The Return of Tusk: Fleetwood Mac's Exotic Classic Expands
By Mike Ragogna
When Fleetwood Mac's Tusk finally was unveiled to the masses back in 1979, it critically dropped like a white elephant. After releasing two of the best, almost flawless pop albums of the seventies--Rumours and Fleetwood Mac--folks expected the band's formula of non-stop, potential singles to remain intact. Instead, Tusk spread its sonic experimentation across two albums, its creative overlord, Lindsey Buckingham, having utilized virtually every studio toy at his disposal. Add to that USC's marching band drumline-ing across the focus single/title track with servings of un-Mac-like musical performances and song lengths, and you get Buckingham's musical vision/version of what a late-seventies album was supposed to be. Fleetwood Mad had arrived and considering the relationship breakdowns and band's highly-publicized drug culture, it was a miracle this previously-considered overthought, overwrought product made it to vinyl at all.
Fleetwood Mac's shifting business and leadership dynamics and partner trade-ups shouldn't have been surprising considering the musical institution's member roster evolved following every few albums (remember Peter Green and Bob Welch?) and the inevitable shake-up cyclicly was due. All of this very public Mac stress delighted journalists who gleefully spread the word. Regardless, devoted fans still were hooked on the band that strutted siren Stevie Nicks and the sophisticated Christine McVie, and they would spend their last dollar for this sweet fix. So the album sold well though it did shock Macsters, and the returns (when stores want a refund for unsold product) were large since product shipments allegedly were as bloated as Tusk's track count and excesses. Then again, at the time, returns were a given and built into the business plan for virtually every album release.
As a single, the title track "Tusk" wasn't a flop but it also wasn't embraced like the usual, undeniable Mac release, possibly due to its cryptic poetry ("Why don't you ask him what's going on? Why don't you ask him who's the latest on his throne?"). The reality was that no matter how ambitious and applaudable the 45 was, it didn't change music as we knew it; luckily Stevie Nicks'"Sara" became the album Tusk's biggest hit and its saving grace. Unfortunately, "Think About Me" and "Sisters Of The Moon, the followup singles," came off like second stringers, like Rumour's lightweight "I Don't Want To Know." Add to that Lindsey Buckingham's creepy-ish "Not That Funny" and "The Ledge" and it was like the Fleetwood Mac we knew and loved had been euthanized.
With the release of the super-deluxe Tusk and its abundant, additional content--including a vinyl pressing--this head-scratcher of an album both gets its due and a thorough examination. Naturally, the remastered album sounds fuller than its original CD release and closer to the vinyl sonics, and the 5.1 surround mixes utilize instruments, vocals, and arrangement groupings previously denied this project. The crazy amount of work that went into Tusk's undertaking is uncovered further with a rarity disc that contains demos, outtakes, and remixes. There are also two live discs that put the emotionally and physically exhausted Fleetwood Mac's fatigue front and center. What's presented here may not be fantastic but it's engaging, with performances of newbie compositions like "Sara" and older hits like the always dazzling "Landslide." And the alternate Tusk disc comprised of different mixes and takes is interesting, but Mac and the gang's first go-round is the definitive version, even though this "what if?" is smartly assembled.
After this deluxe, historical analysis of Tusk and with so many decades following its initial release, it can be rationalized that it possibly was a commercial misstep but it also served a bigger purpose. Lindsey Buckingham's genius has been outed through the years, project after project, and Tusk, obviously, was this mad scientist's first true laboratory, so he should get a break for an experiment or two that went haywire. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie's lead vocals delighted on practically all of their songs, no problem there. Even former Mac-er Peter Green paid a visit to "Brown Eyes," and to this day, everyone loves those USC marching band rascals, though not necessarily on a pop record heard every ten minutes on the radio. A big nod goes to the sound, expertly constructed by the project's talented co-producers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat (father of Colbie).
Not much more can be said about Tusk except that its opening song "Over And Over" got it right. Its message of sanity prevailing through adversity applied to this incarnation of the group...at least until they changed doctors a few years later (Doctor Who reference...anyone?). This version of the band--Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood--survived long enough to record the Mirage and Tango In The Night albums, whose creative heights may not have been achievable without Tusk. Put in another context, Tusk could be considered Fleetwood Mac's middle child that demanded more attention and pretty much was, possibly until now, misunderstood.
FLEETWOOD MAC 'TUSK' DELUXE AND EXPANDED