Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk: 30 years later

Thursday, December 31st, 2009 | musiX

Fleetwood Mac released Tusk at a strange time. For the band, they faced the daunting task of following up 1977′s do-no-wrong, mega-zillion selling Rumours (it has sold 23 million to be exact; unheard of by today’s standards). But 1979 was also just a weird time in music. Disco was still popular—although it had just suffered the equivalent of a Nazi book burning at Comiskey Park—and new wave was creeping into the pop charts. Tusk … well, I’m not sure exactly where the album fits in.

Released on Oct. 19, 1979, Tusk was an unlikely followup—a 20-song double LP that’s more schizophrenic art rock than, say, MOR adult contemporary. While Rumours documented the members’ relationships coming apart at the seams, Tusk is a grandiose, coked-out, million-dollar experiment … makes my gums go numb just thinking about what went on in that studio 30 years ago.

Many well-known acts at the time—the Stones, Rod Stewart, KISS, the Grateful Dead (!)—were dabbling in Studio 54-style chicanery, however Lindsey Buckingham was feeling a little more CBGB. The new wave and punk influence is all over Buckingham’s nine contributions, especially on “The Ledge” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong.” Those songs are tempered by Christine McVie‘s sad and slow numbers and Stevie Nicks‘ extended ballads and a bouncing rock song in “Angel.” Even with all of its eccentricities, Tusk still managed a few hits with “Think About Me,” the witchy one’s “Sara” and the title track. In fact the song “Tusk” is the most compelling piece of the puzzle—it’s definitely one of the oddest singles to ever enter the Top 10, a disjointed arrangement built on Mick Fleetwood‘s tribal drum beat and John McVie‘s buoyant bass-line, and layered with whispered vocals, odd background noises and, of course, horns courtesy of USC’s Spirit of Troy marching band.

Tusk was considered a flop at the time (my how times have changed), selling a paltry 4 million copies … mere chump change when compared to 40 million Rumours sold. These days Tusk is lauded for its dry, clangy and at times lo-fi production, as well as the bold songwriting experimentation from a band (in particular, Buckingham) that had saturated the charts and radio. It signaled a change, from the newly shorn faces to the obtuse cover art.

Over the past couple decades the record has crept its way into indie rock consciousness. R.E.M. has covered it. Hell, Camper Van Beethoven recorded the album in its entirety in 1987 and released it in 2002. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Bradford Cox showed his love for Tusk by recently recording “Walk a Thin Line” under his Atlas Sound moniker. And “That’s All For Everyone” sneaked its way on to the soundtrack for Noah Baumbach‘s dark comedy Margot at the Wedding.

Thirty years later the album still holds up surprisingly well. The band would never again duplicate the sprawling weirdness of Tusk. Nor will a band ever experience such a drastic free-fall in sales from one album to another. Tusk captured a moment, but that one moment will forever certify that Fleetwood Mac was much more than just a radio-friendly unit shifter.

“The Ledge”Fleetwood Mac

“That’s All For Everyone”Fleetwood Mac

“Think About Me”Camper Van Beethoven

“Walk a Thin Line”Atlas Sound

Lindsey Buckingham in the studio recording “Save Me a Place”

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6 Comments to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk: 30 years later

January 2, 2010

Dude, I can honestly say I have no idea what you’re talking about. But I’m glad I’m reading your stuff. I like your style. So if there’s anything I gain from reading (besides the free tracks), I’ll get some of that good ol’ verbiage to rub off on my vocab. Cheers.

January 2, 2010

Thanks Zuri, I appreciate the kind words. Well, I hope if anything, the blog turns you on to some new music…even if I’m writing about old-fart Fleetwood Mac and KISS songs.

August 19, 2010

Tusk turns out to be very much an album for this century, not the last. I’ve read Spoon is also a big fan of the record. These days young indie bands like Best Coast and Vivian Girls are re-discovering Fleetwood Mac. How cool is that?!

January 24, 2011

Has anyone else found side four(4)to be completely “Black Sabbath” recordings, and not Fleetwood? When I purchased the original double album in 1979 (Warner Bros. Recordings)when I played it, even though the “side four” label listed all Fleetwood Mac songs,my copy is 100% Black Sabbath music. How many mistake versions exist? Any comments helpful, thank you.

February 2, 2011

Well put Zuri… my man Mark has been writing like he has a thesaurus stuck up his a** since I’ve known him, which has been a long time.

Man, you are pretentious…

phil Stiles
November 22, 2013

Since when was using good English pretentious? Excellent review – well written and thought provoking. Cheers dude.

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