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Tusk
Fleetwood Mac

Warner 3350
Released: October 1979
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Double Platinum: 10/22/84

Stevie NicksChristine McVieLindsey BuckinghamAt 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 earlier Bare 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.

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
Original album advertising art.
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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.

Bonus Reviews!

Fleetwood Mac's hotly anticipated followup to Rumours continues in the band's tradition of making precision soft rock music with an accent on beautiful melodies, fluid harmonies and superb vocal work. Given that this is a two-record set, the band injects a few tracks that deviate from the traditional Fleetwood sound such as in "Tusk," the album's initial single. Yet the majority of tracks boast the group's svelte, gently rocking sound that won't disappoint. In fact, there are a number of tunes that sound as if they were culled right off the Rumours LP. The band has always been a stickler for quality and the playing of Mick Fleetwood, drums; Lindsey Buckingham, guitar; John McVie, bass; Christine McVie, keyboards; and Stevie Nicks is first-rate all the way. Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie penned all 20 songs which cover a broad base of styles. Best cuts: "Storms," "The Ledge," "Brown Eyes," "Never Make Me Cry," "Walk A Thin Line," "That's All For Everyone," "Sisters Of The Moon," "Tusk," "Over & Over."

- Billboard, 1979.

A million bucks is what I call obsessive production, but for once it means something. This is like reggae, or Eno -- not only don't Lindsey Buckingham's swelling edges and dynamic separations get in the way of the music, they're inextricable from the music, or maybe they are the music. The passionate dissociation of the mix is entirely appropriate to an ensemble in which the three principals have all but disappeared (vocally) from each other's work. But only Buckingham is attuned enough to get exciting music out of a sound so spare and subtle it reveals the limits of Christine McVie's simplicity and shows Stevie Nicks up for the mooncalf she's always been. Also, it doesn't make for very good background noise. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

In some ways more impressive than Rumours, this two-record set (compressed onto one CD by editing "Sara," one of its hits!) is an ambitious effort full of unusual arrangements and striking instrumental passages, plus a wealth of topflight songwriting. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Tusk is more an eccentric masterpiece than a pop masterpiece, with Lindsey Buckingham running wild and reinventing lo-fi on his pieces while Stevie Nicks ("Sara") and Christine McVie ("Think About Me") keep the group in the mainstream. * * * *

- Steve Holtje, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Fleetwood Mac were bound to fall from the heights reached on 1977's Rumours, which spent a staggering 31 weeks on the top of the charts. But few have "fallen" in such an epic fashion as the Mac did with Tusk.

Recorded over a ten-month period, the sprawling two-disc set reached new heights of studio excess and ran up a then-unprecedented one-million-dollar tab. However, the money seems well spent -- including whatever it cost to rent out Dodger Stadium and hire the USC marching band to record the title track.

Borrowing equally from both Brians (Eno and Wilson), the album is a dreamy collage that utilizes every bell and whistle then known to man. Lindsey Buckingham, who assumed control of the band with Rumours, stays at the forefront here and creates his own sparkling version of Pet Sounds.

Rumours boils with tension, stemming mainly from Buckingham's failed relationship with Stevie Nicks, but level-headed professionalism reigns on Tusk. It is an older, wiser band that brings a sense of steely detachment, and even acceptance, to poignant tracks like "Angel" and "Save Me A Place." Nicks' breathy alto has never sounded better than on "Sara" and Christine McVie is absolutely haunting on the country-tinged folk rock of "Over & Over."

Tusk could not match Rumours in sales, but it did go platinum four months after its release. It was not the expected follow-up, but what else would you expect from the band that told us to "Go Your Own Way"?

- Jim Harrington, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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