Can an album that sold four million copies be fairly called a cult classic? If the answer is yes, that album would certainly be Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. One of the most willfully unconventional albums ever made, the follow-up to Rumours nonetheless went multi-platinum. Nobody expected the band that had already morphed from blues-rock to the epitome of California pop-rock (and everything in between) to defiantly go the "art-rock" route, yet that's precisely what Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks did with Tusk. Now, over ten years after its last expanded reissue, Tusk is back in a variety of formats from Warner Bros. Records and Rhino, most notably a 5-CD/1-DVD/2-LP Deluxe Edition. 29 previously unreleased studio outtakes premiere here across two CDs, as well as a 22-song/2-CD live set. A long-awaited 5.1 mix, on DVD, also is included. The result is an exhaustive and illuminating exploration into the strange world of Tusk.
It's reported in this set that the band's resident visionary, Buckingham, used over 175 reels of two-inch tape recording his magnum opus - and then almost 400 mix reels! (The album is credited as "Produced by Fleetwood Mac (Special Thanks to Lindsey Buckingham" with Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat.) Tusk is the band's answer to The Beach Boys' SMiLE, assembled from wildly disparate parts - except that Tusk was released as planned! One could endlessly debate the album's schizophrenic sequencing, as well; in fact, much like SMiLE once was, it's a perfect album to arrange and rearrange in one's head (or one's computer). It shares with its predecessor Rumours the sense of being a "relationship" album, with many of the lyrics still seeming to reflect on the songwriters' various romantic entanglements. But the story is far from linear, the sounds anything but expected.
Tusk is chockablock with unorthodox song structures, varied production textures, and not one song as immediately accessible as "Go Your Own Way" or "You Make Loving Fun." The 20-song album was assembled from six songs penned by Christine McVie, five by Stevie Nicks, and nine by Buckingham - three highly individual songwriters with distinctive voices. Buckingham emerged as the restless studio wizard and pop deconstructionist brimming with ideas incorporating the urgency of the day's new wave sounds while taking in influences from rock and roll's past. McVie solidified her role as purveyor of smart adult pop. Nicks relished her role as resident mystic, turning out extended musical narratives shrouded in mystery yet always alluring.
McVie's shimmering "Over and Over" provided an unlikely start to the album. This rueful rumination on a romance (with multiple meanings to its title) wouldn't have been out-of-place on Rumours. In the indispensable track-by-track liner notes here, Buckingham concedes that Christine's song had "a certain familiarity to it." A ballad tinged with country-rock guitar and ethereal, lightly-applied harmonies, "Over and Over" proved an attractive appetizer to the main course that followed.
Responsible for nearly half of the album's songs, producer-arranger-sonic architect Buckingham tends to dominate Tusk with his mission in mind. In Jim Irvin's excellent liner notes, Steve Nicks describes that mission bluntly: "Lindsey was just so adamant about doing something that was the opposite of the previous records. He announced it so viscerally, so demandingly, that I think he scared us!" That visceral approach defines Tusk.
That Tusk wasn't going to, in fact, be Rumours Part II was evident by its second track, the first of Buckingham's compositions. "The Ledge" is a jarring, frantic explosion of punkish rockabilly from a solo singer-songwriter who sounds as if he is, indeed, on that titular ledge and about to take us with him for the journey that follows. "That's Enough for Me" is in a similar, manic vein drawing on early rock-and-roll influences. The clanging, driving "What Makes You Think You're the One" has an even more unhinged lead from Buckingham over a ferocious track dominated by Fleetwood at his most primal. Fleetwood gets another spotlight on "Walk a Thin Line," with his multi-tracked drums just one component of the layered production. (Mick later re-recorded the song with guest George Harrison on his solo album The Visitor.) Buckingham's sneering guitar rocker "Not That Funny" ("directed at Stevie a little bit," per Lindsey in the notes) pulsates with urgency and a cacophony of sound; it's been happily reinstated here to its original album version. (Past reissues have used an edited version of the song.) The uptempo "I Know I'm Not Wrong" circles back lyrically to "Not That Funny," one of the many dots to connect on Tusk.
The more reflective side of Buckingham isn't completely lost on Tusk. The tender, yearning and vulnerable on "Save Me a Place" is his most straightforward track on the album, and shares with McVie's "Over and Over" the lyrical conceit that "I'll come running." Best of all is the Brian Wilson-influenced "That's All for Everyone." Channeling the Beach Boys leader circa "'Til I Die," it captures the feel of Wilson's late sixties/early seventies vibrations in its loping melody, dreamy harmonies and hypnotic mood. "Everyone" even recalls Wilson's exquisitely longing melancholy within its admittedly-impressionistic lyrics: "I need somewhere to go/That's all/Must be what I need/That's all..."
Christine McVie's songs primarily appear on Tusk as beautiful respites. Her "Think About Me," a pop admonition to "Let yourself go and let love begin" became a hit single (included on Disc Two of the Deluxe box) in remixed form. The lyrically-sparse "Brown Eyes" is her most sinuous track on the album. (Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green is audible on the fadeout of the album version of this song, but a take with his solo intact premieres on The Alternate Tusk.) The ballad "Never Make Me Cry" ("So go and do what you want/I know that you have the need/And don't worry baby, I'll be alright/You'll never make me cry") is attuned to Buckingham's songs in that it has the undercurrent of tension that permeates much of Tusk. Christine's "Honey Hi" has one of the album's most relatively simple, organic productions.
For her contributions to Tusk, Stevie Nicks took an expansive view. The sprawling "Sara" made it to Tusk in its 6-1/2 minute version; you can also hear the 9-minute first take and the 4-minute single edit among the bonus material here. (A 16-minute home demo was also recorded by Nicks but that hasn't surfaced.) "Storms" is a bit of wistful self-reflection that's as lovely in its melody and arrangement as it is striking in its candor, tightly played by a band in harmony; "Beautiful Child," almost as ravishing as "Storms," is another older-and-wiser look at a failed relationship.
