Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (Remastered)
Mention the success of the second wave of Fleetwood Mac and most will throw in the phenomenal sales of Rumours as the reason. Traditionally, the follow-up effort to Rumours, a double-album entitled Tusk, has been slated as a cocaine-driven bloated excuse for self-indulgence; substituting quality for quantity by a band who had been unsuccessful in stopping success from affecting their perceptions of reality. Hindsight is a beautiful and beneficial tool however, and whereas Rumours sits comfortably in the mainstream musical awareness, having helped to shape it in the first place, Tusk is embracing a new-found sense of appreciation amongst listeners not instinctively expecting a similar-styled sequel to Rumours.
Shaking off the blues-guitar manifesto of previous Fleetwood Mac incarnation, the newer Anglo-American outfit had fast become a collection of superstars struggling to sit amongst a set of constraints. Completing Rumours nearly finished the band for good; it didn't help that the McVie's marriage had ended, as well as Buckingham and Nicks love-affair enduring a stormy on/off relationship that ended painfully. Music, love, pleasure and business had become tumultuously intertwined as one. For its five members, Fleetwood Mac had become painful life itself as opposed to offering merely a distraction. The fact was, that Fleetwood, McVie, McVie, Buckingham and Nicks had become so mentally brain-scrambled by the prospect of even attempting to emulate Rumours that they threw their efforts purely into making an album as different as could be to its predecessor.
In particularly Lindsey Buckingham, who had dispensed with the long hair and beard in favour of a svelte, short-haired and clean-shaven appearance. Looking at photos of Buckingham around the period of Tusk, it is clear that he is edging away to create a distance between himself and his group. It is as if Buckingham cannot resist the lure of the musical new wave - the arty punkpop of bands such as Talking Heads and The Pretenders. Fortunately, the leash around Buckingham's neck within the framework of the band had been loosened for the sake of the preservation of harmony. Buckingham was at his most experimental and he relished in appearing contrary to any mainstream convention, so much so that of the twenty Tusk songs on the album nine were penned by him. Taken further, if you isolated the Buckingham songs and played them together you would have in your hands a bona-fide new wave album. It's as if Tusk exists not just as a group effort, in which members brought all of their songs to the table, but also as a body in which a Lindsey Buckingham punkish new wave solo album has manifested itself somewhere within. This easily explains the slight bewilderment on behalf of his fellow bandmates and also the public and critical sense of anticlimax that greeted them. Ironically, many have claimed, with Mick Fleetwood being the most important amongst them, that it's Buckingham's burning desire to break free from the pressures of being in a band like Fleetwood Mac in the late-seventies that stopped the band falling towards destruction.
It's this experimental side of Tusk that allows it to be appreciated years later without having to carry the enormous pressure to emulate Rumours on its shoulders. Whilst Buckingham has deliberately avoided crafting out instant, accessible pop/rock classics such as Monday Morning or Go Your Own Way on the album, he does manage to contribute some effortless gems that pack a well-aimed punch, particularly now that the sound has been remastered to pristine perfection for this re-issue. I Know I'm Not Wrong is arguably the best, and most trademark song on Tusk, combining pounding New Wave bass-rhythms with beautiful multi-tracked harmonies; thus serving to corroborate the dual-natured musical identity of both the album and the band themselves. The Ledge was the second track on Tusk, but should have opened the album rather than the safer choice of Christine McVie's Over And Over. The Ledge is short, snappy, unlike anything the band had achieved before and most of all a lot of fun, completely opposite in all respects to the equally-good Nicks-penned Sara. Other Buckingham highlights include Not That Funny and the one-minute-fifty-seconds of That's Enough For Me, which carries with it a welcome sense of vibrancy occasionally lacking in the Mac's work. Granted, some of Buckingham's work strayed close to being plodding, such as the laid-back Save Me A Place, but track-for-track Lindsey Buckingham is Tusk's saviour, corroborated by the fact that he received special thanks from the rest of the band for his efforts on the album. The final song of his to grace the album, the title track, is pure musical spectacle, especially considering the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band were invited to record their own take of the central riff in the middle of Dodger Stadium. It's grand statements such as these that ensured Tusk cost to produce exceeded one million dollars in 1979, but looking back, it was more than worth it.
