Album Review: Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (1979)
By Sergio Ariza
Tusk was not what the average Fleetwood Mac fan expected, certainly not what their record company expected, and possibly not what the four-fifths of the band not named Lindsey Buckingham expected either.
After losing their leader and founder, going through several line-ups and releasing eleven albums, the band had become one of the most successful of all time and had released one of the best-selling albums of all time, Rumours (at the time of writing it is in the Billboard Top 40 best-selling albums chart, accumulating 503 weeks there), so basically everyone was waiting for a sequel to that album, but that's what good old Buckingham wasn't willing to give them.
Since the release of Rumours, the rock world had been shaken by the emergence of punk and New Wave, which were crying out against the stagnation of the genre. Well, Buckingham connected with several new groups like the Clash and the Talking Heads, cut his hair and decided that Fleetwood Mac's new music couldn't be more of the same; the first song to be recorded for the new album, I Know I'm Not Wrong, seemed to be a plea to his bandmates to let him follow his baser instincts: "Don't blame me/ Please be strong/ I know I'm not wrong".
They didn't see it very clearly, mainly the other two songwriters in the band, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, who continued with their respective styles; but since Buckingham had been the main creative force in their recent success, they gave him space. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie weren't too sure either, but seeing that the guy had made them multimillionaires, they didn't protest. While Buckingham had a bathroom installed in the studio they had built for themselves, the rest let him indulge - by ordering the most expensive dinners in the world, with the best champagne and the purest cocaine in Los Angeles.
But it wasn't just New Wave that the intense Buckingham lived for. While recording this album, he had access to the recording sessions of Smile, the abandoned Beach Boys project of his adored Brian Wilson, and his nine compositions are influenced by both New Wave and Wilson, which sounds contrasting, but makes them the most interesting on the album, as well as the most common, as they represent almost half of the 20 songs that make up the album.
Tusk opened with McVie's soothing Over & Over, which any lover of Rumours would see as a placid continuation of that album, with its gentle Californian country feel, but then The Ledge came on and more than one jaw dropped at what sounded like an unhinged song with Buckingham's almost out-of-tune Telecaster accompanying his nervous voice. It was a statement of intent on his part making it clear that there was to be no new Go Your Own Way here, no acoustic finesse like Never Going Back Again.
Even so, Stevie Nicks once again proved that she was the songwriter with the most irresistible melodies of the three. She had only five songs, but they were once again the ones with the best commercial options, as demonstrated by the hit single Sara, in where she once again spoke of the turbulent relationships she had after Buckingham with Mick Fleetwood and Don Henley. In her songs, those who were looking for a continuation of the melancholic ‘rumours’ of the past found some respite. Christine McVie follows the same path, whose contributions include the irresistible Think About Me and the atmospheric Brown Eyes, in which at the end you can once again hear the guitar notes of the man who founded the band, the incredible Peter Green.
But this album belongs to Buckingham, whether it's in the newer pieces like the aforementioned The Ledge and I Know I'm Not Wrong, the acid rockabilly (by his own definition) that is That's Enough For Me or the wonderful Not That Funny, with a keyboard reminiscent of the B-52s and a totally distorted and manipulated solo. And then there are those other songs inspired by Brian Wilson and his Smile, like the chilling harmonies on Nicks' Beautiful Child or the backing vocals on McVie's Honey Hi, as well as two of his own great songs, like the wonderful That's All For Everyone and Walk A Thin Line; one of the best of his career.
And then there's the title track, an irreverent song based on heavy percussion in which they used all sorts of things, like a packet of kleenex, Buckingham himself, lamb chops, Mick Fleetwood.
Just by looking at the cover it was clear that Tusk was one of those albums that wasn't going to give the public what they were expecting, trading the elegant poses of their previous two albums for a miniature picture of a rabid dog. It didn't sell what was expected, though it did sell in the millions, but the passage of time has put it in a much better position, with a band challenging itself: mainly a Buckingham corseted by punk and the shadow of Brian Wilson, an influence that Buckingham himself explains perfectly: "It gave me the courage to despise success, it showed me that the thing to do as an artist is to take risks and find new avenues". Tusk was the splendid result of that risk.