In which a band, on top of the world, goes overboard on excess, buys too many truckloads of cocaine and somehow pulls their act together just barely long enough to make one of the best albums of the 70's, nay, of all time.
An album way before it's time. An innovator daring to not go in the direction the record label wants them too; choosing to craft an ambitious experimental opus instead of Rumours II. It's not only the way it was recorded and the production that made it ahead of it's time, it's much more. A triumph in song writing and a perfect showcase for three great pop writers going over the edge from cocaine, etc all at their peak. In a nutshell, Fleetwood Mac's version of The Beatles, drugged out masterpiece so-called White album.
Despite being pop music, compared to Rumours this is a weird trip that may confuse and disturb those who come in not knowing what to expect (let's face it, we all should know by now, it's been a well-documented over dramatic period for the band). Curiously, the zany bits are evened out by the most soothing, beautiful moments ever found in 70s pop (like FM's eponymous 1975 smash hit album, except with a lo-fi quality). The band are ambitious here, but never go in over their heads; always backed up by solid guitar and bass work and memorable hooks. Some may disagree, especially Buck haters, and let's face it, they are out there. Yet I Know I'm Not Wrong and Walk A Thin Line can get stuck in one's noggin for weeks on end. That's right, despite being careless with money, swimming in booze and snorting truckloads of coke at the time, FM stay afloat here. Somehow they stayed focused and crafted something, that, while not commercially viable when it first came out, rose out the ashes like a [cliché alert!] phoenix and became an inspiration for many who grew up in the late 70s/eighties. Much like Paul's Boutique in the late 80's.
Over and Over proves it's worth as the opening track; maybe a bit of a slow-burner, yes, it's not as instantly accessible and catchy as Say You Love Me or Spare Me A Little, but it reveals itself over a short time, I think, as one of Christine's best songs and possibly her best song with the Mac ever. It couldn't have been a post-Rumours smash as it wasn't radio ready with a radio friendly song structure. There's not even a chorus in the song, really. But the irresistible harmonies of Christine singing with herself and smooth California guitar makes for a mammoth (uh, no pun intended) moment right off the bat in all it's gentle glory. This is thrown completely off balance by The Ledge, a stripped down no-wave romp that's topped off by layers of weird vocals of Lindsey's voice in all sorts of weird pitches, laying down the foundation for many Lindsey song ventures to come. In the 80s he even cranked his vocals up a few notches higher to make it sound like Stevie was singing and even making love grunts on Big Love for Tango in the Night. Elsewhere is the title track, Tusk, that rides on a tribal beat and infuses horns with a primal stomp. This would be one of the few places a horn section would be used in FM, but they had dabbled before (Heroes are Hard to Find, Mr. Wonderful). The song is pure bliss, a toe tapper, a restless volcano that bubbles in the “verses”than erupts with Lindsey's high pitched 'DON'T SAY THAT YOU LOVE ME! JUST TELL ME THAT YOU WANT ME!'.
One of the album's biggest surprises (which says a lot) is Brown Eyes, a disturbingly dark sounding McVie entry, complete with jazzy sha-la-las. Peter Green's playing on this track seems so ghostly, even if you hadn't heard about his life after he quit the Mac in 1970. He grew a beard, shaved his head, had religious visions and wore flowing robes (actually he was doing that at the tail end of his cycle in Fleetwood Mac). He agreed to help out his former band mates for the remainder of a tour when Jeremy Spencer was all of a sudden up and gone, yet refused to play any of the other song writer's stuff, instead insisting to play Black Magic Woman jams. He was also alleged gravedigger among other things. He did play on Penguin too, maybe to prove that he wasn't dead but his work here is a sparse, fantastic solo which is distinctly Green, no one else plays like he did. So very chilling. Another one of Christine's finest crafted songs ever.
On the other hand, the very different Stevie Nicks' contributions are restless and... few, yet her entries' run times have more legs than Lindsey's, sort of ironic as this record was his love child. Sara, by far my favourite of her whole career (Rhiannon having my preference in a live setting), is of course the big hit here, despite not having the conventional flow of a typical pop single of that era or any other time. The song, meant to be heard in it's full glory, is a slice of haunting perfect pop with the best rhythmic stomp heard here. John and Mick should be commended as they are the two founders (well, maybe not technically, but the band is their namesake!!), yet often overlooked on their own records by the masses. Unlike Gold Dust Woman and Rhiannon before it, this classic performed live pales in comparison to the genius of it's studio counterpart. The way the song meanders in a mysterious rhythmic haze, it's indescribable. Well, I can't do it justice. Let's just say it's right there with Albatross, Future Games and Green Manalashi in overall mystery and wonder. And, again, it's the production that helps it; shrouded in McVie's best bass work, Stevie's best studio vocal performance of her career (a tad subtle here, actually) and the haunting backup vocals that moan like a graveyard coming back to life in a surreal dream sequence.
Digitally recorded in a way never done in the mainstream before, this recording also benefits from the modern 'programming' function on nearly all CD players made these days. No, no, I'm not talking about skipping any of the down tempo McVie jaunts like some ADD child (I pity the people who do that), I'm saying this album is fun to toy around with the track listing. Many people recommend listening to it treating it as three distinct solo efforts. Starting off with the Lindsey oddness, than Stevie's soaring anthems and touching ballads and ending on Christine's bittersweet odes to love (like most of her songs) and all it's mystery (Brown Eyes). I love the flow of that, also playing it backwards works on some levels, or with the bouncy new-wave thumps of The Ledge opening and leaving on mystique of Sara. Or Tusk opens the set and the ride is over with Brown Eyes. Rest assured, from any angle, this is great stuff. A triumph for a mainstream band that would never be achieved again by any of the members involved, although Lindsey had a great solo career (not commercially, mind you) for decades using Tusk as a template; he's a brilliant producer who uses songs as a vehicle for his leftfield ideas. If this album was produced in a similar way to the way Mirage was produced, it wouldn't be such a cult classic (I like Mirage, don't get me wrong, just more as pop fluff with some solo Lindsey stuff thrown in that plays it safe for sales as opposed to being an influential gem).
Hmm, so much written and I've only touched on four or five songs, really. In case you couldn't tell this is a personal favourite of mine, and would probably be my top choice for enlightening a Mac hater (Then Play On works, too); one of those miserable sods who think Mac are an AOR-pop group who play it safe. The best of the Buckingham/Nicks phase and a touchstone for Buckingham in his solo career, and I'm sure an inspiration for many soon to be producers and engineers. There was nothing else quite like this in the late 70s, which is why it was a bit of a slump for the band at the time but also why it became a cult classic in the 90s. Definitely one of those so-called desert island albums. Sure, it's ambitious, but we always need more of that in mainstream pop and rock music, even more so in the present.