Whereas ’77′s Rumours captured the reconfigured Buckingham/Nicks-era band cohering even tighter while personally unraveling, ’79′s Tusk defined the quintet’s discordance in musical terms. Christine McVie’s opening “Over & Over” couldn’t be more serene, but Lindsey Buckingham’s demo-quality “The Ledge” is rattled and rough, the sound of chart-topping smoothies thwarting expectations by embracing a New Wave eager to dethrone them. Featuring 20 songs across two vinyl discs, Tusk was created much like the Beatles’ similarly eclectic yet often raw White Album – in fragmented combinations of players overseen by largely autonomous songwriters who independently pursued widely divergent ends. It famously cost a million dollars, which made it the most expensive album of the ’70s, and so it still represented the old guard at a time when upstarts like Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and the Clash were hitting their confrontational and far more economical stride. Heard, today, though, it still sounds like a radical, willfully anti-categorical album. Mick Fleetwood thinks it’s his band’s best. It’s certainly their most diverse.
Listen to his exuberant drumming on “What Make You Think You’re the One” – there’s nary a predictable beat. Stevie Nicks’s “Sisters of the Moon” pushes the singer’s spacey remoteness as far as it’ll go until Buckingham finishes with one of his most extreme solos ever; he may be a quintessential studio rat, but here he wails on his instrument with an intensity that rivals rock’s most lauded guitarists. The arrangements are typically more concise than what this lineup achieves elsewhere, and not just on the Buckingham-led cuts; McVie’s “Honey Hi” and Nicks’s “Beautiful Child” take a semi-acoustic approach that’s as musically naked as Rumours was lyrically intimate, one that points in the direction of what would decades later be known as “unplugged.” But still there’s “Sara,” as lush as most everything else is lean, and the tooting title track, one of the most singular songs ever to crash the U.S. Top 10. Like Peter Gabriel, Buckingham absorbed the freedom of New Wave without pillaging its sounds: The total absence of click-y, clack-y Cars guitars – which some old-timers of the era embraced in a half-hearted attempt to be hip – helps Tusk stand the test of time. So does the fact that what’s here is so fearless.