Since 2003 Continuum Books has been publishing the 33⅓ series. Each petite book in the series has focused on an album of particular significance, ranging from those considered classics (the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St.) to others more critically questionable (ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits, Steely Dan’s Aja) and plenty in between. The approaches taken have been just as wide ranging; Joe Pernice, for example, chose to write a novel about the Smiths’ Meat Is Murder. After eight years, they’ve covered 77 records and already have books lined up into 2013.
Number 77 perhaps falls into the realm of albums outside the canon of regarded “classics.” Written by Village Voice contributor Rob Trucks, this one covers Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s notorious follow-up to its mega-hit album, Rumours. Though it eventually went on to sell four million copies, the double-album was considered a flop. (In its defense, few albums have sold as many copies as Rumours.)
Tusk’s lack of commercial success is perhaps unsurprising given Lindsey Buckingham’s artistic intentions for the record. He purposefully headed in the opposite direction of Rumours’ SoCal posh pop to incorporate ideas inspired by listening to the Clash and Talking Heads (though it’s sometimes hard to hear). While Tusk may have alienated many of the tens of millions of listeners the Mac had garnered with its previous record, it’s become symbolic of Buckingham’s artistic altruism, and as such, has cultivated an audience that might not have ever given the band any consideration.
But whether or not Tusk is a worthy subject is of little relevance to the value of Trucks’ endeavor. While at the onset of the book Trucks warns us, “There’s a good chance you won’t like this book,” he’s sorely mistaken. He interviewed Buckingham several times (though not exclusively for the book as he had been promised) and knows his subject matter back and forth. He also interviewed contemporary artists like Carl Newman (New Pornographers) and Avey Tare (Animal Collective) to get their take on the record and its relation to Fleetwood Mac and the pop music world at large. But it is for the precise reason he worries we won’t like the book that this volume succeeds.
The character of Rob (written about as such in the third-person) is just as important here as Buckingam, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, and Christine and John McVie, and Trucks’ insertion of himself into the book not only gives some personal levity to the heady passages of music critique mumbo-jumbo, but the manner by which his own personal story is threaded between gives the book a storyline extending beyond simple essay. Throughout the book he repeats one thought like a mantra: “Music is personal. Tusk is a symbol.” And though you could insert just about any record in that slot (well, maybe not those nominated for Album of the Year Grammys this year), he is right. It’s irrelevant how others may feel about Tusk (I listened to the album several times while reading the book and am still not completely convinced of its brilliance), it’s what the album means to Trucks in the context of this book that is important. Trucks makes the record matter simply for its cultural weight within his world of high school car crashes, college romps with the women’s volleyball team, and sleepless nights in New York. Music is personal, but Trucks has made it something greater too.