Whereas Buckingham couldn't help to explode into new musical terrain, other principal Fleetwood Mac songwriters Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks replied by adhering to the same essence that had propelled the band to stardom in the first place. Over the years since Tusk's release, McVie has found some criticism for doing exactly the opposite of what Buckingham was criticised for initially. Whilst it's hard to argue that she pushed any new buttons in her songwriting on Tusk, it's equally hard to disagree with the claim that some of her best songs found its way onto the album. Her Brown Eyes, second only to Buckingham's I Know I'm Not Wrong as strongest album track, is a sun-setting concoction of Californian pop tainted by notions of dread for an uncertain future. John McVie's powerful bass-line, coupled with the mesmerising "Sha-la-la" chorus, is spine-tingling in its pessimism. In contrast, Honey Hi and Never Forget are sunny and suggest that some blue skies may still be ahead. McVie's Over And Over has a swirling, heavenly conclusion that invites the need for calm amidst the chaos. Yes, Think About Me was conventional Fleetwood Mac-by-numbers, but then someone had to put work into keeping the fans that were grabbed in the first place.
Stevie Nicks only contributed five songs to the twenty that are included on Tusk, but her presence on the album is still very heavy. The epic Sara, reinstated on this reissue to its full six-minute-thirty duration (the original CD release was forced to include the shorter 'single edit' so that all of the album could fit onto what was then the seventy-two-minute limit for a compact disc), harnesses the eccentric side of Nicks' character whilst honing a strong cauldron of pop sensibility. Beautiful Child features memorable vocal backing from Buckingham, who was clearly the subject of the song itself. Nicks fails to hit the heights of Dreams or Rhiannon, but then she had already assured herself a place in pop/rock history by those songs alone. Her Sisters Of The Moon only served to prophesise the future brooding territory that Nicks would chart in her solo career.
The three songwriters in Mac would have been nowhere had they not had an almost indestructible partnership of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as the core backing of each track. Fleetwood's drumming is relentlessly dominant, even on sure-fire pop numbers such as Sara, and Buckingham's breakaway efforts would have fallen far short of the mark had John McVie's driving bass-lines not complemented his songs so wonderfully. Tusk is an album in which every member of Fleetwood Mac plays a part in its strange, eventual critical success. The success of Rumours trapped the band inside the eye of a hurricane, which was then preceded by a swift implosion. The recording of Tusk was dominated by each member's enduring mental anguish. The listener is almost forced into voyeuristic behaviour in the sense that nearly all of the songs written for the album concern the breakdown of a relationship with another member of the same band.
Still, Tusk has remained on its feet all these years later despite strong circulating storms. Whereas The White Album was about four talented musicians struggling to cope with the fact that they couldn't be in a band with one another anymore, Tusk is an album in which five nervous-breakdowns somehow equated to good music. Disregarding any pretentious reasoning for being a double-album, other than claiming they had more songs than the number that would fill a single album, Tusk is Fleetwood Mac's edge if Rumours was its centre. It demonstrates that being innovative was much more important to the band than pandering to what the public wanted, and finally we are able to thank them for that, by appreciating Tusk as the late-seventies pop/rock masterpiece it clearly is.
The bonus disc included on this reissue contains demos, roughs and outtakes assembled to form some sort of alternative early-version of Tusk. Some songs are just stripped down master-takes or single edits, whilst others are very raw demos. Lindsey Buckingham has the lion's share of alternative versions, with three different takes of I Know I'm Not Wrong featuring on the twenty-one bonus cuts. To be honest, the only noteworthy element that brings any worthwhile interest is the nine-minute extended initial take of Nick's Sara. However, there are two covers featured on the bonus disc, such as a jokey rehearsal of Jorge Calderon's Kiss And Run and a fine rendition of The Beach Boys' Farmer's Daughter, which probably just missed out on inclusion on the final Tusk listing. Single versions of Think About Me and Sisters Of The Moon are included at the end, but bizarrely no single, edited-down version of Sara.
Compared to the very early original CD release of Tusk, the sound remastering is a startling improvement. Bringing every factor higher up into the mix with a sharp clarity, the album would be worth a re-purchase for fans even if it didn't include the bonus disc of alternate takes that only they would appreciate in the first place. As a combined package however, it's extremely difficult not to give the remastered and expanded reissue of Tusk the full recommendation.