More than any other Fleetwood Mac album, Tusk is born of a particular time and place — it could only have been created in the aftermath of Rumours, which shattered sales records, which in turn gave the group a blank check for its next album. But if they were falling apart during the making of Rumours, they were officially broken and shattered during the making of Tusk, and that disconnect between bandmembers resulted in a sprawling, incoherent, and utterly brilliant 20-track double album.
At the time of its release, it was a flop, never reaching the top of the charts and never spawning a true hit single, despite two well-received Top Ten hits. Coming after the monumental Rumours, this was a huge disappointment, but the truth of the matter is that Fleetwood Mac couldn’t top that success no matter how hard they tried, so it was better for them to indulge themselves and come up with something as unique as Tusk.
Lindsey Buckingham directed both Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, but he dominates here, composing nearly half the album, and giving Christine McVie’s and Stevie Nicks’ songs an ethereal, floating quality that turns them into welcome respites from the seriously twisted immersions into Buckingham’s id.
This is the ultimate cocaine album — it’s mellow for long stretches, and then bursts wide open in manic, frantic explosions, such as the mounting tension on “The Ledge” or the rampaging “That’s Enough for Me,” or the marching band-driven paranoia of the title track, all of which are relieved by smooth, reflective work from all three songwriters. While McVie and Nicks contribute some excellent songs, Buckingham owns this record with his nervous energy and obsessive production, winding up with a fussily detailed yet wildly messy record unlike any other.
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.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine / AllMusic