07. Fleetwood Mac (part two of two)

Fleetwood Mac
Selected tracks, 1975 - 1982
From The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac

Last time we listened to Rumours.  This time we're going to round up some of Fleetwood Mac's various singles and album cuts.  It seems that this band made around a half-dozen albums before Nicks and Buckingham joined in 1975.  That entire canon seems to be routinely ignored on most of their compilation and greatest hits albums, including this one.  Well, I'm not feeling inspired to dig into that older material.  Today, let's stick with the non-Rumours highlights from the band's imperial period (the Fleetwood / McVie / McVie / Nicks / Buckingham lineup's run from 1975 to 1982).  

Among the 36 songs on this best-of collection are nine of the eleven tracks from Rumours.  The remaining 27 songs still seemed like a lot to slog through as a "bonus" to my examination of Rumours(previous post), so I skipped any tracks recorded after the era of their 1982 album Mirage, bringing the adjusted excerpt of this 2CD set to a manageable 15 tunes. Four of them are for sure songs I'm familiar with.  The other eleven?  Who knows.  

As always, comments were written in real-time while listening to the music (most of it for the first time ever), and only edited afterward for spelling and clarity.

I was surprised by how few lead vocals we heard from Stevie Nicks on Rumours.  I thought she and Lindsey Buckingham were basically co-lead singers.  But keyboardist Christine McVie actually has more leads than Stevie on that album.  Well, here - from Mirage - we kind of have Stevie's theme song.  And her vibrato.  She sounds like a goat.  The production on this song is solid.  It's tight and dry, during an era when so much music was drenched in reverb.  Those huge backing vocal pads must have taken ages to get right.  But they work.  These drums are fucking loud though.  They had the same problem with the drum mix on Rumours.  The guitar and keys aren't doing a whole lot.  This is really about the rhythm and the vocals.  Those blocky, stabby piano chords in the right channel are really a Christine McVie trademark.  When she and Buckingham play off of each other, it really underlines how much more inventive an instrumentalist Buckingham is.  The glockenspiel doubling the Rhodes piano is fun though.  Song seems like it should start fading at about 3:00.  Yeah, from there forward it's just repetitive, but with that instrumental arpeggio thrown in there.  It's fine.  Maybe not needed.

"Hold Me"
This song, also from Mirage, was on MTV all the damned time when I was a kid.  Haven't seen the video in decades though.  Were the band out in a desert or something?  Maybe to tie in with the album title?  As a result of that video, I probably know this song best of all of them, even more so than the big hits on Rumours.  Mick Fleetwood's drumming is fine, holding down the beat, but he's not doing anything interesting.  Not even switching it up or adding any little details.  So why is he the loudest thing in the mix?  He and the bass player are tight though.  Locked in solid.  This guitar solo is fine, but those little acoustic guitar strums that come in are also unbalanced.  They dominate even the drums.  There are balance issues all over the place: the keys are buried, but these relatively unimportant extra ornamental bits are each louder than the last, trying to compete with each other.  This song also overstays its welcome with a repetitive coda and guitar noodling over it.  But the song.  Tepid.  Again.  Just playing it really really safe.  It probably sounded good in the background at restaurants.  But hey, compared to Rumours, neither of these two songs from Mirage are about breaking up, so there's that.

Acoustic guitar sounds nice and warm, better than the overly bright ones on "Never Going Back Again" from Rumours.  A nice touch of smokiness on Stevie's voice.  Out of all of Fleetwood Mac's acoustic ballads, this one feels the most honest so far.  A bit more real than Christine's stuff.  No idea what album it's from.

"Love In Store"
Sounds like this one might be from Mirage too.  Those huge vocal layers really give Queen a run for their money.  This is really pop music.  Just pleasant and disposable.  Super-minimal lyric.  Pretty low-effort lyrics for this band.  They've done much better in that department.  It's kinda happy but not ecstatic.  Like these people are in a fairly decent mood, for once.  Word on the street is that they all hated each other when making Rumours.  Maybe they were still fighting when they made this record, but there's a little joy in here.  It is audible in the music.

