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Fleetwood Mac: Tusk - Album Of The Week Club review

Some albums are so big that the follow-up can only be a disappointment. Did Tusk suffer this fate, or is gold concealed within?

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
(Image: © Rhino)
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk

(Image credit: Rhino)

Over & Over
The Ledge
Think About Me
Save Me a Place
Sara
What Makes You Think You're the One
Storms
That's All For Everyone
Not That Funny
Sisters of the Moon
Angel
That's Enough for Me
Brown Eyes
Never Make Me Cry
I Know I'm Not Wrong
Honey Hi
Beautiful Child
Walk a Thin Line
Tusk
Never Forget

Some albums are so good, so big, that the follow-up can only be a disappointment. As Lindsey Buckingham says of Tusk: “We’d made this record that was so far to the left of Rumours, and when it didn’t sell 16 million copies, that was hard.” 

Tusk was deemed a failure, which is a strange thing to say, perhaps, about an album that reached No.1 in the UK, No.4 in the US and sold four million copies. These things are, of course, relative.

But there was an air of superstar conceit about the project that many found maddening: you can imagine millions of eager punters making reflex purchases of Fleetwood Mac’s latest dinner party balm, only to recoil at the queasy listening contained therein. Tusk is the strangest rock album ever made by a mainstream pop behemoth.

It’s Buckingham’s tour de force, contributing nine of the 20 tracks, presiding over the production and generally acting out his fantasies of creating a grandly ambitious meisterwerk to rival his hero Brian Wilson’s Smile.

The experimental nature of this double album (typified by the eccentric title track, released as the first single!) baffled many who were expecting Rumours Vol.2. In fact, Tusk is far better than its reputation. 

Buckingham’s fascination with new wave inspired some brilliant left-field songs – Not That Funny, That’s Enough For Me – while Nicks’s Sara and Beautiful Child are among her very best. 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in October 1979

  • Return to Base - Slade
  • Reggatta de Blanc - The Police
  • A Curious Feeling - Tony Banks
  • Days in Europa - The Skids
  • Victim of Love - Elton John
  • Eat to the Beat - Blondie
  • Cornerstone - Styx
  • Damn the Torpedoes - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  • Broken English - Marianne Faithfull
  • Cut Above the Rest - Sweet
  • Flirtin' with Disaster - Molly Hatchet
  • Harder ... Faster - April Wine
  • Head Injuries - Midnight Oil
  • Hydra - Toto
  • Images at Twilight - Saga
  • Lovehunter - Whitesnake
  • Magnum II - Magnum
  • Mr. Universe - Gillan
  • Whatever You Want - Status Quo

What they said...

"At a cost of two years and well over a million dollars, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk represents both the last word in lavish California studio pop and a brave but tentative lurch forward by the one Seventies group that can claim a musical chemistry as mysteriously right – though not as potent – as the Beatles’. In its fits and starts and restless changes of pace, Tusk inevitably recalls the Beatles’ White Album (1968), the quirky rock jigsaw puzzle that showed the Fab Four at their artiest and most indecisive. (Rolling Stone)

"The passionate dissociation of the mix is entirely appropriate to an ensemble in which the three principals have all but disappeared (vocally) from each other's work. But only Buckingham is attuned enough to get exciting music out of a sound so spare and subtle it reveals the limits of Christine McVie's simplicity and shows Stevie Nicks up for the mooncalf she's always been. Also, it doesn't make for very good background noise." (Robert Christgau)

"This is mainstream madness, crazier than Buckingham's idol Brian Wilson and weirder than any number of cult classics. Of course, that's why it bombed upon its original release, but Tusk is a bracing, weirdly affecting work that may not be as universal or immediate as Rumours, but is every bit as classic. As a piece of pop art, it's peerless." (AllMusic)

What you said...

Robert Nolan: Everything is better when Lindsey was running the show. I love Tusk for all it's Brian Wilson-style oddness and sonic depth. I would go one further and argue Mirage might be even better and more overlooked. But Tusk is fantastic.

