Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk

Fleetwood Mac

Released 1979 on WEA
Reviewed by Popel Vooje, 02/08/2003ce

As anyone to whom I've chatted in Unsung may already know, I've been threatening to write a review of this album for ages, but Julian's spirited advocacy of Van Halen, plus the latest bout of hot weather in London - the perfect climate for languid, slightly f***ed-up West Coast AOR - have finally spurred me into action.

In case anyone asks, yes I do like the Peter Green-era FM too. But in all honesty, throwing any notions about sacrilege to the wind, I think the late '70s stuff has aged better. Green may have been a genius, and for sure "Albatross" is a supreme piece of chilled-out melancholia, but for the most part the British blues boom never did it for me - most of it's adherents, like John Mayall and Alexis Korner, sounded too shackled by their influences and too in awe of their African-American antecedents to create sounds that escape the strictures of technique-oriented musicanship in order to truly FLY. "Tusk", however, is a different matter.

Following the musical distillation of intra-band infidelities and cocaine abuse that was "Rumours", Lyndsay Buckingham insisted that the Mac followed a more experimental path with their follow-up. And whilst not everything on this sprawling double album works, the songs that do are chock full of the same aching (and peculiarly Californian) desire for redemption that characterised much of the Beach Boys' late 60s/early 70s work.

Unfortunately, there is insufficient space here for a track-by-track rundown. To fully explain this strange album's oddly enduring appeal would require a 2000 word thesis aling the lines of Julian's "Album of the Month"column, so I'm going to concentrate on the highlights and pass over the less distinguished tracks.

Admittedly, Christine McVie's "Over And Over" is not the most promising or dynamic of starts. But listen beyond the slick, coffee-table production and it sounds not just reflective, but burnt-out and jaded in the most compelling
stylee. Then we have "The Ledge", which sounds like a four-track demo recorded in someone's suburban garage. It's almost as though Buckingham is deliberately out to destroy the Mac's reputation as purveyors of soft-boiled AOR in one fell swoop. As such, it's as radical a departure as anything on Radiohead's "Kid A" or even P.I.L's "Metal Box". It's f***ing great.

It's followed by another McVie number, this time the more uptempo "Think About Me". Whilst the song may sound superficially cheery, listen to the lyrics and you'll find it's a stinging tirade against a selfish lover (rumoured to have been the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson). It's followed two songs later by Stevie Nicks' first contribution, "Sara", a yearning peaon to somebody or other (whether a lesbian lover or just a close friend is left tantalisingly ambiguous) which, to my ears, sounds even better in its truncated CD edit (the version on the original vinyl LP lasts a somewhat meandering six and a half minutes). Inspiration for many of the great female singers of the eighties, such as Kate Bush and the Cocteaus' Liz Fraser, can be clearly detected here.

Buckingham's "What Makes You Think You're The One" is next, another wounded diatribe against a loved one - possibly Nicks - whose lyric reads like one of the greatest ego-puncturing revenge excercises since Bob Dylan's "Ballad In Plain D". The fact that the production is endearginly lo-fi and the melody is just plain unforgettable doesn't hurt, either. Meanwhile, "That's All For Everyone" is the sound of a burnt-out hedonist clearing up the remains of a party long after the cocaine's worn off, and the rock'n'roll lifestyle has ceased to be fun and started to become a soulless exercise in celebrity schmoozing. "Sisters Of The Moon" is a scarf-waving rawk anthem that would sound unappetisingly cheesy if sung by anyone else (Kim Carnes or Bonnie Tyler, say), but which Nicks, by virtue of the vunerable quiver in her voice, manages to pull off without ever making the listener cringe.

Admittedly, "Tusk" does get less consistent from here on. But even the second half contains more gems than most groups of the Mac's commercial stature could produce over the course of an entire album. Buckingham's "I Know I'm Not Wrong" is, for me, the highlight of the entire disc, giving me the goosebumps and making me want to open the window and sing along with the damn thing from the rooftops every time I hear it. Two years ago, whilst on holiday in sunny Cali, my friends and I blasted this out on the car stereo whilst driving stoned down Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and it was one of those Kodak moments that could make even the most hardcore of Sylvia Plath acolytes think about putting off committing suicide for another year or so.

Meanwhile, Nicks' "Beautiful Child" is an achingly sad song about unrequited love that pulls off the enviable feat of managing to sound totally unforced and sincere despite containing enough lyrical and emotional cliches to rival a Phil Collins hit. Again, this is largely thanks to Nicks' voice. Then there's the title track, one of the most bizarre records ever to make the US Top 10. Halfway through the song, a weirdly tongue-in-cheek sounding Afro drumbeat is suddenly interrupted by a formless, rumbling cascade of heavily reverbed percussion, before the song kicks back into gear, augmented by the most endearingly silly horn solo this side of Faust's "I've Got My Car And My TV".

Finally, this exhausting emotional rollercoaster of a album closes with "Never Forget", a surprisingly optimistic clarion call to the future which suggests that the entire band had exorcised their collective demons and were now ready to clean up and go mainstream again. Sadly, this is exactly what transpired, and no-one involved with "Tusk" has produced anything remotely in the same league since. But why tarnish this unique and genuinely radical record by focusing on it's vastly inferior follow-ups? "Tusk"'s legacy, from the New Agey spirituality of Kate Bush's "The Dreaming" to the sardonic post-punk/AOR crossover of Microdisney, speaks for itself.

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