So, what do you do after you release one of the best albums of all time?
The annals of music are filled to the brim of massively successful bands and artists who topped the charts with a smash album, only to then disappear because they did not repeat their success. The reasons are vast: self-indulgence, drug use, ego, record label politics, or a change in popular musical trends. Some bands implode under the weight of expectation, while others disappear simply because of smoke-and-mirrors games that garnered their success in the first place. All of those reasons could have easily applied to Fleetwood Mac, who found themselves having the daunting task of follow up Rumors—one of the best selling albums of all time, selling ten million copies in the first month of its release-was going to prove difficult.
Fleetwood Mac, though, was a different sort of band. No flash-in-the-pan type of band, they had been around in the mid 1960s, and had faced all sorts of struggles and problems that had ended other bands—and they’d come from these storms unscathed and stronger. When Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band in 1975, it would propel the band into superstardom, even though at the time they were merely regarded as the latest in a string of singers and songwriters. The duo brought a magical spark to the group, and its 1976 self-titled album was an unexpected smash hit. It would be eclipsed by Rumours, which would replicate Fleetwood Mac’s success in an unexpected way. The songs on both albums were so strong, almost every single released from them went to the top of the charts, while the album tracks were beloved on FM radio, creating an album full of songs so well-regarded, even lesser album tracks became well known. Listening to both with fresh ears decades later, both albums feel like de facto “greatest hits” records.
So…what to do next? Replicate the formula? Try something innovative and new? Take a breather? Instead, they did what they’d always done: they simply went back into the studio, and thus began Tusk, a labor of love that was seen as indulgent and redundant, a band going through the motions of being Fleetwood Mac, sticking to the tried and true, and not exactly producing great work as a result. Yet outside the studio doors, the times were changing musically, thanks to punk and new wave. Buckingham, always a man with his ear to the contemporary, became enthralled with this new sound. Thanks to the drama and difficulty of the band’s ongoing personal relationships, Buckingham decided to work on his albums in his own little home studio.
Ultimately, Buckingham’s isolation would become problematic, and it shows; his songs sound exactly like that—his songs. Fine as they are, “That’s Enough For Me,” “The Ledge,” and “Not That Funny” feel awkward and out of place among the darker, mellower fare of Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks. If the idea was that his songs would break up the monotony and show a more ‘experimental’ (read: hip) side of Fleetwood Mac, it worked; unfortunately, it did so in a way that was ultimately detrimental to the group and the album. Of his nine songs found here, Tusk could have lost half of them, and they wouldn’t have been missed; his best numbers here, “That’s All For Everyone,” “Walk a Thin Line,” and the bizarre-but-works title track, are some of his best, in spite of being watered down by the lesser material.
By this time, Fleetwood Mac had truly become a vehicle for the talents of McVie and Nicks, and their offerings here are sublime. “Over & Over” is a maudlin ballad, and a peculiar choice for an album opener, but it’s one of her finest songs, as are “Never Make Me Cry” and “Never Forget.” Nicks’ songs are equally amazing; “Sisters of The Moon” and “Sara” are classics, songs still performed today, and highlights of her career. Though her songs “Beautiful Child” and “Storms” are somewhat paint-by-numbers Stevie Nicks, it’s the paint-by-numbers work of a musical Rembrandt, a master of her trade whose weaker material is still high quality.
This deluxe reissue offers up two bonus discs; one of an alternate version of the album, the other with outtakes, remixes, and unreleased material. The material offered here is nice, but it’s not particularly revelatory. If anything, it shows that though Tusk was a confused mishmash of ideas, it was a well-rehearsed, well-planned and professionally executed mishmash, and not the slapdash album it often feels like. The one outtake of note, though, is an alternate version of “Brown Eyes” that features Fleetwood Mac founder and blues-rock GOD Peter Green coming out of isolation to add his magic to the song.
So, the question remains: what do you do after releasing one of the best-selling albums of all time? Perhaps it was inevitable that Fleetwood Mac would become boxed in thanks to that overwhelming success. Perhaps Tusk should be viewed as a system-cleanser, wherein they work within the confines of expectation, venture out of the box of those confines, and not exactly succeeding. They probably should have taken a few years off; indeed, after Tusk, they’d do exactly that, and would return with an amazing album that better built on their previous successes and offered up a satisfying return to form. As it stands, Tusk is a flawed work, not a brilliant statement as the revisionists make it out to be, but not as bad a record as its detractors would have you think.