Philip Qvist: The typical marmite album, some people love it, others don't. I'm in the former camp, but it wasn't like that originally. When I first heard Tusk, I almost hated the album, but there was enough to keep me interested, and to start appreciating the deep cuts. My view of Tusk now? A great album, probably only second to Rumours.

Over And Over, Storms, The Ledge, Walk The Thin Line, Think About Me, Sisters Of The Moon and of course the title track and the mighty Sara are all highlights. But apart from one or two songs that are close to filler, I think this is a great album - with plenty of strong tracks all over.

Lindsey Buckingham's folly? Not even close - 9/10 for me (but then again I like Marmite).

Aaron J. Hardek: Not gonna say I like it better than Rumours coz, well, Rumours is damn near perfect. But Tusk is very good. If I'd never heard Fleetwood Mac and someone introduced me to them by way of Tusk I would definitely be hooked. If I'd heard Tusk before Rumours I may just like it better. but having heard Rumours first... game over. The experimentation is a fresh move. Just about as perfect of a follow-up to Rumours as you can get.

James Thomas: The Buckingham tracks clash with everyone else's so much that I think he should have had one of the discs to himself. Tusk ain't bad but you're kidding yourself if you say it's better than Rumours.

Adam Ranger: A great album, Would have been easy to make Rumours 2 and sell another few million. But they got a little bit more experimental. Shades of Rumours at times with Sara, Think About Me and maybe Sisters Of The Moon. Tusk is just a great track built around a drum track, total earworm.

The rest of the album is sometimes jarring in its difference from Rumours, but should be applauded for that I think.

Matthew Joseph Hughes: Tusk is the perfect example of a man rebelliously wanting to maintain his independence and individuality within a relationship. I think that was his conflict with Stevie, and with Fleetwood Mac. The album does well to expand upon the greatness of the white album and Rumours, with those classic FM songs, but also serves to distance Lindsey from the band, and perhaps open people's minds to a different sound. 

I freaking love Lindsey's weird songs and manic guitar playing and love that the band even entertained the idea of releasing them. Rumours is great, but Tusk is a man skillfully cracking open the band, and himself, to reveal the insanity beneath the surface. For that, I think it's his / their best work.

Jochen Scholl: The USP of the Band is the variety of three singers & writers. Their best albums sound like the perfect melange, like complete teamwork from the same mould. But listening to Tusk you hear two albums: one with perfect songs in the Mac tradition by Stevie and Christine, and one with nearly experimental songs by Lindsey. 

Some of these are great but they don't fit to an album satisfying the fans of Rumours or the 1975 LP. Remember: You weren't able to skip the next song(s) in 1979, you had to turn the LP, so it took a bit of patience to hear the whole, pretty different material. And concerning the selling success Tusk had two handicaps: 1) it was a expensive double LP 2) without any #1 singles.

Nigel Lancashire: It’s hard to wholeheartedly love all of Tusk, but I’d rather have the bravery of it than the countless bands who just try to imitate their one big hitter over and over. Last week, I admitted to hating Ozzy Osborne. This week, hands up, I bloody love Lindsey Buckingham!

Uli Hassinger: It's a great album, in no way worse than it's two predecessors. I especially like the more twisted songs of Buckingham. These songs spice the album up with faster rhythm. Without these breaks the album as a double album would be too boring and monotone. 

Tusk is the best Pink Floyd track Pink Floyd didn't make. I also love That's All For Everyone and Not That Funny. The best song of Nicks' to me is the dramatic Sister Of The Moon. The first song Over And Over is the masterpiece of McVie. Overall there is not one bad song on it. The album is not so catchy as Rumours which explains that it couldn't catch up with the sales, but in my ears it's the better one of this two.

Jonathan Novajosky: That was, uh... bad? I'm not a huge Fleetwood Mac guy like a lot of others, but I still love Rumours and their other hits at least. I found Tusk to be baffling. Why are there twenty songs on here, six of which are under three minutes? It just comes across as very lazy and trying to force quantity over quality. It's true, Sara is a great song, but I just can't look past some of these really questionable tracks. Not That Funny isn't just "not that good," it's godawful. The title track is arguably the worst one with its irritating vocals and weird shuffle drum beat. Those two along with the shorter tracks should have been left out.

