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Santa Cruz Sentinel (04/29/2004), Rock of Ages < Fleetwood Mac < Main Page

Santa Cruz Sentinel (04/29/2004), Rock of Ages

Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 29, 2004
Style Section

Rock of Ages
Lindsey bucks the system

To mark the 50th anniversary of the rock revolution, the Sentinel is re-assessing the popular songs of the last half-century.

THIS WEEK'S SONG: "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac (1979).
By MARK STETZ, Sentinel staff writer

It is perhaps the most daring single in rock history.

Imagine the Beach Boys, at the peak of their popularity, doing a song with a punk-rock attitude. It probably would have sounded a lot like Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk."

Of course, there wasn't punk rock when the Beach Boys were dreaming up good vibrations. But at the height of Fleetwood Mac's popularity, punk was starting to exert its influence - and Mac leader Lindsey Buckingham was thoroughly under its spell.

The song "Tusk" was sincere in its audacity - not tactical, like a Janet Jackson ploy. It was also before Madonna discovered the promotional value of reinventing oneself. Buckingham took Fleetwood Mac's fame and power and turned them inside out for the sake of expanding the band's art. "You're eager to hear our new song?" he seemed to ask amid all the love and hope, anticipating the band's next potential hit. "Can you love this?"

"Tusk" seemed to defy acceptance. It dared radio to open its ears - and the single still soared into the Top Ten and remains one of rock's most unique milestones.

Fleetwood Mac's previous 1977 collection, "Rumours," had sold more copies than any album in pop music history. Basically, though, it was a hook-laden, cookie-cutter follow-up to "Fleetwood Mac" from 1975, which introduced the '60s blues band with a new, California lineup, featuring Stevie Nicks on vocals and Buckingham on guitars and vocals.

Nothing had been adventurous for the band up to this point, except for its drug use and relationship breakdowns during the recording of "Rumours" and then as the album remained at the top of the charts longer than any album ever, to date.

Anticipation was high for the next album, reported to cost a record $1 million to make. Virtually every track on "Rumours" had been worthy of being released as a single. Now the new work promised to be a double album, potentially holding twice as many hits. Record stores and fans were practically drooling at the prospects.

By October 1979, when the new album, also called "Tusk," was set to debut, people were wondering what the first single would be. Would it be something sexy, bewitching or vulnerable like Nicks' previous standout tracks? Would it be soulful, playful or silky smooth like keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie's earlier songs? Or would it feature creative guitar work, as on Buckingham's backlist?

Alas, when the title track of "Tusk" hit as the first single, no one knew what to make of it. (For that matter, most people still don't know what to make of it 25 years later, when - or perhaps I should say if - it gets played on "classic rock" stations, because it doesn't fit with anything in rock before or since. It's even too alternative for modern "alternative" stations.)

Where was Stevie Nicks' million-dollar voice? Nowhere to be heard. Christine McVie's tinkling ivories? Absent, too. For that matter, even Buckingham's guitar barely came into play. "Tusk" was a single rhythm line, almost primal, over and over, with a marching band crashing in to add color.

Yes, a marching band - all 112 USC Trojans, giving "Tusk" a brassy spunk and sense of barely restrained chaos. The magic was in the cacophonous arrangement, horns over Mick Fleetwood's steady tribal drum line, reeds weaving in and out of John McVie's bass line.

As for melody or singing, there was chanting, grunting, gasping, moaning, taunting, screaming - even someone doing a Saturday-morning-cartoon headhunter cry of "ooga-eega-ugha." But not really any singing - from a band with three lead vocalists.

"Tusk" had a dark edge that still intrigues listeners. Its opening rhythm salvo punches yet hooks the listener. Its simple vocal cry slithers into the ears, then brays its title: "Tusk!" Buckingham has explained the seemingly nonsensical title as simply being a sound he liked and found unique. With the audacious recording of "Tusk," he created a single that not everyone liked but all found unique.

This highly anticipated single was radical, revolutionary, anarchistic and defiant. It bit the hand that fed it. It was everything that early underground punk was trying to be, at least in attitude - and that's what punk was all about.

Buckingham was entranced by that iconoclastic spirit - shattering the pop sheen of top-sellers just like Fleetwood Mac. He leveraged his band's power to force everyone to listen and try something new, something raw and unsettling.

The "method" behind Buckingham's "madness" becomes more apparent when one listens to the 20-plus outtakes and demos released last month on a reissue of the "Tusk" album. There are some wildly creative musical settings that perhaps were too dark or weird for the original release's era - and for audience expectations.

(Listening to some of the other settings of Nicks' material is especially compelling, due to the way Buckingham arranges the use of her voice. There is, additionally, a stunning studio version of a Brian Wilson tune called "Farmer's Daughter," previously available only on the band's live album from the "Tusk" tour in 1980, featuring some of the band's most gorgeous harmony vocals. By the way, for those interested in Buckingham's punk leanings, just listen to the revved-up guitar solos on the live album's version of "Oh Well," which was a blues rock classic from Fleetwood Mac prior to Buckingham and Nicks joining.)

NEXT WEEK: "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" by The Smiths (1985).

Thanks to MacMan for posting this to the Ledge.

Date: 2004-04-29         Number of views: 1695

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