By Tim Sommer
13th Oct, 2016
Deep in the heart of every rock musician, from the most credible to the most commercial, there lies someone whining, “Je suis un artiste! If only the world knew what a deep, tortured soul I am, and how complicated my record collection is!”
The more practical of these musicians merely peppers their catalog with maudlin and heartfelt ballads. Let’s call this the Bon Jovi method: “Perhaps you will forgive that Slippery When Wet stuff if I sing another song that is the musical equivalent of the page in the yearbook dedicated to that 11th grader who died.” Other artists make severe left or right turns, and produce albums dripping with uncharacteristic drama and musical complication; here I direct you to Music From ‘The Elder’ by Kiss, a histrionic, incomprehensible, and orchestra-laden concept album from 1981 that very nearly ended Kiss’ career (it’s actually a pretty good record, by the way, and features two songs co-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed).
Pop/rock history is absolutely strewn with such artifacts, from Pet Sounds to Bad Religion’s Into the Unknown (a fascinating pop/prog exercise from 1983 that was so offensive to the group’s fans that the band excised it from their catalog). In between these extremes, there’s Springsteen’s bold and courageous Nebraska, McCartney’s remarkable Firemen albums, Neil Young’s fascinating genre exercises (like Trans, Everybody’s Rockin’ and Arc), the Beastie Boys’ game changing Paul’s Boutique, and, of course, the great daddy of all of these sorts of records, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. There are also entire careers that are built on thwarting expectations, e.g. Scott Walker, Beck, Bowie and Prince.[i]
In the autumn of 1979 Fleetwood Mac, a wildly popular and influential band at the peak of their visibility and commercial prowess, released a much-anticipated double album that was interpreted by fans and media as radical, even experimental. Almost exactly a year later the Clash, a wildly popular and influential band at the peak of their visibility and credibility, released a much-anticipated triple album that was interpreted by fans and media as radical, even experimental.
Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk is lean, effective and almost completely without waste or filler. It showcases a great band at their prime. Alternately precise and luxurious, Tusk is one of the most underrated albums of the era. Continue reading