If the sounds on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk threw a lot of people for a loop, the front cover was also a radical departure from Rumours. Gone was the ornate type and hippie-mystic imagery of the previous album, jettisoned in favour of a sharper-edged and more modern style.
Instead of a picture of the band there was this curious snapshot of a little dog snapping at someones ankles which could represent the often spiky tone of the record and the feral nature of some of its rhythms, or maybe the dog was meant to be a coked-up Lyndsey Buckingham attacking their audience expectations. I’ve no idea, but it’s a way more evocative image than a picture of an elephant would have been.
The cover’s speckled background, abstract shapes of colour, spaced-out type, and randomly-scattered layout was inspired by a style known as California New Wave, a very American version of Swiss New Wave design which developed in late 1970s and was most well-known in the work of April Greiman (below) and the cult arts magazine Wet.
Very cutting edge at the time, California New Wave was like the anarchic, torn-paper aesthetic of Punk design transferred to a warmer climate where the sky was bluer and the colours brighter — though the colour palette of Tusk was rather more earth-toned, a reflection of the album’s ethnic influences.
The sleeve was designed by the firm of Vigon/Nahas/Vigon (who also did the previous two Mac albums) and is quite the production as befits what was, at the time, the most expensive rock album ever recorded. Instead of a gatefold the two records were housed in double inner sleeves which made the process of taking them out to play as much of an anticipated event as its release was – nearly three years since their previous album! Normal now, but an eternity back then.
The four sleeves were illustrated with the dense, African-inspired collages of Peter Beard and more arty photography which added to the feeling that this was a record made in some abstract, druggy dream by a band who were a bit fractured.
That surreal group photo is very reminscent of this famous poster April Greiman designed for CalArts the year before in 1978 (see the whole thing here.)
The signature visual elements of California New Wave would eventually become very identified as 1980s design, and Fleetwood Mac would be one of the few 1970s AoR bands to make a successful transition to the new decade, unlike their peers The Eagles who put out an album the same year with a drab, funereal cover. Subsequent Mac sleeves were far more conventional and they were never as experimental again, but in 1979 they (or at least Lyndsey Buckingham) were looking forward musically and visually.
Download: Walk a Thin Line – Fleetwood Mac (mp3)