"Monday Morning"
A tom-tom beat changes the groove up for this one.  The song picks up the energy a bit more than most of Mac's stuff.  The chorus almost borders on anthemic.  This band are normally more restrained than this.  They sound a little more fired up here.  This sounds like it might be from the album before Rumours, maybe when they still all liked each other.  It's only 2m 45s.  In and out.  Make your point, and bail.  Decent pop.  I don't mind.  

"Over My Head"
Seems like I've heard just enough Mac at this point to start to have a point of view on the different songwriters.  This one is clearly another McVie, and it's pretty forgettable.  I'm thinking that I prefer Buckingham's songs, they seem to have more personality.  Nicks's are good here and there, maybe they trend towards being more spacey or atmospheric.  McVie's songs all seem like they came from a template.  This song must be an early recording too, the mix is a muddled mess.  These people clearly got their arrangement game together as they progressed.  The organ and the congas poking through add some colors though.  Is that Nicks on congas, or drummer Mick Fleetwood?  Is there a chorus here?  Not really, just this refrain of "I'm over my head / But it sure feels nice" at the end of the verses.

This song is called "Rhiannon"?  All these years I thought they were singing "Vienna".  Guess I grew up on too much Ultravox.  This one has the best mix of all their songs so far.  It is warm and well balanced.  The arrangement changes up about halfway through, just enough to keep it fresh.  What is this song about?  Is Rhiannon a hooker?  Structurally, this one reminds me of Hold Me, in that it's said all it's gonna say by 3:00 then it waffles and vamps for another minute.  A bunch of their songs do this, actually.  The vocal ad lib is nice though.  Stevie probably writes the most evocative lyrics.  The hippie - magical - gypsy lyrics aren't my cup of tea, but at least she's reaching for some poetic imagery rather than just love songs from a template like McVie's songs.

Stevie twice in a row?  So she is allowed to sing leads!  This song takes its sweet time getting to the point.  After a little vocal intro, nothing remotely important happens from about 30s to about 53s.  Gotta trim that; this song is six and a half minutes long.  This is another song that is ruined by overwhelming drums that don't do much of interest.  There's all these atmospheric ghostly vocal things and fun delay effects that are obscured by the percussion all up in our faces.  No need to be mixing this like a dance number.  The drummer sounds like he's using brushes on the snare.  Right there, that should tell the mix engineer that the drums should be tucked back a bit.  Melodically, there's not much going on here.  Sounds like Stevie is just improvising.  All the layers and effects make it sonically compelling, but it isn't musically compelling.  Lots of tasty processing.  Good ear candy.  But the top-line melody is forgettable and doesn't go anywhere.  Who is Sara?  Rhiannon's sister?  Yeah, this idea doesn't sustain itself this long.  We needed to be out of dodge maybe a full minute earlier.

"Say You Love Me"
This one has more life in it than most of Christine's other songs.  It sounds vaguely familiar.  Ah yes.  Didn't recognize the title, but I know the tune.  Melodically, this is among her best, it's got the most memorable hook of her contributions.  That guitar break is interesting; one guitar starts playing and feels like it's a solo, then another overlapping one comes in and they both do a thing.  Not sure if it works.  They may be fighting with each other.  Or not.  And again - this is a real theme for this band - the song basically wraps up right around 3:00 then goes into an extended coda that's slightly different from the rest of the tune.  That's like their trademark.  This song could straight-up end at about 3:22, but nope, there's a tag for another 40 seconds.  Is there a banjo in the background?  Come to think of it, it really is unusual for this band to have three lead singers.  Before all these songs became a perpetual component of the background noise in our lives, it must have been confusing as hell to hear new Mac tunes on the radio and not be able to recognize the band based on the singer's voice.  Maybe a listener wouldn't know it was Fleetwood Mac until the DJ said so.  Especially since two of the three singers weren't even in the band for their first half-dozen or so albums.

