Like 1979 original, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk reissue is bold, brash and excessive
Fleetwood Mac’s deluxe reissue of Tusk is as brash and elaborate as the 1979 original, offering extended insights into the development of 20 eclectic songs.
In its original form, Tusk was a 2-LP set that followed the mega-success of Rumours, which had delivered enduring pop classics “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Go Your Own Way.”
Flush with fame and cash, and fueled by cocaine use, according to band co-founder Mick Fleetwood, the band was intent on not making Rumours II. Instead, they released a 20-song set that mostly (not entirely) eschewed the sunny California harmony pop sound of Rumours. Songs haltingly methodical and slow crash into breakneck-paced punk-rock romps. On the first listen, it can be unsettling. After that, it works wonderfully.
A few hits emerged from between the heart-racing highs and the faint-pulse lows, including the title track, featuring the USC marching band, and the ethereal top-5 smash “Sara.” Most of the rest was not radio-friendly. Tusk was a critical smash but a commercial flop when stacked up against Rumours-sized expectations.
The passage of time has solidified the legacy of Tusk as a masterpiece. The anniversary set captures the album’s essence with an in-depth exploration of how it unfolded. Here’s why fans will wallow in its abundance of material:
It’s excessive, just like the original. The deluxe version delivers 84 tracks, spread across five CDs (the digital version is organized along the same lines.) Those tracks include inside-out looks at the evolution of the album, including the aforementioned title track (eight versions, including one live performance) and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” (eight versions.) Both have aged well. To be sure, half as many versions of each would be plenty, while leaving room for more outtakes and alternate takes.
The hidden gems shine. Stevie Nicks’ “Sisters of the Moon” starts softly and builds for five minutes, her distinctive raspy vocals taking center stage. An alternate take of “Storms” haunts with the backing of Lindsey Buckingham on acoustic guitar. Buckingham’s “The Ledge,” “That’s Enough For Me” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” fuse rockabilly and punk; they sound like they could have been written on the same wild night, and that’s a good thing. On each of these three tracks (average length about 2:20), by the time you ask yourself, “Wait, this is Fleetwood Mac?” the tune is already over — and it’s time to jam on the brakes for a track like Christine McVie’s “Brown Eyes” or “Never Make Me Cry.” Those tracks may not rank among McVie’s career’s best, but they showcase a moody, silky voice that keeps you from skipping ahead. The alternate takes of these songs give a sense of what it was like in the recording studio, one that was famously, and very expensively, custom built for the band.
22 vintage live tracks. We don’t get a single concert, but rather selected tracks from the band’s 1979-80 tour in support of Tusk. Many were taken during a June 1980 run at Wembley Stadium. The tracks present a time capsule of a band still riding the crest of its popularity yet testing the waters with the new material. “Sara” is gorgeous in its simple arrangement and Nicks’ passionate vocals during a 1980 Tuscon, Ariz. show. Buckingham practically barks at a St. Louis crowd during a November 1979 performance of “Not That Funny.” He gets the point across. During that same show, McVie plaintively belts out “Over and Over,” the mournful leadoff track on Tusk. Tracks from the band’s 1975 eponymous album and Rumours round out the live offerings.
The band’s cohesiveness is on constant display. Watching and hearing Fleetwood Mac’s disparate units combine talents is the real pleasure in following the band. “The magic of a band, any band, is in the combination,” Fleetwood once said. Although they don’t write songs, Fleetwood and fellow original band member John McVie provide the band’s backbone, something that’s evident during the live performances of “Not That Funny” and “Tusk.” Ultimately, Buckingham’s orchestration of these songs works so well because it’s those guys who form the orchestra. Each of main album’s tracks takes on the distinctive personality of the songwriter — Buckingham (nine tracks), McVie (six) or Nicks (five).
The set, issued by Rhino Records, is available in multiple physical and digital configurations. Among them is a gift set that contains 5 CDs, a DVD, 2 LPs and a booklet, and retails for about $100. All the music can be purchased digitally for $39.99 on music services. The biggest fans will enjoy this encyclopedic approach to an album that holds up to an in-depth re-inspection. The set minus the 22 live tracks sells for $10 less. You can save another $10 by dropping all the outtakes and alternative tracks, but that’s where the real fun stuff lives.
Ken Paulsen / silive.com / Friday, February 12, 2016