I couldn't help but think that the band threw a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of average songs together and prayed that at least a few would capture the magic from Rumours. There's nothing wrong with double albums. The Wall and Out Of The Blue are two top 20 albums for me. But they're risky. If I detect too much filler, it really lowers my opinion of the album, and that's exactly what I felt about Tusk. There's still some decent, well-written tracks that stand out, and those are worth going back to. I may do that, but I don't think I'll ever listen to Tusk in its entirety again. 5.5/10

John Davidson: What do you do when you’ve bottled lighting and created the perfect soft rock album? If you’re brave you use it as launch pad for your creativity and try to produce something slightly different. If, on top of that, you are stressed out and coked up to your eyeballs? You produce Tusk.

That’s not to write off the album as an artistic failure, but it’s the sound of one man imploding while his band-mates luxuriate in their success. After ten months in the studio and reports of manic attempts to create a unique album that shucked off the past Lindsey Buckingham has produced a handful of songs that sound like rough demos of Never Going Back Again and the title track Tusk.

Meanwhile Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks had been writing material that followed on more naturally from their last two albums.

I hated this album when it came out. It had neither the smooth galaxy chocolate richness and sweetness of Rumours, nor the bluesy charm of the Peter Green years. It was just odd – a spiky angular affair that never troubled my turntable after the first two or three spins. Perhaps if the more experimental tracks had been on one of the vinyl discs we’d have had a safer, more predictable follow up Fleetwood Mac album and a more experimental one to choose between and enjoy or set aside.

Instead we get a bloated mess that never flows easily from track to track, and buries its better songs among some staccato bursts of frantic, unvarnished Americana.

I always felt Christine McVie was the most reliable songwriter in the band. She doesn’t take chances for sure, but she has an ear for melody that few can match. Stevie Nicks input was always a bit more American folk/country tinged and tends to be a little repetitive if I’m honest though when it works it is magnificent and she provides at least two corkers here. Buckingham had produced the goods on Rumours but largely fails to deliver this time around. Ain’t That Funny is passable and Tusk is genuinely good in a quirky way but the rest feel unfinished rather than over done.

Perhaps the decision to go for a double album was the flaw. You can create a decent (if not spectacular) 43 minutes out of Tusk and I can’t help but think a band without Rumours under their belt would have done exactly that. At 43 minutes you can see the wood between the trees and classics like Sara and Sisters Of The Moon get a chance to shine. This is my cut down version... your mileage may vary!

Dave Krenz: I’m a fan of Lindsey and his talent but I feel he really got in the way on this album... I completely understand the need to experiment but if the majority of this record had consisted of Stevie and Christine’s tracks we’d be talking masterpiece... both contributed vocals that should be in the deep cut hall of fame. That’s All For Everyone, Walk A Thin Line and obviously Tusk would have been the perfect complements from Lindsey to shape this album. In my opinion his other tracks are distracting. Nevertheless I still like this album a lot and give it a 9/10.

Bill Griffin: I appreciate that they didn't rehash the previous album and they are all fine musicians and singers but I just didn't hear anything that held my interest, certainly not anything that I hadn't already heard on the radio. That what I did hear on the radio didn't inspire me to explore the rest of the album is vindicated now that I have.

John Trimbos: I love the diversity and experimentation of Tusk. I just think it's ironic that they spent millions of dollars making a (supposedly) back-to-basics album.

Brayden Mills-Smith: I'll have more to say about this one later, as I have many thoughts on Tusk. For now, I simply want to point out that Storms is the single best performance of Stevie's career. This is an excellent album, not one of the all time great albums like Rumours was, but excellent nonetheless.

Mike Knoop: For all the talk of cocaine frenzy and new wave envy, it just sounds like another Fleetwood Mac (by this lineup) album to me, albeit longer and less immediately gratifying. Nobody's going to get this album confused with Station To Station or Remain In Light or even Girls To Chat & Boys To Bounce.

