Fleetwood Mac is a band that found themselves in the unique position whereby their chief songwriters each had a muse, tormentor, and collaborator all rolled into one within the same studio. Far from precluding productivity, this mixed-up milieu of emotional mayhem spawned some of the greatest pop-rock songs that the world has ever heard.
In 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group, and the band signified a rebirth on their 11th album by self-titling their first album as the eponymous five-piece (now including Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks). Buoyed by the success of that record, they returned to the studio in 1977, only this time the touring had taken a hefty toll.
When it came to recording Rumours in 1977, the band were well and truly docked in tempestuous bays. It would have seemed like a comedic parody of a rock band akin to This Is Spinal Tap in the studio if it wasn’t sadly tinged with the hue of tragedy. Buckingham would even later admit that the soap opera backdrop may have ultimately helped sales that Tusk would later fail to match.
In short, John and Christine McVie were in the midst of a mutually self-destructive divorce and took to the secluded Sausalito studio in a sort of comatose stupor, the symptoms of which pertained to denying each other’s existence unless it involved simple uncommunicative utterances, like ‘what key are you in John?’. Buckingham and Nicks had previously been so close that they seemed to exist as a single entity. So much so that their break-up was like splitting an atom along with the volatile reaction that ensues. Meanwhile, poor old sticksmith Mick Fleetwood was trying to hold this fragile band of despairing brethren together whilst also coming to terms with the fact that his wife had left him for his best friend. Like the rest of them, he was also dabbling in excesses like a feudal lord with a Colombian sponsorship.
Once the dust had settled on Rumours, they re-entered the studio wondering ‘how do we top that’ in every which way. In the end, Tusk was the answer. Although it sold six million fewer copies than Rumours, songs like the magnificent ‘Sara’, ‘Angel’ and ‘What Makes You Think You You’re the One?’ still reside as stonking masterpieces. What’s more, it also seems to be a record that defines the working relationship of its troubled members the best, particularly the volatile alchemical force of Buckingham and Nicks.
First and foremost, their unique way of communicating what are essentially drunk texts into golden songs is a central tenet of the album. It’s fair to say that ‘What Makes You Think You You’re the One?’ is yelled by Buckingham more so than conventionally sung, which lends a particularly caustic edge to the line, “What makes you think I’m the one who will love you forever? Everything you do has been done and it won’t last forever.”
It’s a fairly blunt way to tell your ex, who is usually standing within ten metres of you at all times, that she’s about as indispensable to you as a sneeze. With a fiery lyric and a soaring riff, he makes it pretty clear that he won’t be a shoulder to cry on, namely because he couldn’t give a shit anymore, which is betrayed as a paradox by his raging delivery.
Then comes the flipside of the coin with ‘Angel’. On this tender ditty, the weary run of Rumours seems to have slowed and allowed for a more cognizant lookback, which shows that they’re not always tooth and nail; there is a fair dose of introspection there too. For all the furore they often had in the present, the pair are forever tethered to a sanguine past.
The lingering love between Buckingham and Nicks exists only in sitcoms. The tricky thing for Nicks was that she knew she and Buckingham had a creative spark that could take her songs to the next level. ‘Angel’ seems to encapsulate that, playing on the fact that the creative spark and the flame they still shelter for each other remained the same. The sweet song is summed up in a verse that tells the story of working with an old flame that secretly still burns: “I still look up when you walk in the room / I’ve the same wide eyes, now they tell the story / I try not to reach out / when you turn ’round and you say hello / And we both pretend, no great pretender.”
This ying and yang is proof that somewhere in the welter of their songs is a muse from the past coupled with the pains of moving on. They may not even know it themselves, but like rain into a river, their creative flow is forever linked and just as hard to please. The bittersweet belle of Tusk’s step forward typifies that more than any other record.