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Fleetwood Mac — a Cadillac of the rock business

Fleetwood Mac explores leaner sound on double album Tusk.

In a world of pedestrian rock stars, Fleetwood Mac has long been in the top of the line.

In the mid-70s, the five-member group strung a series of hits whose lush romanticism spellbound the record-buying public. Released in 1977, their album Rumours became one of the most owned records in history, selling 13 million copies nationwide.

Now, as rock music fragments into New Wave and three-chord Beatles nostalgia, Fleetwood Mac seems to typify the struggle of established stars to learn from the new music, yet maintain an old identity.

At a post-concert press conference, band founder Mick Fleetwood hunches his 6-foot-6 frame into a folding chair, squints at the TV lights, and explains yet again why the group abandoned the profitable mellowness of Rumours for a leaner sound.

“We felt like it,” he says.

Lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, a stylish dresser who looks like a trendy young architect adrift in a sea of blue jeans, is more specific. “The record is an expression of three years’ growth,” he says. “It’s a part of what’s been happening with us. We can’t separate part of ourselves and say, ‘Hey, this is what made us change.’ It just is.

Fleetwood Mac has never been a group to stand still. Originally founded in 1967 by Fleetwood, bass guitarist John McVie, and several refugees from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the band has since shuffled enough members to staff a small orchestra. Its latest incarnation dates back to 1975, when Buckingham and lead singer Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood, McVie, and McVie’s then-wife Christine, to produce an album called, logically, Fleetwood Mac.

That album sold 7 million copies, and was followed two years later by Rumours. Despite the breakup of the McVies’ marriage, it appears the current Mac lineup will survive into the ’80s.

“We play well because we appreciate each other’s attitude,” Fleetwood says. “That’s what keeps us together.”

Stevie Nicks casts a sidelong sly glance. “It pays well, too,” she says.

If there is a soul to the Mac magic, it lies in Stevie. A beautiful woman with wild hair and delicate porcelain features, she is the band’s centerpiece on stage. Her soaring, starchild voice is largely responsible for their romanticism. The songs she composes are the group’s mellowest material.

In contrast, Christine McVie plays thumping keyboards, writes earthier songs, and looks as if she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. She sits behind the others, trading inside jokes with roadies. Laughing, she comments on the name of the group’s latest album.

“‘Tusk,’ It’s just a nice-sounding word,” she says.

Fleetwood tries his best to look like a misunderstood artist. “It’s got nothing to do with elephants,” he claims.

Still, “Tusk,” the album’s title cut, sounds distinctly tribal. The song features the entire University of SC marching band, remixed to sound like Zulu warriors.

“I tend to look over my shoulder when I’m singing it,” Nick giggles, “like I’m waiting for the cannibals to come.”

The rest of the double album is less bizarre. It seems, at least partly, a response to the primitive rhythms of New Wave rock. A financial as well as artistic gamble (it cost over $1 million to produce, and carries a $15.95 list price in period of falling record sales), Tusk started fast but faded quickly, a moderate success in a business where “moderate” often means failure.

But the members of Fleetwood Mac still travel with the aura of legendary success.

Peter Grier / Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA) / July 9, 1980

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