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Over & Over: "Tusk" at 40; A Contemporary Review

As our friends and listeners know, we hear at 91.1 are dedicated to bringing you top quality broadcasting and access to terrific music, news and talk radio. As such, we have decided during our summer hiatus to begin bringing you reviews of albums, both current and classic. For our first review, we have decided to review a seminal album, turning forty this year: Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.

This review written by: Adam Venrick

Released in 1979, directly following 1977’s Rumours and 1975’s second self-titled White Album , Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk represents a both a continuation and a departure of the styles and themes that had won them a Grammy on their last album. Conceptually, the album is a strange kind of a thing. It combines influences of Album Oriented Rock, Blues, Folk, Psychedelia, Punk, New Wave and Art Rock, and bares as much resemblance to the Velvet Underground and Vashti Bunyan as it does their previous two albums. Lyrically and musically, it doesn’t yield to same accessibility that Rumours or Fleetwood Mac yields. Listeners will find fewer personal hardships and romantic entanglements. (Fewer songs that might remind one of the plot of Gone Girl.) There are also fewer toe-tapping rockers to dance along to. (Though “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” “The Ledge,” and “Never Forget,” might bring out some pleasure.)

That being said, Tusk also offers a continuation of the five band members’ strengths. Stevie Nicks’ mystical lyrics shine through in each of her five songs, and though they occupy only a fourth of the album space, they are incredibly memorable, especially “Sara,” “Angel,” and perhaps the album’s best song, the tender folk-ballad “Storms.” Lindsey Buckingham shows his love for experimentation in the lyrically sparse, musically heavy songs and Christine McVie brings her tender soulfulness to soaring levels (especially in songs “Over & Over” and “Brown Eyes.”) Mick Fleetwood’s drums soar out in “Not that Funny” and “That’s Enough for Me” and John McVie’s bass playing is fantastic in “The Ledge.”

Looking at the now forty year old album through the lens of a 2019 listener, one can see that it more than holds water, and in fact, might be the album by the group (though one could argue for Rumours or Tango in the Night) that has influenced modern music the most. It is an album that makes its quirkiness accessible and its hour and twenty-minute run-time (as a double LP) fly by. Moreover, it is an album that, much like the group’s 1972 quasi-concept album Bare Trees deserves to be listened to in one sitting, preferably one overcast afternoon with a cup of coffee. Moreover, the album proves the merits of chance taking in a group that is nearly impossible to define stylistically. When the band began in 1967, under the direction of Peter Green (who makes a musical cameo on the song “Brown Eyes”) it was a British blues band. Since then, it has been shaped by Danny Kirwan’s freak-folk influences, Bob Welch’s jazz fusion influences (both in the early 70s), Jeremy Spencer’s rockabilly and the experimentation of albums like Then Play On, released a decade before Tusk. All of this before Buckingham/Nicks even got to the table.

Still, Tusk’s influence (whether consciously so or not) remains clear in this generation’s alternative music. And perhaps that’s what we can ultimately say of Tusk’s confounding nature. Though it was the group’s twelfth album, it was their third as a truly mainstream band, and rather than embracing the kind of confining safety of the popular music of the decade that would follow, the album longed to return to the group’s more experimental, more alternative roots - “back to the Velvet Underground,” as Nicks would later sing.

Finally, at forty years old (and as our station’s first review on this blog,) we must consider whether Tusk is truly a good album as well as a confounding one. I would argue that it is. Moreover, it is not just a good album, but in this reviewer’s opinion, belongs with its immediate predecessor as one of the most perfect albums of the last century. However, it is also likely that a casual listener would find it more alienating (the titular song was recorded at a USC halftime show, after all.) It is an album that can be both appreciated and enjoyed, provided that the listener approaches it, knowing it is (and being prepared for) an atypical listening experience. But here we are now: 40 years of Tusk and I would argue that not only has it held up well, it has aged into a position of musical apotheosis, dropped in the wrong time and awaiting a point where contemporary tastes were just so that it could truly be appreciated.

Final Score: 97%