By David Chiu
The mythology of Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double album Tusk has been written about over time, and rightly so for what it didn’t do. The conventional wisdom for an artist that had a huge blockbuster hit album is to replicate the winning formula for the follow-up record. And the fact that Fleetwood Mac bucked that formula and followed its own instincts is what makes the story and the music behind Tusk – the successor to Rumours – so fascinating. Rather than rehashing Rumours, the band, particularly Lindsey Buckingham, shook things up musically. Buckingham’s songs on Tusk bordered somewhere between New Wave and punk than the SoCal rock sound of the time: there’s a minimalist DIY feel throughout the Buckingham-penned tracks such as the frantic “The Ledge”; the Beatlesque “What Makes You Think You’re the One,” the jerky “Not That Funny Is it,” and the elegant “That’s All for Everyone.” Not that his experimental efforts were for nothing–the mysterious title song became a Top 10 hit, a miracle given its out-of-left-field musicality that includes the appearance of the USC Marching Band). (A more analytical take on Mac’s unorthodox approach to Tusk can be found on Patrick Berkery’s essay in Salon). While Tusk has Buckingham’s musical DNA all over it, the contributions from Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie shouldn’t be overlooked. Nicks herself takes her mystic songwriting to poetic heights with probably some of her best material at that point, further solidifying her rock goddess status: the lovely free-form ballad “Sara,” the turbulent “Sisters of the Moon,” and the aching fragile “Storms.” McVie provides the perfect counterpoint to her colleagues’ ambitions with her own melodic pop songs: from the upbeat and underrated “Think About Me,” through the heartbreaking ballad “Never Make Me Cry” and the jazzy and subdued “Brown Eyes” to the hopeful album closer “Never Forget.”
This new deluxe reissue of Tusk (5 CD/1 DVD/2 LP) takes things one step further with the original album, a disc of single edits, remixes, and outtakes (among them are six versions of “I Know I’m Not Wrong,”that document that song’s development); an ‘alternate’ version of Tusk with previously released versions of songs, and live performances from the Tusk tour (not to be confused with 1980’s Fleetwood Mac Live album). And for vinyl fanatics, the 2-LP version of the album rounds out this mega-set.
Overall, Tusk is a ballsy and brave response from the band to those expecting Rumours II. While it didn’t blaze the charts as Rumours did–selling only 4 million copies to its predecessor’s 20 million– Tusk remains the group’s ambitious dark horse masterwork. Commercial disappointment should be as good as this.