Blastitude 9
ISSUE 14    WINTER 2002/2003
page 14




What Kind of Thing Is This?

Fleetwood Mac Tusk (Warner Bros.)

The fact that our knowledge of gain is suffused with our knowledge of loss may account in part the anxious circumspection and endemic nostalgia that inform our sense of time and our sense of time’s effect on place.
--Lyn Hejinian

Recently, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the overwhelming twin powers of sentimentality and nostalgia, perhaps the best firebreak against a dirty bomb. In Hejinian’s essays, she tries to deal with these things as they’re manifest in art of the Western U.S., a crazy fucking overcrowded place, and, of course, repository of some of the most dearly held fantasies the country could muster.

What particularly interests me about Tusk (besides the fact that it wasn’t made recently), is that it is an album which continues in the California mythology vein first mined by the Beach Boys, while simultaneously being crushed on all sides by the weight of anxieties of place and time and drugs and all that other stuff. It’s tense and nervous, but relaxing.

This anxious/mellow thing is not so much a split as it is manageably schizophrenic. The lyrics, for example, rarely stray past territory that we might’ve expected, sugarcoated dirt clods mostly. But the production of individual songs is so uneven as to often sound like the work of different bands. One the one hand, you’ve got the usual late-period Mac exercises in extreme melodicism and concision, top-loaded with the gauzy sounds of L.A.: vaguely Eagles/Neil Young-ish country-rock, extreme use of Fender Rhodes like later Beach Boys. The group also uses the BB5’s vocal harmonies, though on this record they tend to favor the darker tones of “Til I Die.” On the other hand, you get these skittery, coked-up new wave genre exercises courtesy of Lindsey B.

I think I was six or something when this record came out, and though I do remember it well, I feel like it’s not really appropriate to listen to. It belongs to a less self-conscious period in music -- the angsty songs sound pretty detached in a way -- and this band hasn’t really had a full fledged revival like, I suppose, the Gang of Four, who’ve been resurrected more times than a professional corpse at a revival.


All the booger sugar, money, bad clothes and general excess make it kind of hard to focus on the tunes sometimes. It can be kind of embarrassing and romantic, but the band looked good on the dust sleeves. Mick is wearing a terrycloth fishing cap. John’s got a Fila running jacket, Christine has this godawful elastic gold belt, and Stevie’s rocking a serious crimp job. But the most telling thing is that Lindsey has short hair. I’m not really accustomed to thinking about music based on the photos of the band, but something went weird when Lindsey gave up on the J. Lynne ‘fro. What? Well, Tusk is kind of like a really disjointed amalgam of the aforementioned Beach Boys melancholia and these weird, badly recorded Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe imitations. Somehow it all kind of works, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it was made in California; somehow, even more than the Beach Boys, this is THE California record. There ain’t no Christian Death in this 1980.

The thing starts off with one of Christine’s sappy numbers, but hot on it’s heels we get “The Ledge,” which sounds like My Aim is True or something. You can almost hear the sniffing on this one. Combining that otherworldly ear for a tune that all of the songwriter’s had really fine tuned, speeding it up and recording it badly must have hampered the record’s hit potential…plus that weird snarling and yelping that L. B. is doing…creepy.

I guess it’s the push/pull. In the past, having three songwriters wasn’t a problem, those earlier records are pretty cohesive, but for some reason, Lindsey was fucking with the program on this one. Christine and Stevo are kind of treading water here (albeit marvelously) for the most part writing songs that are similar to their earlier successes…but fucking LINDSEY!

After wasting all this time talking about Lindsey I guess I should say that the best songs are both written by the ladies, and both somehow benefit from whatever tile cleaner he was snorting in the production booth. “Sarah” and “Sisters of the Moon” are both by Snicks. “Sarah” begins with this great, rolling double-tracked tack piano that suggests maybe somebody had been listening to “Surf’s Up” and quickly moves into this aimless light rock shuffle, all glued together by this two-note bass line. Who knows what the fuck the lyrics are about, but the tenor of Nicks’ voice has that weird decadent L.A. thing that usually drives me up a wall, but she sounds very powerful and tired throughout. “Sisters of the Moon” is noteworthy for it’s near metal melodramatics, but that’s kind of her thing. The lyrics are as wiccan as the title suggests.

“Brown Eyes,” by Christine, takes another element of Beach Boys melancholia and constructs a tune which, if similar in effect to “Sarah,” reaches the same heights through the use of completely haunting vocal harmonies that kind of swoop and dive etc. It suggest the kind of thing Wilson could’ve done if he’d worked with female singers. There is a quality of light that happens in Southern California that occurs nowhere else in the country. It has something to do with the smog and the desert I guess. It is what people used to call sublime, mixed with something lurid and gross (but not like N. West). “Brown Eyes” is the only thing I know that gets close to the feeling of an L.A. afternoon in August.

So yeah, nostalgia. Van Halen and nostalgia never get put together. It must be the mushiness of the Mac, the essential baby boom, dated quality to the whole thing. To me this record seems like an essential source for much subsequent music. Take The Shins. It’s more palatable than F. Mac because they’re new-ish, they’re essentially an indie band, and they don’t have embarrassing cover art. But, it’s just nostalgia on nostalgia at this point, since the Shins take their cues from Fleetwood Mac and bands like them, minus all the nasty habits, conventional love lyrics or, grandiose failures, of which Tusk may be the grandest.



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