Friday, 10 October 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #43: Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk"

Since when is an album selling 3 million copies considered a flop?
Even then, since when is a Fleetwood Mac album, by the classic lineup considered a flop?

Well, the reasoning goes a little like this:

1. This album is a double album, which (in those days) was significantly more expensive than a standard album. Plus the fact it has a lot of music to digest, at a hefty 20 songs and 75 minutes long
2. Its release follows immediately on the heels of what fans and critics alike consider an unimpeachable album, the 10+ million selling "Rumours" in 1977.
3. When that album is called "Tusk".

By the time this record was in the process of being conceived, the band were in turmoil. The two couples in the band had split up were at each others' throats. They were consuming copious amounts of cocaine, and that was just for breakfast. As a result, things were all a bit nuts.

In amongst all this drug-induced lunacy, Lindsay Buckingham asserted himself as the de facto leader of the band. He hated touring, but loved the studio, so this was his place to dominate. He had been listening to a lot of punk and new wave music during this period and decided that, after "Rumours", the 'Mac were one of the "dinosaur" bands the British punk bands were hellbent on eradicating. He wanted to change the band's sound to appear relevant again.

What you end up with, after 10 months in the studio and well over $1 million spent, is a record that sounds neither new wave, nor punk, nor overly Fleetwood Mac like. And after the one-two punch of 1975's "Fleetwood Mac" and its mega-selling 1977 follow-up, the first impression most people get is that this record is weird. Really weird. All the songs on the record, including the sublime Christine McVie ballad moments and pop gems of Stevie Nicks, are given oddball arrangements and other tweaks to suit Lindsay's twisted paranoiac vision. About half the album is devoted to Lindsay's sonic experiments, many of which sounded like rewrites of "Never Going Back Again" (i.e. "The Ledge") but with new, strange sounding instrumentation.

Such a brave (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) risk resulted in the lowest selling album since their newfound fame in 1975. Sure it sold 3 million, but in comparison to "Rumours"' then 10+ million, this was considered a failure. If you were looking to get "Rumours Volume 2" with this album, as many people probably were, you were sorely mistaken.

However, it is precisely because of the fact that it is not a rehash of past glories that this album succeeds. There are many slow burning gems on this record that have mostly been forgotten. However many of the band's best ever songs are within the grooves of these two LPs.

Probably the album's most daring and unique single is one of Lindsay's aforementioned sonic experiments. The title track "Tusk" features a marching band, heavy tribal drums and almost no discernible lyrics. Equally fascinating are Lindsay's "That's All For Everyone", "That's Enough For Me", "Save Me A Place", "What Makes You Think You're The One", "I Know I'm Not Wrong" and the stellar "The Ledge".

The album's oddness may even be cemented by the fact that it opens with a ballad ("Over and Over"), as opposed to a barnstorming opener on the previous few records. It subsequently ebbs and flows between Lindsay's short, sharp and concise noisy pounding, sublime gorgeousness from Stevie ("Storms", "Sara", "Sisters of the Moon"), and soulful crooning from Christine ("Never Forget", "Honey Hi"). The pace is relentless until the slow burning side 4 starts (track 16 for CD and streaming listeners).

The jewel in the crown of the album however is the largely forgotten single "Think About Me" which, for my money, is one of the best things Christine ever composed. Despite having an incongruously-placed guitar solo it is a perfect pop song, with a soaring chorus some fat crunchy guitars.

Despite the dubious influences of the album, once the dust settled (pun intended) we are left with an album that stands on its own as a unique piece of work unto itself. It could use a spot of editing (what double record doesn't?) but this album is perfect in the way that the Beatles' "White Album" is - it is an album that dared to be different regardless of the consequences. It is bold and uncompromising, and it ultimately succeeds despite the odds suggesting it would fail. It creates a world of its own to get immersed into, and subsequently welcomes you back into time and time again.

I came to this album after hearing "Rumours" as a high school student in 1993, and to this day it still inspires me.

Take a listen again below on Spotify.

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