Back in the day Tusk was one of the most anticipated albums ever released. Rumours had launched Fleetwood Mac to the eye-watering heights of rock music’s mega-league, despite the increasingly strained relationships between the five band members, and expectation for its follow up had reached fever pitch.
Behind the scenes at Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham had effectively taken control of the creative direction of the band and had realised that the band could continue to maintain their place in rock music’s hierarchy for the next few years, just by releasing facsimiles of Rumours for the next few years, however that wouldn’t necessarily maintain their creative momentum. Another Rumours wasn’t just what their fans and the music industry wanted, it was what was expected.
Realising that this scenario could stunt Fleetwood Mac’s creative momentum, Buckingham convinced his bandmates and their record label that a double album would give them enough space to give their audience more of the same, while simultaneously stretch their creative legs and demonstrate that they weren’t just about well-polished radio friendly Transatlantic rock music. A double album meant that there was room enough for the three primary songwriters to pull in different directions if they wanted too, and Buckingham could scratch his itch to experiment.
The result was Tusk, a sprawling and sonicly unsettling double album which gave Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie ample room to do what they did, while still allowing Buckingham to fell unfettered by expectations he felt were put upon them by Fleetwood Mac fans and the music industry. As someone who has never been the biggest Lindsey Buckingham fan, I have to say his hard-headed approach and willingness to step outside the band’s tried and tested formula to risk gambling Fleetwood Mac’s hard-won reputation, does mean that Tusk is the album where I develop no small amount of respect for him. It also goes some way to explain why Buckingham has subsequently often seemed the most reluctant member of Fleetwood Mac, as they returned to their tried and trusted formula following the slightly baffled response to Tusk.
Almost intentionally awkward, Tusk isn’t without it’s highlights, with Nicks’ “Sara” doing all you want a Stevie Nicks tune to do, and Christine McVie continuing to be the band’s most mature songwriter. The Buckingham penned material can often sound like guerrilla gig inside Fleetwood Mac itself, but it’s all underpinned by the ever-reliable John McVie and Mick Fleetwood rhythm section and when it does all come together, such as on the album’s much-celebrated title track (with Fleetwood sounding like he’s never had more fun in the recording studio), it can result in something really rather special.
At the end of the day, without Buckingham steering Fleetwood Mac away from radio-friendly Californian rock, there’s every chance that Tusk would have been a better selling, but considerably less interesting album that few people would remember. As it is, it remains one of the more talked about albums in the band’s history, and certainly one of their most texturally interesting, and that’s one of the reasons that people continue to return to it time and time again.