Beer & Vinyl: Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

Maybe, just maybe, we're all in this together.

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Artist Fleetwood Mac
Album Tusk
Label Warner Bros.
Year 1979

I bought myself a 6-pack of Torpedo Extra IPA a few nights ago and I’m about done with the two that I found in the fridge today.  Sierra Nevada is a safe California brewery, one of the many Californian “microbreweries” that are nationally known and available in most grocery stores (See also: Stone, Lagunitas, Lost Coast, etc.).

So maybe you’re digging this so far and you’re waiting for the segue where I make it clear that I am transferring my focus from beer to a vinyl record album.  No such segue is coming, or maybe it already came and I just didn’t realize it.

I don’t know, man.  Tusk is playing.  Have you ever heard Tusk?

Tusk is the name of Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double-album: the most expensive rock album ever produced at the time (costing over a million dollars).  It was considered a commercial failure because it only sold 4 million copies.  Only 4 million… that’s what we’re dealing with when we talk about Fleetwood Mac at the end of the ’70s.  Rumours has sold like 40 million copies to date.  It was the biggest album ever, and probably of 1977 too (probably). Stevie Nicks did so much fucking coke, oh my god but have you seen pictures of Stevie Nicks in the ’70s? Babe Alert.

Anyway, they were all really fucked up and how can you possibly top the commercial success of Rumours?  Even trying to come close to the success of their 1977 smash seems like a crazy idea to me.  They put so much money into trying that it must have felt pretty bad when they didn’t even come close.  But they were left with Tusk, an expansive album that they presented to the public with gleaming eyes. It is an album that was initially considered a failure but has aged gracefully and stands as perhaps their most critically acclaimed release despite its relative commercial belly-flop.

My copy of the album is fucked up, bought used for a few dollars at Everyday Music in Bellingham, WA.  Anyway, it clicks and pops like crazy and there’s some sort of coffee stain on at least one of the two sleeves shoved into a single, non-gatefold package.  Something really irks me about a double album that isn’t in a gatefold package, especially now that so many current bands offer some pretty fancy packaging for their vinyl releases. Merriwether Post Pavilion isn’t even a double album and it comes on two 12″ records in a gatefold package.  Bitte Orca is a single album that fits neatly on one record that comes in a gatefold package.  And don’t even get me started on 3xLP releases like Have One On Me and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  The Animal Collective reference might come in handy but forget I just mentioned The Dirty Projectors, seriously please forget.  I probably mentioned Kanye West and Joanna Newsom too and for that I too am sorry.  Where was I?  The point here is that I often play my shitty copy of Tusk on my turntable and it’s got a lot of surface noise.  Also, I hate the packaging itself, although the artwork on the LP sleeves and cover is very nice.

Tusk is like three albums in one and that’s due to the three distinct songwriters of Fleetwood Mac. There’s basically zero collaboration on this album.  They harmonize and guitar noodle on each others songs just the same as ever but the songs of Tusk are clearly the work of three very different people.  For evidence of that you just have to listen to them.  The two female songwriters don’t stray too far from their efforts on the two previous Mac albums.  Christine McVie writes pretty, soft-rock-love-ballad-lullabies from heaven. Stevie kinda does the same thing but with a little more mystic goat-warbling and soul.  Lindsey Buckingham, however, is not business as usual on Tusk.  His contributions to Tusk are the reason that the word “experimental” pops up in a lot of peoples’ descriptions of the album.  His songs are full of production that channels the punk and new-wave movements that were happening around him as he tried his best to write the same bluesy arena-rock that got him to the top of the mountain.  And as far as I’m concerned, the second track on Tusk– Buckingham’s “The Ledge”– sounds like it could have been written by Devo and “That’s All for Everyone,” another Buckingham contribution, channels Surf’s Up era Beach Boys.  If you’re familiar with Buckingham’s absolutely bazzonkers 1980’s solo output, Tusk functions as a completely logical launching pad for that.  Buckingham’s wild experimentation in the studio must be what cost so much.  Something was happening in his mind as he made this album and you get to listen to it, which is so cool.  Maybe he was going nuts over Stevie Nicks, still hopelessly in love with her.  I don’t know for sure, but a listen to Tusk makes it obvious that Lindsey was losing his grip.

