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Album Review: Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” endures in its messiness and magnificence after 41 years


Picture this: you’re a member of a highly successful band who just got off tour from their record-breaking album that’s essentially a soap opera with music. You’re expected to go back into the studio and write a follow-up album to somehow beat this colossal album — but how? The band is in shambles — romances, pettiness and copious amounts of cocaine being the only things keeping the band from imploding.


So how does your hypothetical band write an equally incredible follow-up album without the band throwing in the rag?


The answer — convincing the record label to give you and the band over a million dollars and an unbelievable amount of creative control to do whatever the fuck you want during the writing process.


And that’s exactly what the British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac did for their 1979 album, “Tusk.”


Although considered a commercial flop, “Tusk” is regarded as the tour-de-force record for the band and one of the greatest — and most expensive — albums ever produced.


With three songwriters on the record, “Tusk” is an eclectic collage of moving on, heartbreak and mania for the band. Is it glaringly obvious there’s no real narrative in this record? Yes. Is it still one of the greatest albums ever recorded, because of it’s lack of consistency? Also, yes.


It’s the magic in the inconsistency that makes “Tusk” a classic. The record doesn’t feel manufactured for widespread commercial release, but rather for the band members to raise their middle fingers at each other and not kiss and tell. It’s this haphazard way of throwing the album together that makes it more personal and human for listeners — thus conceiving a realistic and intimate record for the band despite their previous success with their musical soap opera “Rumours.”


The opener almost seems to set the tone for it, but “Over & Over” deceives us. McVie, once again, slips on the rose-colored glasses with her lovely vocals and melody, but deftly wishes for a distant lover to come back to her and considers that maybe she’s the reason for the widening ocean between them.


If fans thought this record was going to be all rose-colored glasses and sneaky, backhanded compliments, oh boy, they were wrong. We go over Buckingham’s creative ledge with “The Ledge,” reminiscent of “Never Going Back Again,” but with a jumpy guitar line tuned down to sound like a bass and Buckingham’s whispered accusations. Buckingham’s insistence to distort his stellar guitar playing and gritty vocals seems to be one of the few consistent choices on this record.


Despite Buckingham insisting the band not recreate the success or artistry of “Rumours,” tracks like “Sara” and “Storms” sound straight from the same recording sessions as “Dreams.” The six-minute masterpiece that is “Sara,” is not a Fleetwood Mac track, but rather a Nicks song that got lost on the way to her solo albums years down the line.

Although the inspiration behind Nicks’ masterpiece is still hotly debated by fans and critics, there’s no debating whether or not “Sara” is the pinnacle of Nicks’ songwriting abilities — it just is. If you’re wondering about the timeless influence of “Sara,” my parents named me after the 1979 masterpiece 20 years after its release.


It wouldn’t be a Fleetwood Mac album without the ethereal Nicks casting a literal spell on listeners. Fan-favorite “Sisters of the Moon” could be the title track of a movie about witches navigating the 21st century starring the Internet’s coven with Nicks, which would catapult this song into the same stratosphere as her other witchy songs like “Gold Dust Woman” and “Rhiannon.” Nicks’ haunting vocals, Buckingham’s guitar riffs and the driving beat led by the bass and guitar could send even the most devout out of their seats to dance naked under the moon to this track.


“Honey Hi” snuck it’s way onto the record and is arguably the least angsty track on the entire 20 track album. McVie’s mellow harmonies with Nicks, the folky guitars and the minimal lyrics were an unlikely choice for this album. Given the middle-fingers-in-the-air vibe from the rest of the album, it’s a surprising turn for the band but blends seamlessly into the out-of-left-field record. I imagine this track would be perfect to play while laying in a summer field, snacking on grapes while ignoring the obvious issues in a relationship, which — of course — perfectly coincides with this record.


The title track is the best spellwork on the entire record, with the opening frenzied drums immediately signaling the little sensors in your brain to dance, no matter where you are. If Mick’s manic drumming doesn’t make you do a jig in your seat, the delirious University of Southern California’s band accompaniment will instantly fire up all of your nerve endings with their funky horn-driven melody. Say ‘thanks’ to Buckingham for that brilliant idea.

Buckingham’s repetitive lyrics calling out “Don’t say you love me/Just tell me that you want me,” references him knowing about the Nicks-Fleetwood affair that occured during the writing of the album. The explosive track adds another song to the very, long list of the two songwriters verbally sparring over their failed relationship songs that the band is now famous for.


Maybe that’s the charm of “Tusk,” it isn’t trying to be a revamped “Rumours.” The record isn’t trying to be anything it’s not — even if the record is a dizzying mosaic of songwriting and sounds, it gets away with because it’s not standing in the shadow of “Rumours.” There’s no denying that “Tusk” isn’t a concept album in any shape or form — rather it’s a collection carefully curated to reflect the troubling romances, betrayals and pettiness of Fleetwood Mac’s members.


Hearing each of the member’s anger and lovelessness is exactly what we need. If “Rumours” is sneaking around and passive aggressively, calling each other out then “Tusk” is standing on a stage in front of a 30,000 people and saying, “Fuck you” without an regard for the aftermath. And that — that evocation of anger and pettiness — is why “Tusk” prevails 41 years after it’s release.



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