I like the Stevie Nicks' compositions best, although I'm usually on Team Buckingham. Sure, there's Sara, but also Storms and Sisters On The Moon, and one that doesn't start with "S," Beautiful Child. Christine McVie turns in her usual ultra-competent pop, but there's nothing on the level of You Make Loving Fun or Say You Love Me.

That leaves nine tracks by the alleged maestro and madman, Lindsay Buckingham. For all the reported time in the studio, his tracks usually have a warmth and immediacy that belies the accusations of too much tinkering. If I squint my ears, I can kind of hear David Byrne-style vocal delivery on Not That Funny, but the Americana behind the vocals is something the Talking Heads wouldn't tackle for a few more years. Tusk, still the standout track for me, is the one odd bodkin on the album, with its pounding toms, murmured verses, chanted choruses, evangelical howling back in the mix, and, of course, the USC Trojan Marching Band bringing it all to a climax.

As anyone who reads my comments knows I'm a sucker for harmony vocals, and they are languorously draped over many of the tracks. I don't know that I'd want to list the full 75 minutes in one go very often, but there's definitely enough here to like.

Shane Reho: It's been awhile since I dropped a review here, so this seems like a good place to make a comeback. For me, this album is a lesson in how to follow up a massive seller. Where some bands would crumble under the weight of having to do that, Fleetwood Mac did their own thing and made an album that's way more interesting than Rumours

Lindsey Buckingham gets most of the credit for this with his quirky songs, but it's not like Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie stuck to the formula either. Nicks' songs are more longer and somewhat more thoughtful, and McVie's are more mellow and relaxing, kinda like Danny Kirwan's stuff from Future Games and Bare Trees. I'd say both McVie's and Nicks' best songs are here, Over And Over and Sara, respectively. 

Buckingham's songs are all over the place, from the oddness of Not That Funny and The Ledge to the beauty of Save Me A Place and Walk A Thin Line. I could've done without Honey Hi, though, that song seems like filler to me. Other than that, I'd have a hard time picking out a bad song here. Overall, this is my favourite album by this lineup (I'd rank Then Play On and maybe Bare Trees higher). 9/10.

John Gekchyan: I can see some parallels with Beatles' White Album here. Both of these albums followed up iconic landmark albums (Rumours and Sgt. Pepper) and are both a double album with experimental and highly diverse material. In my opinion, just like the White Album, they definitely pulled it off. You can definitely hear Buckingham's post-punk influence in his songs and the overall quirkiness. McVie and Nicks contribute some of their strongest material to date. It flows like a double album should and it never feels tired.

Carl Black: This was going to happen at some point. I always tackle each album with a fresh set of ears and a clearer mind as I can muster. Even the tough ones where I know I've not enjoyed any of the featured artists music in the past. Such as this one. I've never liked them. I like Mick Fleetwood. He's an engaging and dry-witted, funny personality. But then I got hit between the eyes. It's a double album. A roll of the eyes later and I'm in. And back out as soon as the album finished. I did not connect with anything on this record at all. And I mean nothing. It was the worst kind of dislike too. I didn't get upset or annoyed, I was completely emotionless the entire time it was playing. If I could give it 0 out of 10, I would. I'm sorry, I gave it a go. But nothing.

Nigel Lancashire: So, so very torn here. While acknowledging that Tusk is not the all-conquering juggernaut that Rumours became, I’m prone to immediately jumping to its defence. I think it’s a very compelling, individual album that made an actual statement rather than just settling for being a corporate-pleasing Rumours Mk2. If fact, it’s downright punk-rebellion level dangerous when placed next to the rather dull progenitor Mirage. Tusk is an album I still go back to, while Mirage remains as thin and wafty as its name suggests.

At four million copies sold during initial release, and no less than six hit singles, Tusk was not a failure, but it looks like it held up next to its monolithic predecessor. Rumours was the divine sound of a band and its internal relationships shattering to pieces, full of hearts on sleeves and wistful looks over the shoulder, dusted with a tinge of hope for the future. Tusk is the aftermath. Two talents angrily pulling against each other, one keeping her head down and building an affair with a Beach Boy, and a rhythm section just keeping on keeping on until the ‘Storm’ blows over.

