Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
If you think that the mark of a great band is the ability to produce a great double album, then The Beatles don't fit. The Beatles (White Album) is sprawling - often a good enough word to use about a double - but lacks substance and despite there being great songs, the whole album doesn't work. On the other hand, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Husker Du, even The Bee Gees all produced great doubles as did Fleetwood Mac. With the success of Rumours, Warners offered Fleetwood Mac - then creatively pushed by Lindsey Buckingham and collaborator/co-producer Richard Dashut - as much control as any band before them or, indeed, since.
And how were Warners repaid for their trust? Buckingham and Dashut took the band into a recording studio for two years, spent over a million dollars and produced a double album that bore little resemblance to its multi-million selling predecessors. Understandably and with their fingers burnt, Warners have always treated the album with suspicion but twenty-four years on, any look back at Tusk can claim that it's likely to be the best thing Fleetwood Mac ever did.
Post-Rumours, Fleetwood Mac had moved on from the turmoil in which their earlier album had been written and, bereft of songs that laid bare their relationships, they turned in on themselves. Buckingham and Dashut assumed control and with a little loyalty to their audience, only shades of the easygoing West-Coast arrangements for which Fleetwood Mac were famous were retained but having heard the first releases from the nascent New Wave scene on the East Coast, both pulled the band towards skewed arrangements of their mainstream songs complete with nervy, buzzing guitars some distance from the laconic strumming of Rumours.
Of course, this being Fleetwood Mac, the band conspired to ensure the recording process was as uncomfortable as possible. During Rumours, this was as a result of both John and Christine McVie's marriage and Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's relationship breaking down. With Tusk, it was the blizzard of cocaine that surrounded the band and the rhythms of Buckingham's tracks in particular betray this. Where McVie's and Nicks' songs are calm languid rock, Buckingham's are dizzying and feverish and Tusk is as strange and as avant-garde as mainstream rock gets.
Take the title track as an example. Buckingham's name after it would indicate that he's responsible for it but how much can you attribute to one man when the backing is provided by drums, a marching band, the crowd at a football game and what sounds like a circus over which Buckingham groans about a relationship gone wrong? Elsewhere, and also from Buckingham, there's the funk of Think About Me, the crashing, lopsided rock of What Makes You Think You're The One and the frenzied, near-punk of That's Enough For Me.
Then again, if the thought of Buckingham losing it with a million bucks from Warners sounds too much to take, the songs written by both Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are amongst the best they've ever done.
As much as Nicks' southern gothic characters - creaky mansions and death in New Orleans as opposed to Kohl eye-makeup - can wear a little thin after a time, she's a little restrained here, possibly compensating for her ex-partner's experiments. Beautiful Child and Storms are beautiful ballads, Angels works as tough rock, which is not something Nicks really ever got right elsewhere and, alongside Fleedwood Mac's Rhiannon, Sisters Of The Moon is one of the two instances when her sorceress thing made sense.
McVie, who was likely to be older, more experienced and less swayed by Buckingham's wilfulness - note how she left the band on her own terms regardless of Buckingham's comings and goings - offered the solid material she'd always done and that continued to support the band in the years between Peter Green's leaving and Lindsey Buckingham's arrival. Never Forget, Never Make Me Cry and Over & Over are all wonderful songs with the latter in particular becoming more driven the closer it gets to a close, Buckingham's double-tracked guitar playing almost willing it to finish so as to move on to his own material. Yet, with with McVie's songs, there's a willingness to mix their traditional sound with the new. On Brown Eyes, for example, an edgy, tense backing has a sweet 'sha-la-la' chorus before dissolving into booming harmonies.
Song-by-song, there may be little as immediate as Go Your Own Way, Don't Stop or Dreams but as a whole, Tusk is an engaging and cluttered gem. Personally, I'd place it alongside The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main St. as an example of a recording where 'feeling' matters above all else and Camper Van Beethoven's complete re-recording of Tusk to stand alongside Pussy Galore's Exile On Main St. would bear out that partnership. Whilst messy - and there's no doubting it is - and initially hard to love, Tusk gives up a little more of itself with each listen such that when pressed to choose between this, Rumours or something from the Peter Green era, I'd choose Tusk every time.