Fleetwood Mac: Tusk
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The context: The massive success of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours in the late '70s capped the unlikeliest comeback in rock history. A formerly great blues band relegated to the soft-rock scrap heap was transformed into the decade's quintessential California pop hit machine with the addition of smoky chanteuse Stevie Nicks and perpetually wired studio-rat and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. They joined keyboardist Christine McVie as the band's songwriting and vocal core, and somehow, their wildly divergent personas harmonized brilliantly on one of the few perfect pop-rock albums ever made. Afterward, Fleetwood Mac was awash in the spoils of success, including drugs, round-the-clock rock-star coddling, and million-dollar recording budgets. A bit of each contributed to the making of Tusk, 1979's double-album follow-up to Rumours.
The greatness: The old joke about Warner Bros. executives seeing their checks fly out the window the first time they heard Tusk has a ring of truth: This is a far cry from the über-commercial Rumours, and it ended up doing a fraction of the business. Of course, that seemed to be the point—Buckingham at the time was enamored of The Clash, and he sought to apply punk's unpolished rawness to Brian Wilson-style songcraft. Buckingham wrote nine of Tusk's 20 songs, and his eccentric-yet-catchy numbers play like a nervy new-wave-inspired solo album stuffed inside a Fleetwood Mac record. Buckingham's minimalist aesthetic translates to the rest of Tusk (the band gave him a "special thanks" for his production in the liner notes) but this isn't a one-man show: McVie contributes some of her most haunting songs (including the lost classic "Brown Eyes"), and the band's weariness of superstar rock at the end of the Me Decade is best articulated by Nicks' rough, coke-addled vocals on songs like "Storms" and the hit single "Sara."
Defining song: After leading off with the fine McVie ballad "Over And Over," Tusk really gets going with Buckingham's "The Ledge," a manic two-minute rocker that sounds like "Second Hand News" after a Scarface-sized pile of blow. It's likely the point where label executives started to freak out.