The Fleetwood Mac album Christine McVie called “absurd”

Meta Description: Discover the story behind Fleetwood Mac’s experimental album Tusk, from their indulgent recording sessions to the unique sound that set it apart from Rumours.

The Absurd History and Experimental Sound of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk

There are a number of absurdities in the history of Fleetwood Mac. The amount of cocaine and champagne they collectively consumed, for one. The romantic entanglements and betrayals that took place between band members. The decision to publicize them all through song, airing their grievances out through a microphone while looking each other dead in the eye across the stage.

Fleetwood Mac’s Turbulent Personal Lives

One thing that was rarely absurd about Fleetwood Mac was their actual music. Though their catalog was born out of their turbulent personal lives and excessive substance use, it was rarely as sonically chaotic or shocking as their life behind the scenes. Rumours, their aptly-titled 1977 magnum opus, marked the height of the influence of drugs and divorce, yet the record barely strayed from subdued soft rock.

Lindsey Buckingham’s Experimentation on Tusk

The most sonically experimental era for Fleetwood Mac came towards the end of the decade with Tusk, which was Lindsey Buckingham’s baby. He was keen to switch up Fleetwood Mac’s sound, to imbue their established pop-rock style with some slightly stranger elements, influenced by post-punk and more artsy stylings.

The Recording of Tusk

As usual, the experience of recording Tusk was marked by indulgence and absurdity in the studio. “There was blood floating around in the alcohol,” Christine McVie once said, as quoted by Rolling Stone. “Recording Tusk was quite absurd,” she continued, “The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a phone directory. Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of Champagne.”

This comes as no surprise to fans of the band. Fleetwood Mac was well-known for their use of substances in the studio and even devised a covert method of doing bumps on stage, involving Heineken bottle tops. But this time, some of the absurdity of their recording processes had finally found its way into their sound.

Tusk’s Unique Sound

Tusk wasn’t a passionate break-up record like its predecessor, Rumours, nor was it full of the commercial appeal of its successor, Mirage. It refused to be constrained, flitting between influences and styles at will with little concern for the listener. The opener, ‘Over & Over’, for example, lulls you into a false sense of security with country twangs and Christine McVie’s familiar vocals, but the warmth is quickly offset by the follow-up track ‘The Ledge’.

McVie’s comforting vocals are quickly replaced with Buckingham’s, in a tiny track that is both sparse and strange. From there, Tusk never stays in one place sonically. There’s the Stevie Nicks-helmed hit ‘Sara’, which features twinkling guitars and love-sick lyrics. There’s the kalimba-infused ‘That’s All For Everyone’, the off-kilter titular track, and the Talking Heads-esque groove of ‘Angel’.

Embracing Absurdity

Tusk is all over the place and, particularly in terms of Fleetwood Mac’s standards, it’s absurd. But unlike Rumours and the many releases that surrounded their magnum opus, its absurdity isn’t limited to the lore that surrounds it. It bleeds into the songs, into their unpredictability over the course of the album’s runtime, courtesy of Buckingham’s newfound penchant for experimentation.

Tusk provided a glimpse at Fleetwood Mac beyond the constraints of soft rock, giving into the strangeness of their lives in the studio entirely and experimenting with more than just substances. It’s certainly still within the pop realm, with singles like ‘Tusk’ earning radio play and chart success, but it’s much more out there as far as Fleetwood Mac stylings go.

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