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Tusk feels like an ideas record in that it’s so scattered and long.  Each of the double album’s twenty tracks is its own little thing, individually listenable, but still somehow fitting into the grand scheme of whatever the fuck they were doing in the recording studio.  The rhythm section, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, are the two non-songwriting members of the band that do what a rhythm section should do and that is hold shit together.  This is the first time I’ve mentioned Mac’s rhythm section and hat goes to show you how much attention the three songwriters of the band suck out of the room.  McVie’s bass lines, especially on the title track and Christine’s creepy ballad “Brown Eyes,” are crucial for this album to have functioned as well as it did.  More notably, Mick Fleetwood is a master of rock drumming that shines brightly on just about every song on Tusk.  Mac’s rhythm section seems cozy in the backseat of Tusk, just managing the flow and trying to keep everyone afloat.  They get the job done perfectly, and I like that.

Repetition, harmonies, vague drug-addled Beach Boys worship: Tusk is kinda like the first Panda Bear album if you really think about it, with its funky white jams and its repetition and focus on textures.  That word comes out a lot when I think about Tusk: “textures.”  Songs like “Save Me a Place” are such simple songs that have been so layered in production that they come out sounding so rich and full.  I could probably wear “Save Me a Place” like a shirt if I wanted to.  I’ve thought a lot about Animal Collective and their relationship to the Beach Boys and if they ever really got “close.”  The Beach Boys are my favorite band and “close” is the most a band could ask for when attempting to duplicate them.  I got super into Animal Collective when they dropped the freak-folk thing and starting trying to make pop masterpieces.  I think Strawberry Jam might be that turning point for AC.  I know I called Tusk a precursor to Panda Bear earlier but I now am wondering if Tusk was Strawberry Jam, or at least it is Lindsey Buckingham’s Strawberry Jam.  I think that Animal Collective probably loved Tusk a lot.  I have no idea what any of the Beach Boys think about Tusk and I might research that someday.  There’s something that I can’t quite touch here.  It might just be a projection on my own part, this relationship between Animal Collective, The Beach Boys, and Tusk.  I don’t really know if I have the capacity to properly back up this claim.  Am I just making broad generalizations based on similarities between a few songs?  I don’t know; but I do know that I have the courage to hold an unfounded opinion.

What amazes me most about Tusk, especially when I think of the budget involved, is the simple and generally laid-back arrangement.  The most arena-rockin’ arena-rock bands in the arena-rock ’70s spent (then) obscene amounts of cash making a chilled out, experimental studio album and I just love that.  Since I was not even a zygote when this album was released, I have no real grasp of what it meant at the time.  What I know and feel about its context are all based on Wikipedia articles and album liner notes.  But, in my perception of the album, I hear Animal Collective and I hear weird-era-sandbox-piano Beach Boys and it makes me feel like maybe generation gaps aren’t as gappy as we think they are.  Q-Tip famously said in song, “Daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles?”  And maybe my parents were jamming to Tusk the same way my early 20’s mind melted listening to Panda BearMaybe, just maybe, we’re all in this together.  Somewhere, some place, maybe Brian Wilson just farted and Lindsey Buckingham finally got his wings.

THE BEER: Sierra Nevada, Torpedo Extra IPA

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Sierra Nevada produces their extra IPA in Chico, CA, the biggest stoner party college city ever. Chico is also very musical and culturally rich. It is also the hometown of Aaron Rodgers, who is a football player (for all you nerds out there that don’t know that). Sierra Nevada Brewery produces lots of boring beers that Californians have been loving the shit out of for a long time. Torpedo Extra IPA tastes suspiciously similar to a lot of non-extra IPAs I’ve had. It’s safe and delightful, very hoppy and slightly sweet. Despite its national distribution, this beer is distinctly Californian and therefore a cure for the homesickness brought on by a complete lack of sun and joy in the midst of Seattle’s winter-long, annual solar blackout.

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  • Remi

    Enjoyed the read…Also enjoy microbreweries :-) Montreal, Qc btw!!