When Fleetwood Mac recorded the follow-up to their smash album Rumours, they looked success (and perfection) in the eye and said:
“F*ck. What do we do now?”
Nearly thirteen months and one million yachts full of coke later, they released Tusk, a twenty-song double LP.
Really, the record proved that they could sidestep expectation without changing stride. Slick yet scattershot in the way that its music was arranged and produced, let alone paced, Tusk was nothing if not disjointed. And you can keep MOST of your White Album comparisons to yourself (you won’t find any genre-hopping here, nor any self-reflexiveness): The playfulness aside, the record gained from a kind of friction — from a spirit of solitude and irresolution, as made manifest by the largely unresolved demos written by three distinct songwriting voices (Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks) and the way they were mixed. In some cases the tunes are thin but ornate. In almost all cases the mix is arted way the hell out. At its core, though, Tusk was less of a “departure” for the band than was perceived by many in 1979. The Mac had always been on the arty, eccentric side — only, with Buckingham at the helm, they’d morphed (in the studio, at least) into poppy perfectionists. And on Tusk, the odd sad darkness of Rumours was now firmly in thrall to the aural specifics. The singers still sang about romantic push and pull, albeit more obliquely than before1; and yet all of the dicking and snorting around in the studio had now become an end in itself. The music by and large had taken a backseat to sonic exploration. That is, sonic exploration had become the music.
So Tusk is a glorious mess. Two-thirds of it is an airy antidote to the great lost, paranoid punk album of the day — which is to say, Lindsey Buckingham’s nine wired songs. No-one, not me, not you, and certainly no-one in the band, can avoid comparing Tusk to Rumours — and to avoid doing so, for assessment purposes, would be silly. We can see that the open dialogue to bandmate and self on Rumours had turned into a different kind of collaboration on Tusk: Unified disunity. Musically, everyone shows up (their presence is everywhere), but the singer-songwriters sound utterly alone, totally disconnected from each other’s work. From the overdubs of odd instruments to the jagged tonal shifts, the production reinforces that aspect. In song-form, on record, the band’s not really speaking to each other.
Self-absorption, self-concern, is all.
1 If they are directed at anyone, McVie’s supple love songs are directed at a man for whom she feels affection. Nicks’s mood pieces are directed less at a lover (lost or otherwise) than at beautiful, perhaps childlike spirits with whom she feels a kinship. Buckingham’s songs tend toward the spastic and feel like self-recriminations — though they may be directed at Stevie, too. All of this borders on conjecture, so it’s hard to know for sure.