Musical interlude: overproducing to underproduce

Many of the songs on Disc Two of the deluxe edition of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, containing demos and outtakes, are superior in quality to the finished album. Lindsey Buckingham was obsessed with not wanting to creating another Rumours, the idea of a garage sound, and Beach Boys’ harmonies. Rumours is perfectly produced; it’s almost overproduced. In working for an underproduced sound, Buckingham overproduced Tusk. Perfection is the enemy of the good. It’s too bad, because Disc Two reveals that he almost had it. Many of Buckingham’s lush instrumental compositions, including “I know I’m Not Wrong,” would have benefited from remaining as such. The interludes would have provided breathing room between the vocal tracks. Some songs like “Never Make Me Cry” are dulled by heavy arrangements in the final.

Tusk has often been characterized by music reviewers as the sound of a band imploding under the weight of interpersonal tensions. Disc Two proves otherwise; it is the sound of a band exploring new creative avenues. It’s almost unfair to call this is a disc of demos and outtakes. The tracks are almost finished. Buckingham and the band just needed to go back in and polish up some of the songs and add a few tracks. However, it seems as though Buckingham escaped to the studio late at night, producing and reproducing and finally overproducing.

A number of songs did benefit from the precise production, especially “Beautiful Child,” and “Honey Hi.” I’m divided on “Sisters of the Moon.” I like all versions of this song, including Stevie Nicks’ spare piano demo (not included here), the loose arrangements on Disc Two, and the studio album version with its heavy, electric guitar. However, some of the lovely intricacies of Buckingham’s own guitar work, such as in “Brown Eyes,” get lost in the album version and even drowned out by intense John McVie bass lines. Christine McVie’s beautiful keyboard work is also largely missing. As an aside, she is the original alternative piano female singer-songwriter, not Kate Bush, not Tori Amos. Not Carole King. Everyone should listen to Christine McVie’s contributions to bluesy Fleetwood Mac from the early 70s.

Tusk never would have been a commercial success whatever Buckingham or the band did. The record was too different from its wildly popular predecessor. Even still, Tusk sold 4 million copies. Even my dad bought a vinal copy, which resides in the basement of my Atlanta house to this day. What is true about Tusk is that it remains evasive to me. It’s a genre-bender. It’s not quite rock, new wave, blues, pop, folk or even 70s singer-songwriter. It’s all these things and not any of these things. It sounds like a different album each time I listen to it. Ironically, it escapes the sometimes dated sound of Rumours, managing to sound strangely contemporary, fresh, and alternative. I believe that most hard-core Fleetwood Mac fans eventually admit that Tusk is is their finest work.

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