1977 gave us a multitude of fantastic albums. Hotel California, Queen’s News of the World and, perhaps even bigger than those, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The re-energized line-up from the band’s previous effort (their eponymous ‘White Album’), consisting of American sweethearts Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, as well as the British blues backbone of John McVie, Christine McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, changed the history of rock forever. You couldn’t go anywhere and not hear future classics like ‘The Chain’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, or ‘Dreams’ (which reached no. 1 in the UK charts). Quite simply, Rumours was, and still is, a masterstroke of classic rock, complete with electrifying riffs from Buckingham, rich vocals from McVie and Nicks, and enough emotional turmoil for a dozen knives to cut through.
So, two years go by and Fleetwood Mac are ready to release their latest beast out into the world. The crowds hungrily yearn for ‘Rumours, Part II’. What will the British-American rock band’s next record be?
Enter, ‘Tusk’, an album as bizarre and spontaneous as its title. Released as a double LP, and its production giving it the record of most expensive rock album to make to date, it… didn’t do well. Well, that’s not strictly true. It still awarded the band two singles in the U.S. ‘Top 10’ and was certified double platinum for shipping two million copies. But after the initial hysteria of a return of Mac died down, the critics descended on the weary double album like vultures to a corpse.
The problem people had with Tusk was that it was long. And, for the large part, the antithesis of Rumours. Lindsey Buckingham, now in the producer’s chair, stripped back many of the classic guitar riffs and no-nonsense attitude in favour of slower tracks, jarring anthems and the weirdest recording techniques you could think of. Supposedly, Buckingham insisted on several takes of vocals, some even on the floor of his bathroom, or have drummer, Fleetwood, use Kleenex boxes and lamb chops for better sonics. Yes, I know, mad.
And so, as a result, when the album did badly, record companies and band members alike were quick to rest the blame entirely on Buckingham. There’s even a rumour that Mick Fleetwood, typical father of the band, once told Lindsey, ‘Well done, you’ve just ended our careers,’ or something to that effect (though Fleetwood was also the first to put the blame of the album’s ‘success’ on record companies for failing to promote it enough, so I’ll leave that one to you).
But were the critics right to shrug Tusk off so quickly? True, it’s an odd concoction of songs to say the least, and yes, it’s not Rumours in the slightest. But is that a bad thing? And are the two perhaps not so different after all?
Retrospectively, the album has become hailed as an experimental masterpiece, way ahead of its time and the victim of a perpetuating want for the same thing again and again. Whilst all the band went with it, you have to hand it to Buckingham on this one. He is a genius, through and through. His contributions to the band cannot be exaggerated in the slightest. Some have even likened this one to the Beatles’ seminal White Album, in its own way.
But what are the tracks like on Tusk?
For a start, the record boasts an impressive twenty pieces, all of which pass the minute mark. The record’s opener, ‘Over and Over’, is a sublime, bittersweet tune of Christine McVie’s, transitioning into the jolting, mad ‘The Ledge’, a piece that sounds unfinished and straight out of Buckingham’s garage. Yet, somehow, it works, and is a sign of just how disjointed this album can prove to be.
‘Think About Me’ was one of the album’s singles, sounding like it could have been on Rumours, or any of the Mac’s for that matter. ‘Sara’ was one of the aforementioned Top 10’s, an impressive six minutes at its fullest, and one of Stevie Nicks’ best for the band. Some of her other contributions to the album, ‘Storms’, ‘Sisters of the Moon’ and ‘Angel’, are all complete with witchy lyrics and soul to boot. Nicks comes out on top form, here, rivalling perhaps even ‘Dreams’. ‘Not That Funny’ is pure Buckingham, often performed as a ten-minute tour-de-force live, with screams and inane flailing. The thing to remember here is that Tusk is essentially Buckingham’s playground, and if he wants to throw all his toys out the pram… he will. And record it.
Underrated tracks of this record show themselves in ‘That’s Enough For Me’, ‘I Know I’m Not Wrong’ (which proves to be the album’s longest track to record, over a year from idea to completion), ‘Walk A Thin Line’ and Christine McVie’s closer, ‘Never Forget’. All are perfect in their own way.
The title track from Lindsey, ‘Tusk’, is a mounting stomper of a tune, complete with full marching band and lyrics about Nicks’ and Fleetwood’s odd affair, to say the least (the line, ‘Real savage like!’ that Buckingham shouts is supposedly his way of describing their intimate life). It’s just bizarre incarnate, but it sounds amazing.
The track order of the piece is a mess, and there’s certainly some filler here but, hey, it’s got twenty tracks, can you complain?
Overall, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk was an ambitious move, and one that I think paid off. Even today, I still find sanctuary in its unconventional songwriting and jarring drumwork. Maybe it’s too experimental, maybe in hindsight it was too much, too soon. But to me, it’s Buckingham’s masterstroke, and a symbol of his hard work and dedication to the band. They all sound on top form here, and its immortalized for our enjoyment for years to come.