and intimacy pours out from the speakers is an experience you have to set time aside in order to appreciate.

There are some great songs on Tusk from all the band’s songwriting members. From Lindsay Buckingham, “Tusk”, “What Makes You Think You’re The One”, “Walk A Thin Line”, “I Know I’m Not Wrong” (this alternate version would have fit even better), “That’s All For Everyone”, “That’s Enough For Me” (love the fuzz on both guitar and bass), and “Save Me A Place”. From Christine McVie, “Think About Me” (one of the best tracks they ever cut, IMO – just listen to Buckingham’s grungy guitar work throughout), the album’s moody opener “Over and Over”, “Brown Eyes” (a mysterious piece featuring old Mac alumni Peter Green on the song’s tag), “Honey Hi” (one of the few songs on the album featuring layered harmonies), and the album’s closer, “Never Forget” with its easy groove and sparkling Lindsay/Stevie (can she sing lower?) harmonies on the song’s tag.

…but it would be Stevie Nicks who would grace Tusk with a series of songs she (at least IMO) would never top for the rest of her career: the dreamy “Sara”, the edgy “Angel” (“like a ghost through the fog” is a great lyric) with its grunge bass line and guitar backing, the pleading “Beautiful Child” (“Your eyes say yes, but you don’t say yes”), and, in my view the only song that rivals both “Silver Springs” and “Seven Wonders” in Nicks’s contributions to the Fleetwood Mac canon, “Storms”.

If there is one song that defines Tusk, it is “Storms”. Quietly intense, Buckingham’s layered guitar work and McVie’s organ weaves in and out like some ghostly visitor, dropping in and out to emphasize (or not emphasize) the sense of deep longing, loss, and introspection that permeates the song from start to finish. The song’s final verse drips with a sense of despair, sadness, and resignation:

So I try to say goodbye my friend
I’d like to leave you with something warm
But never have I been a blue calm sea
I have always been a storm
Always been a storm
Ooh, always been a storm
I have always been a storm

We were frail
She said, “Every night he will break your heart”
I should have known from the first I’d be the broken hearted
I loved you from the start
Save us
And not all the prayers in the world could save us

There’s no way a song like “Storms” could have existed on either Rumours or its more commercially-sounding successor, Mirage. Rather, it’s as if Tusk and this track were meant to define one another: moody, passionate, almost desperate in its longing to strip away the rock n’ roll façade and just wrap its legs around you in an intimate embrace. All the play-acting and transparency is stripped away; the protagonist is saying to her (or his) partner, “listen to me!“. Which is exactly the kind of statement Buckingham was looking to make.

Sure, there are a few duds on Tusk: how could any double-album not? Nicks’s “Sisters Of The Moon”, while featuring a solid band performance and a searing Buckingham solo, sounds contrived to the brink of (given Nicks’ witchy persona) parody, and a couple of Buckingham’s contributions (“The Ledge”, “Not That Funny”) are really nothing more than glorified demos. Still, this is a band that delivers rock-solid performances throughout. Given the sparse arrangements, the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have plenty of space to fill, and they never sounded better, and Buckingham’s guitar work shines from start to finish. Buckingham’s production work here is almost the anti-Phil Spector: aside from “That’s All…” and “Brown Eyes” there’s very little studio funkiness; the band could be playing in your living room. One commenter called it Lindsay Buckingham’s “Pet Sounds”; I think that’s about right.

Tusk may not be everyone’s tea, but it stands out as a unique musical statement for a band that, following Rumours could have played it straight but chose not to.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:49 | Comments Off on Totally Tusk
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