1979, Music

Tusk (1979) by Fleetwood Mac

The number of times I’ve heard that Tusk is “experimental” in my life…well, if I had a dollar, I still wouldn’t be able to afford a down-payment on a house in Toronto, or anything, but maybe I could lease a car or something. The problem with pop music fans telling you that some pop album or other is experimental is that it’s rarely the case. This is because pop music fans don’t listen to experimental music, usually, and don’t know what experimental music actually sounds like! So they hear an idiosyncratic record that tries not to sound like the previous album and they say “Hey, that record is really experimental”. Meanwhile, Throbbing Gristle was about to put out 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and that record is their commercial album. (I’m not saying you should listen to that record, whose title is better than its music, but I mention it only as an example of the actual experimental music being made in 1979. Music that makes this music look like, well, pop music.)

I’m not sure the Smiley Smile comparison helps, either, as that record is, well, shorter than this one (by a lot!) to put it mildly, and significantly more batty and more charming than this one.

I know, it sounds like I’m going to pan this. But I’m not.

Once I got over my initial “Wait a minute…” annoyance that critics and friends had been telling me about how weird this record was and it’s not really very weird, I came to like it. I think it’s safe to say that, as my brother predicted, I like this more than any other Buckingham-Nicks Mac album I’ve yet heard.

Yes, it’s way too long, and there are too many songs here that don’t work. And Steve Nicks remains the best songwriter in the band but doesn’t get enough of the material because her ex-boyfriend has a bit of an ego. (Also, he really has done a lot to promote the idea that he got up to some really weird stuff on this record. He’s the one who should listen to Throbbing Gristle.)

But the whole thing is pleasantly idiosyncratic, with weird – but hardly daring – touches on a number of songs, and a lot more warts than anything the band had recorded in what feels like forever. (I still miss Peter Green and Danny Kirwan!)

Perhaps most importantly, the songs haven’t been polished within an inch of their life. You cannot describe this album as “mom rock” like you can their self-title and Rumours. The imperfections in the relationships described in the lyrics of their most famous album have migrated to the music, and that is a good thing.

Still, lets stop calling this record “experimental”. If you want to listen to experimental music from this era, listen to This Heat. (I am being serious this time, as This Heat are a lot more musical than Throbbing Gristle And a lot better.)


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