Sound: In 1975, British blues band Fleetwood Mac underwent a dramatic change in line-up. While the band had seen frequent changes in lead guitarists (Bob Welch, Peter Green, Danny Kirwin, etc), the addition of LA based Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham would prove to be the most commercially successful move the band had ever made. In 1975, the band released their first album with the new line-up to multi-platinum success. Stevie Nicks became an overnight sensation along with fellow singer/songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie (an original band member dating back almost a decade.) The overall sound of Fleetwood Mac began being dictated by Buckingham as original members Christine McVie (piano, vocals), John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (percussion) to his lead.
The band began achieving massive success with the self-titled release (the second in the band's output), but found an unprecedented amount of sales with the 1977 release, "Rumours". The album has sold over 40 million copies and made the band a world-wide phenomenon, contributing to the "excess" associated with Fleetwood Mac. Drugs became even more prominent in the group as did their means of traveling to gigs (each took a separate limo). Eventually, the time came for the group to record a follow-up album, and all eyes looked toward front-man Lindsey Buckingham.
Rob Trusk recently wrote a history of the album in 33 1/2's "Tusk" which contains interviews from artists influenced by the album (Smashing Pumpkins, The New Pornographers) as well as Buckingham himself. In regards to the album's origins, Buckingham states:
"We had this ridiculous success with Rumours. And at some point, at least in my perception, the success of that detached from the music, and it was more about the phenomenon. We were poised to do another album, and I guess because the axiom "If it works, run it into the ground" was prevalent then, we were probably poised to do Rumours II. I don't know how you do that, but somehow my light bulb that went off was, Let's just not do that. Let's very pointedly not do that"
While Buckingham pleaded for the creation of their own studio, Warner Bros. Declined, eventually costing them in the long run. The album took two years to make, and cost a record-breaking million dollars to craft. It was a risk Warner Bros. Was willing to make, but when listening to the final product, Warner Bros. Executives could see their bonuses going down the drain. "Tusk" sounds like nothing else of its time, especially not like a radio-friendly Fleetwood Mac album. While the album was a multi-platinum success, its sales didn't nearly match that of "Rumours" and the album was deemed a failure.
The album contains twenty tracks, with most of the contributions being Buckingham's. Beginning with McVie's low-key "Over and Over", the listener becomes aware that the album will not contain the immediate catchy tunes that appeared on "Rumours". However, the pace picks up abruptly with Buckingham's "The Ledge", one of the album's strongest tunes. The production is sloppy, which makes the tension in the song quite high. The contrast of these two tracks represents the bipolarity that is found on the entire album. Indeed, the closest song to pop in the third track, McVie's "Think About Me" which proved to be a modest hit. After that though, the album takes off in strange directions.
Buckingham's tunes are dominant on the album. Highly influenced by The Beach Boys and The Beatles, his tunes have become shorter and more concise often with an edgy quality. Yet, he is able to tone it down occasionally with tunes such as "Save Me a Place" and "Walk a Thin Line". However, the more tense songs prove to be his speciality with the album's title track. Featuring the USC Marching Band, the song is a sloppy, large-scale production that expresses Buckingham's anger toward his former relationship with Stevie Nicks. Most of his songs would hint at his later solo career where he experimented more with sound and production.
McVie's songs are more low-key, a stark contrast to Buckinghams, but ultimately gives the album a few breathers. As mentioned, "Think About Me" is the sole reference to "Rumours" with its poppy feel. However, "Brown Eyes" and "Honey Hi" are more moody and bluesy pieces that harken back to her origins as a blues pianist with the older Fleetwood Mac. While the sentimental "Never Make Me Cry" works beautifully alongside Nick's ballads, the album's closer, McVie's "Never Forget" is overly sentimental and annoyingly dated. However, this remains the album's only faulty piece solely because of its placement. The song "Tusk" would have been a stronger choice.
Stevie Nicks is at the top of her game on this album, but it is through Buckingham's production that her songs shine best. Nicks would rarely get as intimate as she would on other Mac albums, or in her large solo career as she did as consistently as she does on "Tusk". "Beautiful Child" and "Storms" are two of her most melodically beautiful ballads which are aided by Buckingham's clean production. This cleanliness is a nice contrast to Buckingham's tunes, which though layered just as well, are more messy. "Storms" is absolutely gorgeous, with layer on layer on guitar. "Beautiful Child" is equally gorgeous as McVie and Buckingham layer their voices over Nick's. And on the subject of layering, "Sara" (the album's most successful single) contains some of the best production Buckingham has ever production for Nicks. As Nicks begins "Drowning in the sea of love", her voice continues to be drowned in the tight backing vocals of McVie and Buckingham. Other tracks such a "Angel" and "Sisters of the Moon" may not be the catchiest in Nick's catalog, but are still musical highlights on the album. // 10
Lyrics: Each singer/songwriter on the album presents different human experiences within the context of the band's life. It is said that no child can ever have the same experience in a family, and the same applies for Buckingham, Nicks and McVie.
Having recently separated from her husband John McVie, Christine McVie sings less comfortably about other relationships, contrasting to how she wrote on "Rumours". "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving Fun" were honest tracks on that album, but "Never Make Me Cry" and "Brown Eyes" present a more vague-sound. Though "Think of Me" is fairly direct, she tends to dwell in sadness in "Brown Eyes":
"When you look at me with those brown eyes
What do you want to say
And are you just another liar
Will you take me all the way
All the way."
Buckingham however, is much more aggressive with his tone and is often attacking his audience with bitter words. "The Ledge" is a good example of his anger being taken out through his writing.
"You can love me baby but you can't walk out
Someone oughta tell you
Oughta tell you what it's really all about
You're never gonna make it baby
Oohh you're never gonna
Make it babe"
In a similar vein are his lyrics for the album's title track which contains Buckingham half-whispering the opening lyrics. Suspicion about his lover (Nicks) having an affair with percussionist Mick Fleetwood is a prominent theme on the song.
"Why don't you ask him if he's going to stay?
Why don't you ask him if he's going away?
Why don't you tell me what's going on?
Why don't you tell me who's on the phone?"
A line is spoken during the various sounds of the marching band that says "Real savege-like...". Indeed, this may be the most important line of the entire album. The band is having internal issues and becoming very savage-like.
Stevie Nicks however, is able to find a balance between Buckingham's direct honesty and McVie's vague word-play. Nicks relies heavily on metaphors in songs such as "Angel" and "Sisters of the Moon". Her mythical word-play is at its highest on the former track in which she sings:
"And a black widow spider makes
More sound than she
And black moons in those eyes of hers
Made more sense to me."
However, Nicks is able to form more direct phrases as she describes herself as a storm on the album's most intimate track, "Storms".
"Never have I been a blue calm sea,
I have always been a storm". // 10
Overall Impression: Overall, the album has been a huge influence on various indie-rock bands denying the commercializing of successful artists. "Tusk" is a major artistic achievement and an often humourous representation of flipping off big record companies such as Warner Bros. // 10