Fleetwood Mac: “Walk a Thin Line”
If you’re like me, you’re probably sick to death of hearing all the singles (nearly every song) from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Rumours album thousands of times on the radio. But I love Rumours, and the previous Fleetwood Mac album, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac. Listening to either of those albums as a whole places those overplayed singles into their proper context, offering a far better listening experience than hearing them in the usual classic rock mix. The albums are certainly among the best of ’70s rock, and still among the most consistently excellent albums of all time.
And then came 1979’s Tusk, a relatively bizarre double-album (with 20 songs) that threw an intentional wrench into the Mac-works. But Lindsey Buckingham, pop genius that he was, knew what he was doing — the songs aren’t all his (he wrote about half of them, but there were the usual Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks contributions as well), but the overall conception of the album was. It sprawls a bit all over the place, but with repeated listens it coalesces into a gem that shines on its own terms, not all that dissimilar to the way the Beatles’ White Album did (and note how the Tusk cover echoes that album as well, possibly a nod to the group’s similarly splintered nature). Even the marching band-based first single, “Tusk,” made sense after a few listens, although it baffled many listeners initially upon its release. The album came nowhere near the commercial success of the previous two albums, but artistically it’s on a par.
There are numerous moments of excellence throughout Tusk, but the song that is one of Buckingham’s best moments is the stately “Walk a Thin Line.” Despite its deceptively plodding tempo, the song is beautiful and moving, and although open to some interpretation, it seems to be a song that comments on the quirks of fate and life; even when no one is paying any attention to you and you’re on your own, the best you can do is try to stay the course that stays true to yourself. It would have been easy to succumb to speeding up “Walk a Thin Line,” but by keeping it slow and steady, Buckingham indeed stayed true to himself and crafted a minor masterpiece.