I completely get why many will feel some of the Buckingham low-fi experiments are jarring, I just can’t agree. Tusk would be a pretty characterless, beige album (much like the cover art) without them. The longer you listen, songs like The Ledge raise a smile on what otherwise would be a fairly bleak set of recordings, and when the stars do all align, Save Me A Place would have fit comfortably with Rumours were it a longer double album (oh sit down Stevie, yes you can have bloody Silver Springs on there too!)

The band somewhat threw Lindsey under the bus on this one, agreeing to his approach during the recording, then jumping away from it like scalded cats in latter-day interviews. Fleetwood Mac needed – and needs – Lindsey Buckingham’s adventurousness and studio savvy, as their own solo and Lindsey-less work often shows.

You could argue that experiments have no place on a finished record, but for fans of other low-fi musicians like Tom Waits, the Buckingham solo tracks won’t be anywhere near as shocking. Let’s face it, all Lindsey was doing was going back to the belt and braces approach of early Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly recordings, stripping away the pristine pomposity that was creeping into FM’s sound. And while looking back, he was looking forward too – anyone still shocked in 2020 by the sound he’s pioneering here in 1979 hasn’t listened to indie music for quite some time. In fact, Camper Van Beethoven embraced it so much that they covered the entire two-album set in 2003, although with admittedly patchy and hard-to-listen-to results.

Consistency-wise, the recordings do vary massively though, from the great, but maybe a little overly-slick Sara and the soporific duo of Brown Eyes” and Never Make Me Cry to the recorded-in-a-toilet drums on What Makes You Think You’re the One. When they do come together though, the more group-sounding recordings such as Sisters Of The Moon show the two approaches melding together beautifully.

That’s Enough For Me points to where Buckingham was headed musically for his 1981 solo album Law And Order, and the ferocious picking he uses still shows up in his work to this day. Quite why C. McVie-by-numbers Never Forget ends the album is still baffling to me – it’s no way to follow the huge rhythm beast that is Tusk itself.

No dispute with the many opinions that say Tusk might have benefitted from some quality control, cutting it to a lengthy single album release, (I’ve lain the same accusation at the door of Prince’s “999 before now) but hand on heart, there isn’t a single song on here that I can say I’d have been happier not hearing. An unashamed 9/10.

Brian Carr: Ah, Tusk, the album created on massive expectations and cocaine. I’m a bit surprised I never checked out the album, but I suppose my limited Fleetwood Mac time and the fact that I never much liked the title track shouldn’t leave me too shocked.

I respect Lindsey Buckingham’s artistic drive to do something different from Tusk’s predecessor and I’ve long believed he’s an underrated guitar player. There was a segment on George Martin’s brilliant final project, the television miniseries Soundbreaking, that included clips from the making of Tusk. After listening to the album, what I saw from that video leads me to believe Buckingham spent so much focus on sounds and studio layering that he forgot to write good songs. 

To my ear, at least half of the album’s tracks go nowhere. They start at point A, stay at point A and end at point A. By no means do I believe songs have to follow verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus out structure, but man. A couple of tracks (The Ledge, What Makes You Think You’re The One) didn’t even have skilled sounding endings.

It’s too bad that I didn’t like Tusk more. The vocal harmonies are blissful as always. Buckingham plays some nice guitar on Think About Me and the brilliant Sisters Of The Moon. I imagine the more moody tracks would be more enjoyable when I’m in a melancholy mood, but overall the album leaves me in a similar place that the title track always did.

Gary Claydon: All I hear is a bunch of songs that continue in the tried & trusted FM soft rock California-stylee & another bunch of songs by some bloke trying to be David Byrne. Bah.

And its biggest crime was was having the great Peter Green in the studio and only using him for a brief flurry at the end of Brown Eyes (he wasn't even credited on the original album). Listen to the version of that song on the expanded edition of Tusk and tell me he doesn't make a massive difference from the soporific original. Not surprising though. The man was a musical genius and part of the real Fleetwood Mac.

Final Score: 6.75⁄10 (269 votes cast, with a total score of 1818)

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