Fleetwood Mac formed in the late 1960s as a blues orientated group helmed by guitarist Peter Green. This incarnation of the band achieved notable success, but it was nothing in comparison to the pop-rock sensation they became by the mid-to-late-’70s with the addition of unstable couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
The couple joined the band in 1974 after drummer Mick Fleetwood called Lindsey Buckingham on a recommendation as the group had been on the lookout for a new guitarist. Admirably, Buckingham stalled proceedings insisting that he would come only as a package deal with Nicks; Mick duly accepted, agreeing that another singer and songwriter could do the band a world of good too.
As it transpired, Mick couldn’t have made a better decision. In 1975, the self-titled album Fleetwood Mac would become the band’s most commercially successful to date, bolstered by Nick’s songs ‘Landslide’ and ‘Rhiannon’. Two years later, the band were at the highest heights of their musical careers with the release of Rumours, but Nicks and Buckingham’s personal relationship had fallen on sour times. The overwhelming success of Rumours is often attributed to the venom and mystery in the lyrics that resulted from the growing tension within the band.
As the group headed towards their follow-up to Rumours, Buckingham expressed a desire to depart from the pop-tendency of the previous albums towards a novel sound. The rest of the band hesitantly agreed and let Buckingham take the reigns for much of the album. He would work on the new material alone at home before bringing the ideas to the band at the studio. What resulted was a 20-track double album that brought a marked change in sound notable for its obvious marriage to the post-punk scene.
Upon its 1979 release, Tusk reached number one in the UK Albums Chart, and it brandished two top ten singles. But in comparison to Rumours, which sold 10 million copies, Tusk was considered a commercial failure.
During a 2021 interview with Forbes, Buckingham reflected on his musical philosophy and explained why he wanted to avoid Rumours mark two at all costs. Mentioning Tusk, Buckingham said, “the whole impulse was to make sure that you didn’t succumb to the external expectations that begin to sort of close in around you in terms of commerce from the label or in terms of just the set of preconceptions that people have about you that they want you to sort of formulise and stick to for the rest of your life, which is tantamount to painting yourself into a corner creatively.”
“And I was never one who wanted to do that,” Buckingham continued. “I always wanted to define myself as an artist in the long-term, as much as I was able to. And so those are choices you make, and there are outcomes you make.”
Expanding on the sentiment, Buckingham analogised his creative outlook to those of film directors. He addressed his less successful solo work at this point: “The solo endeavours I probably lose nine-tenths of the people that might gravitate to Fleetwood Mac, but it’s a difference between, ‘Do I want to be Steven Spielberg or Jim Jarmusch?’”
He then elaborated, saying that he would rather be like the lesser-known director Jarmusch because he focussed on the avant-garde and creative exploration rather than selling out with copious “sequels”.
While Tusk didn’t sell as well as Rumours, it appears the album has a healthy following. The music is very enjoyable, and one can respect Buckingham’s boldness in wanting to expand the horizons for Fleetwood Mac. In a 2019 interview, Mick Fleetwood described Tusk as his “personal favourite” and said, “Kudos to Lindsey … for us not doing a replica of Rumours.”