Nicks also contributed the enigmatic "Sisters of the Moon" ("Makes no sense. Perfect for this record!" says Stevie) which conjures a sultry sound and a character about whom we'd like to know more - but Nicks has no idea herself about the song's inspiration! Her tough rocker "Angel" was inspired by Mick Fleetwood ("I still look up/When you walk into the room...") with a track that strikes just the right balance between radio-friendly and raw.
The penultimate moment on Tusk was allotted to Buckingham's title track. Driven by Fleetwood's drums and featuring the USC Marching Band, the bizarrely captivating "Tusk" pulls out all the stops with its chants, sound effects, noise, and bracing guitar riff. One of the most unlikely hit singles in pop history, it epitomizes the no-holds-barred, no-idea-too-offbeat approach that characterized the entire album. But the final slot on the album went to McVie's sweet, sensual "Never Forget" which closes the long, strange journey on a blissful, mellow note: "We will never forget tonight..." Tusk might be best heard - or certainly heard anew - in the surround mix presented on DVD in the Deluxe Edition. This standard DVD (not a DVD-Audio) has the 5.1 mix by Tusk co-producer Ken Caillat in DTS format as well as a 96/24 high resolution stereo version of the original mix. Caillat's mix isn't as wholly immersive as some surround mixes (particularly those by surround guru Elliot Scheiner) but expectedly and happily brings out new instrumental details and nuances in an album loaded with them.
The Deluxe and Expanded Editions feature two bonus discs of studio material. The first, titled Singles, Outtakes and Sessions, has 22 tracks - eleven of which are previously unreleased - shedding light on the band's creative process for Tusk both before (studio sessions) and after (remixed and edited single versions) its release. Most notable are six (completely varied!) attempts at creating "I Know I'm Not Wrong" and five versions of "Tusk," beginning with Buckingham's demos and tracing the songs' subsequent evolutions. ("Tusk" has a full marching band version among the quintet!) These prove to be particularly enjoyable windows onto his creative process; as he admits in the liner notes, "I don't even think of myself as a writer. I'll never be a writer in the way Burt Bacharach or Brian Wilson is, or people on that level. I'm sort of a stylist." And if he's rather modest about his songcraft, it's understandable in the context of Tusk, where the actual songs developed out of the rhythms and textured instrumental beds he was creating. Then again, much the same could be said of Brian Wilson's modular songwriting process for SMiLE...!
The Alternate Tusk presents a rare treat: an entire alternative version of the LP - with the identical twenty songs, sequenced identically - with only three of these takes having been previously issued. Those who are very familiar with the original album will find the most to cherish on this disc, whether the more low-key, folk-styled and altogether lovely take of "Save Me a Place" or the significantly extended "Sara." The delicate, music box-esque embryonic version of Buckingham's "That's All for Everyone" is a nearly different song altogether, sans the soaring Beach Boys harmonies and with a wholly new lyric and different vocal melody line. Unsurprisingly, there are also variations big and small throughout in tempi, arrangements, vocals and even overall feels. The raw, stripped-down "That's Enough for Me" has more of a country feel in the guitar, resulting in a less abrasive track overall. Peter Green's guitar solo on "Brown Eyes" finally gets its due here. McVie's leads on "Think About Me" and a smoother "Never Forget" sound warmer and even more honeyed as mixed in their earlier versions, and "Never Make Me Cry" gains a stately piano part that makes the song even more poignant. Similarly, "Honey Hi" in demo-like form takes on a different (some might feel more traditional) quality with its prominent piano, and without its group harmonies.
The two discs culled from various performances from the Tusk tour could make a fine standalone release. The 22 previously unreleased live cuts encompass songs from Tusk, Fleetwood Mac ("Rhiannon." "Say You Love Me," "Landslide," "World Turning") and Rumours ("Dreams," "Don't Stop," "You Make Loving Fun," "The Chain," "Go Your Own Way"), recorded in 1979 and 1980 in locales including St. Louis, Tucson, Omaha and Wembley. (Eleven songs are taken from the Wembley gigs of June 20-27, 1980.) These tracks cover the same period as 1980's 2-LP Fleetwood Mac Live, this line-up's first live album, but there's much to recommend nonetheless.
Note that much of the material on the 2004 release's 21-track bonus disc has not been repeated here, including the Mac's performances of The Beach Boys' "Farmer's Daughter" and Jorge Calderon's "Kiss and Run." The 2004 edition featured three alternate versions of "I Know I'm Not Wrong," and though this set has seven (!) alternates, two of the versions presented in 2004 are not here. In all, a total of eleven tracks have been carried over from the 2004 edition, leaving ten tracks exclusive to that release. So while completists will have to hold onto that 2004 set, the good news is that, by not repeating that material, even more Tusk ephemera has escaped the vault!
The Deluxe Edition produced by Bill Inglot and Steve Woolard is lavishly packaged in a style similar to that of 2013's Rumours set. It features a sturdy slipcase housing a 24-page LP-sized paperback booklet with Irvin's excellent essay and track-by-track annotations plus full lyrics, credits and memorabilia images. The six discs (5 CDs and 1 DVD) are housed in individual picture sleeves within the album jacket that also contains the original album on two vinyl LPs. Dan Hersch has crisply remastered all CDs.
The reputation of the controversial and weirdly blissful Tusk has only grown stronger year after year; surely Rhino's exemplary box set loaded with previously unheard music will only add to the standing among fans and collectors of this "beautiful child" of the Fleetwood Mac discography. It's now officially time to bring on Mirage and Tango in the Night!
Tusk is available now: