Fifty days of music: Ivan Smagghe on Fleetwood Mac

ivan

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re partnering with The House of St Barnabas for 50 days of listening experiences.

Bowers & Wilkins flagship 800 D3 loudspeakers have been installed in the Monro Room, at the heart of the club, creating one of the most intimate and acoustically advanced listening environments in central London.

800d3

We‘ve invited five innovative, influential guests each to create a special listening event and Q&A around a chosen album or selection of tracks. Third in this series is international DJ, producer and man about town, Ivan Smagghe on his chosen record, Fleetwood Mac’s late ‘70s masterpiece, Tusk.

Ivan Smagghe’s latest recording with Tim Paris, It’s a fine line, is out now.

An astonishing album by any band’s standards, Tusk is all the more remarkable for following Fleetwood Mac’s soft-rock classic, the million-selling Rumours. Rather than repeating the critical and commercially successful formula, the band created a strange, beautiful and compelling double album charting the fallout of their earlier cocaine-fuelled self-destruction.

Talking to Jane Cornwell, author and The Evening Standard’s jazz critic, Smagghe discusses his early relationship with the band:

Rumours was a record I stood against. I was a kid of the ‘80s. Fleetwood Mac was the worst band you could stand for. I was a Joy Division fan. You don’t go and listen to Fleetwood Mac if you’re a Joy Division fan.”

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Tusk was an album Smagghe didn’t discover until he was in his early twenties. A commercial failure on release (selling 4 million copies compared to Rumours’ 10 million copies in the first few months), the album’s 20 songs replaced the golden glow of their previous work with a far broader, deeper and angular sonic landscape. Tusk’s experimental production techniques made it an album that’s continually name-checked by musicians and DJs as an inspiration.

The first track to be played is The Ledge. One of the most eccentric songs on the album, the atypical fuzzy bass sounds fill the room reflecting Lindsay Buckingham’s growing interest in new-wave and punk production. Smagghe comments:
“I don’t hear California, I hear Appalachia. At most maybe, Charles Manson…. I think Tusk is the dark side of too much cocaine from Rumours, personally”

Smagghe and Cornwell go onto discuss one of the most confusing aspects of Tusk, the sequencing. Essentially an album of three soloists, there is an almost schizophrenic mixture of classic melodic pop tunes and experimental off-the wall numbers in an apparently random order. Initially, Lindsay Buckingham wrote and recorded eight songs on a four-track in his house before presenting them to the band and asking the other members to play over the top of them. “At some points you wonder if Mick Fleetwood is even playing the same song.” says Smagghe.

Asked if he views the album from the perspective of a DJ, where the sequencing isn’t so important, Smagghe responds:
“I see the album not so much as a bag of tracks, but as an idea. It’s a very weird record. An unpinnable one.”

That’s All For Everyone is the next track:

“A classic Fleetwood Mac song but if you really listen to it, it degrades slowly into reverb. That’s my personal relationship with Tusk. It’s almost like a shoe-gazing album. The famous Fleetwood Mac snare sound from Rumours is gone. It’s not just Buckingham, I think they were all into breaking what they’d built.”

Discussing this further, Smagghe dissects what makes the album unusual:
“There’s a love of the loop, which is not what Fleetwood Mac were known for. That’s why, now, Tusk is considered one of the key albums of that moment between the ‘70s and the ‘80s…. It’s known that Buckingham was listening to Talking Heads and other new bands that stood against what he stood for. I think he was saying, ‘I’m an artist’, and being an artist is about challenging your own conceptions.

Brown Eyes is a good example of that for me, it’s completely classic, but the production is disturbed in terms of reverb, length, stereo, the sound of the guitar.”
As the record is queued up, Smagghe tells the audience: “Pay attention to the rim-shot. Why is the rim-shot so loud?”

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Immersed, listening to the track, he continues, “Why are the drums too loud? Why is it not polished like Rumours? It’s a conscious process and I can only admire that…. They planned their own mistakes.”

Jane pushes Smagghe on this. “Are you saying the mistakes are deliberate?”
“Absolutely, they’re deliberate. [Buckingham] was trying to do something different for himself. Not just trying to do something experimental, but following his path.”

The band experimented with the percussion sounds in particular. The title track saw them hiring the Dodgers stadium and recording live with the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band. Mike Fleetwood told Music Radar in 2012:

“I’m playing floor toms, and I overdubbed a lot of American Indian wood tribal drums It’s a whole hodgepodge of Kleenex boxes, drums, weird stuff, slapping of lamb chops and things.”

As the track comes to an end, Smagghe concludes:
“I genuinely think that an album like this couldn’t happen again on those terms. Something like Tusk being in the top eight in the US today? It’s almost all instrumental and that was the single. It’s got African rhythms, Ghanaian rhythms. If that’s not a dance track, I don’t know what is.”

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H-fi setup:
800 D3 speakers
Turntable – Rega RP8
Amp – Classe 2300
Pre-Amp – Classe CP800

Ivan Smagghe’s It’s a fine line is out now

The next listening event at House of St Barnabas will be on Thursday 11 October featuring singer and multi-instrumentalist Eska on Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

Find out more about 800 Series

Find out more about House of St Barnabas

Read more 50 days of music blog posts

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