October 1979 Fleetwood Mac's
double LP Tusk was released
Released: October 1979
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Double Platinum: 10/22/84
At a cost of two years and well over a million dollars, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk represents both the last word in lavish California studio pop and a brave but tentative lurch forward by the one Seventies group that can claim a musical chemistry as mysteriously right -- though not as potent -- as the Beatles'. In its fits and starts and restless changes of pace, Tusk inevitably recalls the Beatles' "White Album" (1968), the quirky rock jigsaw puzzle that showed the Fab Four at their artiest and most indecisive.
Like "The White Album," Tusk is less a collection of finished songs than a mosaic of pop-rock fragments by individual performers. Tusk's twenty tunes -- nine by Lindsey Buckingham, six by Christine McVie, five by Stevie Nicks -- constitute a two-record "trip" that covers a lot of ground, from rock & roll basics to a shivery psychedelia reminiscent of the band's earlierBare Trees and Future Games to the opulent extremes of folk-rock arcana given the full Hollywood treatment. "The White Album" was also a trip, but one that reflected the furious social banging around at the end of the Sixties. Tusk is much vaguer. Semiprogrammatic and nonliterary, it ushers out the Seventies with a long, melancholy high.
On a song-by-song basis, Tusk's material lacks the structural concision of the finest cuts on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Though there are no compositions with the streamlined homogeneity of "Dreams," "You Make Loving Fun" or "Go Your Own Way," there are many fragments as striking as the best moments in any of these numbers.
If Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks were the most memorable voices on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, Lindsey Buckingham is Tusk's artistic linchpin. The special thanks to him on the back of the LP indicates that he was more involved with Tusk's production than any other group member. Buckingham's audacious addition of a gleeful and allusive slapstick rock & roll style -- practically the antithesis of Fleetwood Mac's Top Forty image -- holds this mosaic together, because it provides the crucial changes of pace without which Tusk would sound bland.
The basic style of Tusk's "produced" cuts is a luxuriant choral folk-rock -- as spacious as it is subtle -- whose misty swirls are organized around incredibly precise yet delicate rhythm tracks. Instead of using the standard pop embellishments (strings, synthesizers, horns, etc.), the bulk of the sweetening consists of hovering instrumentation and background vocals massively layered to approximate strings. This gorgeous, hushed, ethereal sound was introduced to pop with 10cc's "I'm Not in Love," and Fleetwood Mac first used in Rumours' "You Make Loving Fun." On Tusk, it's the band's signature. Buckingham's most commercial efforts -- the chiming folk ballads, "That's All for Everyone" and "Walk a Thine Line" -- deploy a choir in great dreamy waves. In McVie's "Brown Eyes," the blending of voices, guitars and keyboards into a plaintive "sha-la-la" bridge builds a mere scrap of a song into a magnificent castle in the air. "Brown Eyes" sounds as if it were invented for the production, rather than vice versa.
About the only quality that Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie share is a die-hard romanticism. On Tusk, Nicks sounds more than ever like a West Coast Patti Smith. Her singing is noticeably hoarser than on Rumours, though she makes up some of what she's lost in control with a newfound histrionic urgency: "Angel" is an especially risky flirtation with hard rock. Nicks' finest compositions here are two lovely ballads, "Beautiful Child" and "Storms." Her other contributions, "Sara" and "Sisters of the Moon," weave personal symbolism and offbeat mythology into a near-impenetrable murk. There's a fine line between the exotic and the bizarre, and this would-be hippie sorceress skirts it perilously.
McVie is as dour and terse as Nicks is excitable and verbose. Her two best songs -- "Never Forget," a folk-style march, and "Never Make Me Cry," a mournful lullaby -- are lovely little gems of pure romantic ambiance. With a pure, dusky alto that's reminiscent of Sandy Denny, this woeful woman-child who's in perpetual pursuit of "daddy" evokes a timeless sadness.
Tusk finds Fleetwood Mac slightly tipsy from jet lag and fine wine, teetering about in the late-afternoon sun and making exquisite small talk. Surely, they must all be aware of the evanescence of the golden moment that this album has captured so majestically.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 12/13/79.