Don't say that you love me

The Mac attack on expanded throwbacks putting cool in context

Officially handing in my "cool" credentials (iPod, faux-vintage MC5 T-shirt, TV on the Radio CD), I now openly admit that I like, nay, love Fleetwood Mac. It may not be remotely hip to admit this, but the new, spit-'n'-buffed Mac reissues (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk) have given me pause about the entire notion of "cool," anyway.

For many, particularly those too young to remember, the Mac typifies rock's bloated carcass that punk was sent to inter. Twenty-five-plus years later, such cultural Darwinism seems, well, quaint. After all, wasn't punk's true essence about dissolving such strict distinctions, anyway?

Furthering the point, the three aforementioned albums are, like it or not, rock culture landmarks. The eponymous release and Rumors are touchstones of Southern California pop music, much like what the Beach Boys produced a decade before. Each hints seductively at Lindsey Buckingham's blossoming Brian Wilson fetish, something that would come to fruition on the distinctly twisted Tusk.

Rather than producing Rumours Mach 2, Buckingham — reportedly fueled by hefty amounts of cocaine and early Talking Heads albums — produced a truly quirky masterpiece. With stubborn, kaleidoscopic will, Tusk shifts and mutates; ballads, traditional So-Cal pop and frenzied bathroom demos rub shoulders with surprising comfort and ease. Tusk is the sound of a multiplatinum, radio-friendly band getting seriously weird.

The other album that comes to mind when I think about Tusk is London Calling. Both were double albums released in 1979, both essaying artists willing to take serious career risks. The Clash, refusing to kow-tow to puritanical punk ethos, created London Calling — easily the most diverse, polished and best album in the group's catalog — to open the band's sound and audience to a wider range of "punk rock" by using then-foreign rebel music touchstones.

Meanwhile, Fleetwood Mac was willing to scupper sure-fire commercial templates and follow Buckingham's whacked, Wilson-esque muse on an album that cost $1 million to make and could have been used merely to continue the group's astronomic success. Commercial viability was the crux, and bucking expectations the currency. Surely somewhere on the creative crossroad these two bands, culturally worlds apart, must have waved at each other and continued on their way. How punk (and cool) is that?

Fleetwood Mac may never be "cool," but these re-issues, particularly Tusk, demonstrate that it's really OK not to give a rat's ass. Still, I do want my iPod back.