If I wanted to start a flame war among my fellow music snobs, I could make the assertion that Fleetwood Mac’s divisive and experimental 12th album, Tusk—celebrating its 40th anniversary today—is their finest hour. I would proceed to explain song-by-song, songwriter-by-songwriter that the material on this sprawling double LP set is far darker and more personal than anything on Rumours (sole exception: “Gold Dust Woman,” which still gives me goosebumps) and is therefore a finer collection of songs than the album that made them superstars.
Or, I could just simply pay tribute to a band that had everything going for them, who, instead of sticking to formula and producing Rumours: Part 2, rewarded their fans’ loyalty by releasing an album so out there (comparatively speaking) and yet, as previously stated, even more personal. If Rumours made Fleetwood Mac superstars, Tusk made them legends.
I still remember buying Tusk when I was first getting into Fleetwood Mac in 1987, when Tango In The Night had come out. Compact discs were all the rage and it seemed like record stores were being invaded by the shiny new discs on a daily basis. I liked Tango so much I started going back through their previous records, starting with the obvious choice, Rumours. Upon hearing this, I immediately wondered what all the fuss was about. Sure it has good songs on it, but it sounds just like you would expect a record made in sunny California to sound in 1977. With the exception of the aforementioned, “Gold Dust Woman,” Rumours left me non-plussed to say the least.
Then one day at Sound Warehouse (RIP), I saw the CD of Tusk. The Beatles’ White Album had turned me into a sucker for double albums (which I remain today) and decided to take a chance.
The album opener, “Over and Over,” immediately hooked me and from there it was a roller coaster ride of frenzied emotions, aching loss and longing. The vast array of sounds and feelings on display held me captive through all 20 songs on the disc, despite the fact that not all of them were instant keepers and some songs took me years to fully warm up to. But that’s the beauty of this album: it dares you not to like it and goes out of its way to test your determination.
Throughout the album, these songs display a vulnerable side, something that Rumours also did but from an insulated place from which only those experiencing horrible breakups could identify. These songs, it seemed, were for everyone in every kind of relationship.
This daring to take a chance on the fans for the sake of art, then warmly inviting these same fans into the dark recesses of their own relationships in hopes of finding some kind of light and way out, is why I’m celebrating this album’s 40th birthday, and why I’ll listen to this album any day over Rumours.