Tusk: You’re the poet in my heart

I inherited my parents’ copy of Rumours in 1996, which is to say I started listening to it that year. I knew most of the songs from FM radio: the singles had never vanished, and I even knew “Gold Dust Woman” and “Songbird.” The rockcrit press, youngsters should know, was smaller then. Although Tusk was easily found, it was harder to find defenders because alternative points of view weren’t available (Simon Reynolds’ excellent but misguided defense I read ten years later). I bought the album because “Sara” beguiled me the second I bought the 1988 greatest hits on Columbia House the same year. Radio programmers didn’t know what to do with the album even then; my local CHR station’s annual 100 Turkeys of All Time Show boasted “Tusk” in its top ten, surrounded by “Xanadu” and “Seasons in the Sun.” I bought the album for completist’s sake in early 1997, not long after Tango in the Night.

This preamble exists because I couldn’t reckon with an album that began with the slow, haunted, red wine melancholy of “Over and Over” and segued into the compressed 12-bar blues inversion known as “The Ledge”; my only point of comparison for the latter was one of Paul McCartney’s fuzzy one-man rockers from the 1970 solo album. Again and again the album played with notions of conventional space, sequence, perspective, and instrumentation. It was what critics said the Beatles’ White Album was supposed to sound like: a compromise, not a reconciliation, between three songwriters and an ace rhythm section. In England, Scotland, and Ireland that summer, I played Tusk, well, over and over. That it included the edited version of “Sara” was only one of its perversities. I have a memory of adjusting to local time, collapsing into a cup of tepid coffee, and thinking that Christine McVie emoting over the smear of a guitar solo in “Brown Eyes” was an epochal collision of the conventional and the subversive — as much as Mick Fleetwood’s inimitable fills in “What Makes You Think You’re The One.”

When I returned in August, Fleetwood Mac had played their reunion show in MTV. This article in the local press followed. The Dance became a surprise blockbuster. Boomer mythos had obscured Tusk‘s achievement just when the album deserved rediscovery. To celebrate the tour, I wrote a reappraisal of the album for my student newspaper. Several years later, thanks to the Internet, I realized others had responded to Tusk as I had: not the expensive farrago mildly praised (Greil Marcus excepted) at the time, but a punk(ish) gesture that used its expense to leave corners unexplored, allow its singer-songwriters to respond to each with space and harmonies that echo across oceans of sound; when Stevie Nicks cries, “I did not deal with the road” on “Storms” Buckingham’s guitar plunks along like it’s on Neptune. Its rediscovery depended on newfound appreciation of Buckingham’s arranging prowess — the typical rockist nonsense (would you listen to the solo Law and Order instead?). Nonsense because it’s partly true. McVie and Nicks were at the peak of their powers: the former understanding how sex requires separation and memory for bliss (“Never Forget,” “Brown Eyes”), the latter for writing fractured narratives that posited friendship and sisterhood as proxies for erotic bliss (“Storms,” “Sara”).

Anyway. These days Tusk surpasses Rumours in esteem. As a testament to Fleetwood Mac’s talent for laying stealth bombs, Tango in the Night threatens to surpass it. Which means Mirage is due for a re-eval in 2017.

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