BY MATTHEW FIANDER
12 February 2016
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double album, is full of backstory. If its mega-successful predecessor Rumours had the Behind the Music-made backstories of deceit and division, Tusk (like the album itself) had several conflicting and chaotic backstories. It was the first record to cost over a million dollars. The affairs and divides of Rumours had, by 1979, grown into wider fissures between band members and, in some ways, full-on breakdown. There’s also the notion that this is the cocaine record, a product of excess and disconnection from sense.
Perhaps connecting all these stories together—or fracturing them further—is the idea that Tusk was Lindsay Buckingham’s brainchild. In the liner notes to this new Deluxe Edition of the album, Jim Irvin lays out Buckingham’s mindset post-Rumours. He didn’t want to lean back on success and make the same record again. He was also, so the essay suggests, influenced by the growing punk movement. That Irvin himself seems disingenuous about punk, referring to the movement as a “grubby breeze” and to the moderate chart success of the Ramones or the Damned as “if they were mould spores ready to discolor the musical wallpaper.” And though he sees punk and new wave as music with a “youthfully abrupt” attitude to the past, he does concede that Elvis Costello and the Clash, among others were “speedily evolving.” His attitude, colored by a clear love of the “plush delights” of Rumours, seems to echo Buckingham’s. He borrows the ethos of punk in claiming that Tusk was a “fuck you” to the business of music.
Digging into this new 5CD/DVD/2LP version of Tusk, with all its bonus tracks and liner notes and photos, suggests that Buckingham’s view of the record and its making veers us away from the notion of coke bloat. The album isn’t truly about unabashed excess. Instead, this new edition helps us to re-see the record as a deeply self-conscious document, wherein Buckingham’s turn to the Talking Heads and the Clash (influences largely absent on the actual music of Tusk) seem to suggest an any-port-in-the-storm approach to making new music. The truth, though, is that the success of Rumours was hardly a problem. Tusk suggests that Fleetwood Mac was for a moment—due to inexperience, drugs, personal rifts, whatever—unsure not of how to follow up Rumours, but of how to make any other record. The “idiocy of fame” Irvin suggests as a target for Fleetwood Mac rings as naïve even now. Buckingham’s genre-hopping was little more than diving into of-the-moment trends. Mick Fleetwood, according to liner notes, wanted to make an African record, calling it a “native record with chants and amazing percussion.” These starting points for Tusk suggest not a rejection of success, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding of the privilege it brings.
That misunderstanding bleeds into the confused album itself. But this misunderstanding, and all the other confusions that went into the record, is what makes it so fascinating to listen to. For one, Buckingham’s conceits of ambition distract from some of the album’s purest pop moments. “Sara” shimmers” on clean, crisp pianos and beautiful vocals (Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are actually the voices that keep this record together, though their influence is undersold in the liner notes in favor of the Buckingham defiant-burdened-male-genius narrative). “Over & Over” is bittersweet, dusty country-rock. “Storms” feels both spare and dreamy, leaning on vocal harmonies and tumbling guitar phrasings. “Angel” is stripped down and lean, letting the rhythm section take over rather than Buckingham’s layering. “What Makes You Think You’re the One” is catchy, straight-on power-pop, even with the high-in-the-mix snares and Buckingham’s unruly, edged vocals (which appear plenty on the record). Continue reading