Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Overproduced, Otherwise Pretty Excellent, Tusk Is Likely To Satisfy Fleetwood Mac Fans!

The Good: Sounds good, Duration, Good vocals
The Bad: Outside the radio hits, it's a bit monotonous.
The Basics: A creative and musically inspired album, Tusk offers many good listens, but is still not a perfect album.

Before the allegation that I am being deliberately contrarian with my review begins to fly (I DO read my comments, thanks!), I thought it was worthwhile to mention up front my standards. I reserve 10/10 ratings for perfect albums. Every album I review, I consider on a ten point scale based on instrumentals, vocals, lyrics and production. Despite having pretty rigorous standards, sometimes I find myself enjoying something more than the apparent rating of it.

This is where I find myself this evening as I consider the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. Tusk is a creative, well-produced album that earned a pretty solid seven in my rating system. Still, as I considered it, I tried to come up with what I would actually say to recommend it to a friend and I continued to fumble around with "It sounds good." As lame as that is, I do more strongly recommend this album than I have anything articulate to say about it. For the most basic criteria, I enthusiastically recommend it because (if nothing else) the best songs on the album are not just the radio hits or the songs that will be found on compilation albums. So, while Tusk, "Sara," and "Think About Me," all charted in the United States and "Storms" also appears on The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac, there are other songs, like "That's All For Everyone" and "The Ledge" that are equally memorable.

With twenty tracks, clocking out at 72:18, Tusk is very much the creative vision of the band Fleetwood Mac. Released originally as a double album, Tusk includes tracks written by three of the five members of Fleetwood Mac at the time this album was produced (all but Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, ironically, wrote songs). The album is pretty well balanced between Christine McVie (six songs), Stevie Nicks (five songs) and Lindsey Buckingham (the remaining nine songs) as far as the writing goes. While Fleetwood Mac is credited as a co-producer of the album, but Lindsey Buckingham has taken a lot of blame for "over" producing the album, but regardless of one's opinion, Buckingham probably did have more to do with production on this than the others, as he is also credited as one of the album's engineers.

Buckingham is probably taking undue blame for the sound of the album. The quintet sounds remarkably good. Balancing male and female vocals (Nicks and McVie have tracks where they are alone and harmonizing, while Buckingham pretty much represents the vocalizations of the y chromosome on these songs) Tusk is musically rich and employs the entire band quite well. In addition to doing their own vocals, each member of the band plays at least one instrument and Buckingham manages to play five different instruments over the course of the album. The creativity of the band cannot be denied.

It is hard to deny the result, either. Tusk is more than just standard pop-rock, it is pretty much every permutation of pop-rock imaginable. "Angel" has strong vocals and "Storms" is almost acoustic in some parts, while "What Makes You Think You're The One" is a pounding pop anthem that is energetic and keyboard driven. Amid guitar and bass-driven anthems comes "That's Not Funny," which is more keyboard-driven and exuberant. The album is a great mix of slower and up tempo tracks and listening to it is a real treat in that its duration makes the similarity of some of the tracks somewhat less noticeable. "That's Enough For Me" sounds more bluegrass even!

Still, musically many of the tracks sound similar with an electric and . . . (sigh, yes) produced sound. This is arguably the result of the pretty pounding percussion lines that run through virtually every song. Drummer Mick Fleetwood is excellent at what he does, but because virtually every song includes him doing quite a bit on drums (the drums are noticeable on every track), there is a sense of regularity to the album that even the songs that venture into different genres seem to maintain.

Vocally, the album is pretty wonderful. Outside the obvious vocal quality on "Storms," Stevie Nicks dazzles with her song "Angel." Lindsey Buckingham and the others harmonize wonderfully on songs like "That's Enough For Me" and generally, the vocals utilize recognizable amounts of the singers' voices (as opposed to production elements). In fact, the only song where the vocals do not truly hold their own against the instrumentals is on the somewhat noisy Tusk, where the vocalists occasionally compete with a marching band . . . and lose. Otherwise, the vocals are largely clear and produced to the forefront, though on "Brown Eyes" they are murky enough to make it difficult to understand the lyrics.

On Tusk, Fleetwood Mac is a little less repetitive than on some of their other albums and as a result, some of the songs hold up better over multiple listens. Songs like "The Ledge" have a flavor that is half musical storysong, half emotional exploration with lines like "Countin' on my fingers / Countin' on my toes / Slippin' thru the ringer / Watchin' how it goes / You can love me baby but you can't walk out / Someone oughta tell you what it's really all about / Buy another fixture / Tell another lie / Paint another picture / See who's surprised / You can love me baby but you can't walk out / Someone oughta / Someone oughta tell you what it's really all about." Despite the somewhat obvious rhyme scheme, the song is well-presented and emotes clearly.

Arguably one of the best combinations of vocals and lyrics, though, comes from Christine McVie on her song "Never Make Me Cry." It is one thing to have plaintive vocals and another to have soulful lyrics. On "Never Make Me Cry," the two are expertly combined as one of the most beautiful ballads Fleetwood Mac ever presents. It is hard to not get choked up when one hears "Go and do what you want / I know that you have the need / You know that I'll wait, as long as it takes / So go and do what you want . . . I may not mean everything / But I'm happy to have your love / So don't worry baby, I'll be alright (sic) / And I'll never make you / I'll never make you / I'll never make you cry" ("Never Make Me Cry"). McVie presents it perfectly.

Of course, some of the songs are just weird and the title track is one that seems to have an element that is either dated or peculiar to the writers. Indeed, it seems like there is some allusion I am not privy to that combines "Why don't you ask him who's the latest on this throne? / Don't say that you love me! / Just tell me that you want me! / Tusk!" ("Tusk"). I have listened to that songs hundreds of times (only a dozen on this album) and I've still no idea what it means in this context.

So, some of the lyrics are dense, but much of the album is smooth, easy listening pop-rock that has a mellow edge to it. The vocals are diverse and largely clear and Tusk is easy to enjoy, but it seems to work on a more visceral level than a rational one.

The best track is "Storms," the low point is the less memorable "Brown Eyes."

For other Fleetwood Mac albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Mr. Wonderful
The Dance
The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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