Like many casual fans of Fleetwood Mac, there was a time when I hadn't the slightest clue what the band had been doing between "Rumours" and "Mirage". Then I bought the famous "Unknown Pleasures" edition of Melody Maker in 1995 (I still have the book, of course). In his chapter on "Tusk", Simon Reynolds deviated from the style of the rest of the book and didn't really try to make a strong case for the album as a whole. He mostly wrote about how blindingly great "Sara" is.
Since that time, "Tusk" has gone on to become one of the most successfully critically rehabilitated albums of all time (has anyone put together a top ten list of those?). But I'd never heard any of it, outside of "Sara" and the title track, until I bought the 2004 remastered and expanded edition at Scout Records in Vienna.
When an album goes from being a curiosity for superfans and completists to minor classic in such a relatively short time (especially for a band as well known as FM), you need to be particularly careful in weighing out the hyperbole surrounding it. Unfortunately, I haven't tried digging through interviews from the time to find out what Lindsey Buckingham was really striving for with his contributions to this album. I can believe that he was influenced by punk and new wave, and was determined to challenge himself and not play it safe by writing a "Rumours II". I can't believe, as the liner notes imply, that he was struggling with his own sense of relevance and was worried about being swept aside by the new generation. As Reynolds wrote in "Unknown Pleasures", "Rumours" was what happened in the US in place of punk. It had minimal cultural and commercial relevance in 1979, when "Tusk" was released. It strains the imagination to think that Buckingham was having a crisis of confidence while bathing in cocaine in his LA megamansion, thinking about whether the kids dying their hair pink in far away cities thought he was washed up or not.
The Buckingham songs don't sound like "Rumours II". The hallmarks of classic LB are still there -- gossamer guitars, intricate picking, cryptic and impassioned lyrics about dysfunctional relationships -- but have been warped through a Feelies-lite type of rhythmic lens. But in Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie's, songs, I do hear fairly clear attempts to produce a "Rumours" sequel. The songs are good, maybe even great, but they're not "Rumours"-level great, which isn't a fair comparison because nothing could be. Even with LB's production polish, nobody in 1979 would have been even close to satisfied with them as the most expensive follow-up album to the then biggest selling album ever. So in that sense, Mick Fleetwood's (paraphrased) comment about how "Tusk" saved them as a band may be true. Without the Buckingham songs and oddities, "Tusk" is a "Waterworld"-sized waste of money and effort. Maybe the fallout from that failure, piled onto the band breakups and mistrust, makes them go from kings and queens of music to oblivion in record time, like ABBA did. With them, it's at worst the hugely ambitious and slightly misunderstood epic double album.
I also have to mention the oodles of weirdness to be found on the second disc, including the sprawling nine minute take on "Sara". Much of this disc reminds me of the sloppy but enthralling takes on the second disc of the expanded Velvet Underground's "Loaded".