Tusk

Fleetwood Mac

Reprise Records, 1979

http://www.fleetwoodmac.com

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/14/2012

I pulled out Tusk with no real intention of reviewing it for this site.  It already has two other reviews and there is plenty of material on this album elsewhere on the Net.  But my take on this album seems different than any of the reviews I have seen out there. The long knives will probably be out for me on this review – but here goes. 

I consider myself a Mac fan, both pre- and post-Buckingham/Nicks arrival.  But I was always far more immersed in the Bob Welch period Mac, as well as Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, than with this double album, so when I pulled it out for a listen I really had no expectations.  Now, reviews of this album tend to revolve around a few themes, namely -- 1) Fleetwood Mac was following up on the monstrously successful Rumours and could never have lived up to expectations, 2) Lindsay Buckingham in the role of producer used this album for experimentation of Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds-style layering and 3) looking back 30 years later, this album isn’t so bad.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it.

It is indeed true that Rumours was a gargantuan success.  But the argument that Tusk was never going to live up to expectations is essentially transferring the “sophomore slump” argument onto Mac.  Yet this would have been their third album with this line up and the 12th album from the band since its inception.  With this logic, Rumours should have been the sophomore slump album for this lineup, since 1975’s Fleetwood Mac was actually a monster in its own right, selling 26 million copies worldwide and reaching number one when previous Mac albums had only moderate success. And internal strife within the band was what fueled the excellent songwriting and emotional performances that propelled the band to ever-increasing heights during that period.  Why could that not be duplicated on Tusk? Certainly, the group was able to pull it together for Mirage and Tango In The Night, and while those discs did not reach the heights of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rumours, they did more or less match Fleetwood Mac. Looking at the material from each disc, it is easy to see why Tusk fared so poorly.

Many reviews note the experimental nature of this album in its defense.  I’m all for groups experimenting and expanding their musical horizons.  But there are successful experiments and there are failed experiments.  The material on Tusk falls into the failed category.  And just because it was an “experiment” does not elevate the quality of its contents.  Furthermore, this album was the first to cost a million dollars to produce (three million in 2011 dollars).  You have to ask yourself, “does this sound like a million dollar production?” 

Tusk was mostly a Lindsay Buckingham product.  Out of 20 songs, nine were his, while six were Christine McVie’s, and five were from Stevie Nicks.  Much is made of Buckingham’s production work on this album, and something could be said for the layering of sounds on some of the Nicks and McVie numbers, but his own songs are egomaniacal, paranoid and seem oddly cluttered and half-finished at the same time.  “Save Me A Place” is an interesting song with thick acoustic instrument and vocal layers, and “What Makes You Think You’re The One” has the possibility of greatness if only it had a bit more to it.  The title track is the only track worthy of the “experimental” moniker, with tribal rhythms and vocalizations to accompany Buckingham’s paranoid lyrics.  But compared to the live version of this song on “The Dance,” the original seems thin and in need of more.  Lay all of Buckingham’s other tracks end to end, and you will find that they are sonically the same and could better serve as outtakes released in a box set.  And was there some prohibition on using any other part of the drum kit besides toms on a Buckingham song for this album?  With the exception of “Tusk” the wheels come off of the fabled John McVie/Mick Fleetwood rhythm section on this album on most of Buckingham’s songs.  It just sounds like Fleetwood is bored stiff and beating on cardboard boxes and the bass has gone on vacation for several recording sessions. 

McVie’s contributions to Tusk are scattershot.  “Over & Over” and “Think About Me” have that classic Mac sound to them and tie the record to previous work, but the rest of her contributions are unremarkable.  If there is a bright spot on this album, it is the Nicks songs.  I am no Nicks fan – I have always found her songwriting obtuse and her voice limited – but no one can say that “Sara,” “Angel,” and “Beautiful Child” are not solid songs.  However, the sound of the Nicks songs stand in such stark contrast to the rest of the album that they hold up much better when played back to back (or put on a Nicks solo album) than when scattered amongst Buckingham’s beatings. 

I could go on, but I think there is a desire among reviewers to find some redeeming quality to this album because the whole of the Fleetwood Mac catalog is generally good and holds up well after all these years.  However, most material on this album pales in comparison to the rest of the catalog.  1978 to 1982 was a dry spell for Fleetwood Mac and should be acknowledged as such.  Tusk hardly sounds like a million bucks.

Rating: D+

User Rating: B+


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