Saturday, October 07, 2017

Tusk (1979)

I had never fathomed the emptiness of this star vehicle until recent weeks. That's partly because I never owned a copy until it was years old and then never played it often. And partly because, when I decided to look into it, I went all the way with the Tusk box on Napster. All this time I've been inclined to defend Tusk based mostly on favoring two of its three singles (one very much) and also feeling some need to argue for the Buckingham-Nicks model against the ravening Peter Green hordes. Stevie Nicks made a natural companion with Christine McVie, who is as close to an original member as you can find after Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and Christine's brother ex-husband, John, the bass player. I'm not saying Stevie and Christine are natural companions because they are both women, but because in their outlook and mood they are equally sisters of the moon (as documented by name here in fact). If there are any further questions, Stevie Nicks is a Gemini and Christine McVie is a Cancer. They have more in common with Danny Kirwan or Bob Welch than Lindsey Buckingham, who is the real wild card here, a pop gremlin more out of the school of the Beatles, with an affinity for hooks, pop song constructions, and studio wonkery. It was natural in the late '70s that he would be drawn to New Wave. If Buckingham represented a wash of Beatles influence on the old Fleetwood Mac, New Wave was similarly a wash of Beatles influence on punk-rock. Tusk, as noted everywhere, was Fleetwood Mac's lavishly budgeted laboratory to do with as they wished, a job-well-done from the label for being so helpful in selling a kajillion records (Rumours is still in the top 10 of all-time album sellers).

I love the title song, "Tusk," which went to #8 late in 1979, and always have. It's not just the marching band, the whole thing is buggy but also tight as a drum. In fact, "Tusk" starts with, builds on, and never gets far from a basic drum pattern, on which the layers are built vertically, sliding in and out in overlays: nonsense lyrics, more percussion, the gorgeous Fleetwood Mac harmonies, and of course that marching band (the genuine USC thing). The song spins, it floats in the air, it sits down, it dances in place. It's irresistible, Buckingham's primal essay at New Wave. But inspection of the Tusk box has also convinced me that that single version is the only good one that exists (among a handful of other versions scattered over the five CDs). "Sara," the second single, was also top 10, and I liked it too, although I don't like it very much anymore—the mood of Stevie Nicks at her best is present, but slowed to a soporific crawl. You want to get this song a cup of coffee because it sounds like it's about to pass out. I'll stick with "Rhiannon," "Dreams," and even "Gypsy." The third hit from Tusk was a Christine McVie song, "Think About Me," which made it to #20 early in 1980. I'm not a fan. And the rest of the album, some 17 more tracks, moves through Buckingham New Wave experiments ("The Ledge," "Not That Funny," "I Know I'm Not Wrong") and lots of muzzy-headed buffaloing around the place from Stevie and Christine, which in spite of themselves sometimes wander into decent places, but only occasionally, such as a certain keening apotheosis in "Sisters of the Moon." For the most part Tusk is way too much work with way too little reward. Proceed to Mirage.


  1. I don't own Tusk by Fleetwood Mac but I own Tusk by Camper Van Beethoven because I could not resist the humor? snark?

  2. Oh my God, how did I miss that?!

  3. John McVie is Christine's ex-husband, not her brother.

    1. Thank you, fixed -- hate to make mistakes like that.

  4. I can't remember where but I'm sure somewhere recently I read someone going all in for Tusk being Mac's true shaggy dog masterpiece. Your account rings truer to me. And I've always been surrounded by the Peter-Green's-Mac-is-the-only-Real Mac people too. They were first, sure, some decent late-60s blues rock. But, for heaven's sake, for three years, two albums, '75-'77, FM and Rumours, Fleetwood Mac was a colossus. Sure, Hollywood folkie bohemia, Yacht Rock, but what a vocal group, hooks, song production, that rhythm section. I get ambivalence ab, say, the Eagles, if never entirely the intense hatred for them in some quarters. But for those two albums, Mac were of a different order, like some Beatles, Michael Jackson, music so great it defies criticism.