"Sisters Of The Moon"
What's this!  Long spooky intro.  Can't be a Buckingham song; he hates intros!  Yup, it's Stevie.  All her stuff is more atmospheric.  This one is pretty dark.  A bit of a departure for this band.  Listen to that distortion on the guitar.  Real grungy.  And that other guitar, ripping off "Stairway to Heaven".  These lyrics: all spiders and witches.  Fleetwood Mac's Halloween song.  Whose idea was this?  It's not an awesome song but it's good that they're taking a risk and branching out.  Their core fanbase probably hates it.  Rhythm section isn't as tight as they normally are.  Turn that fucking hi-hat down man! It's not only drowning out the rest of the band, it's drowning out the rest of the drum kit.  That sustained guitar note at 3:40 is hilarious though.  Spinal Tap.  "It's still sustaining!  Don't touch it.  Don't even look at it".  The cold ending totally works.

This is right back to typical Mac.  Kind of a bland ballad.  They had the good sense to restrain the drums on this one, giving the proper elements room to breathe.  Wish they did the same with some of the other spacey Nicks numbers.  If the drums on "Sara" were presented in the minimalist way they are presented here, "Sara" would be a more effective recording.  But also like "Sara", this song rambles a bit and doesn't really go anywhere.  It doesn't need to be 5m 28s.  The mastering engineer needs to dip this whole song down a few dB too.  It should not feel as in your face as "Sisters Of Moon" did.  "I have always been a storm" is like a lyric Marillion would write, if their singer matured past the sixth grade and into the tenth.  What's that glitch at 2:09?  Come on, this kind of stuff needs to be removed.  So easy to do these days.

"Think About Me"
Another uptempo one, oh I know this one, this is Fleetwood Mac?  See, I didn't know this song was theirs.  But it's obvious in retrospect. Starts off sounding like a Buckingham song, but Christine is singing.  Then we can hear them all.  That's a teeny bit unusual for these people.  Their voices sound nice.  Like they're all singing it live, together.  The big vocal layers on most of this band's songs is another trademark, and for the most part they're one of this band's strengths.  But they usually sound processed like crazy.  That isn't a bad thing, I don't mind the studio layering at all, but it's a nice break to hear them just singing naturally, together, on this one.  It feels like a performance instead of a construction.  If I had to bet, I'd say this was a McVie/Buckingham co-write.  

This is the one with the marching band, right?  It's all dark, like "Sisters Of Moon".  These creepy semi-whispered vocals and tribal drums are cool.  This is Mac's goth moment.  Bad ass bass guitar entrance.  Really asserting the swagger when he starts playing.  But what was that at 1:26?  That could not have been on purpose.  Total major flub and they left it in.  This thing is slowly building, getting really tense.  This sounds like something from Peter Gabriel III or IV. That is not a bad thing, at all.  Those are both great records.  They're singing "don't say that you love me".  Well a few minutes ago, they had a song called "Say You Love Me".  Make up your fucking minds.  Ah, yes, there's the marching band.   What's up with that insane drum break at 2:10?  A bit like psychedelic-era Beatles, something they might have done on alternate-universe takes on "Strawberry Fields", or "Lucy in the Sky".  There's no real verse/chorus song structure here, it just builds on one idea.  Kind of free-form.  I have to admit it, this song is pretty bad-ass.  But I like it because it sounds like something post-punk mixed with psychedelia.  It doesn't sound like anything else by Fleetwood Mac.  Good for them to do something different, but it just underlines the point that the only time I've been moved by Fleetwood Mac is when they don't sound like Fleetwood Mac.

"What Makes You Think You're One"
This isn't a dark as "Tusk" or "Sisters Of Moon", but it's got some vaguely adventurous rhythms.  Is it from the same album?  Must be.  I'll have to look it up when I'm done writing.  But: for this project, there is no stopping the playback, and no research allowed until afterward!  Only stream of consciousness impressions.  Yeah, this song is another departure.  Less successful, but they're trying new stuff.  After Rumours it seems that they had enough money and clout and drugs to indulge in their cosmic jazz odyssey period.  This one also abandons formal song structure.  It just sort of riffs on an idea as Buckingham emotes the same stanza of lyrics three times, and does a Stevie impersonation at 1:58.  Then, of course, the trademarked extended coda.  Was this a single?  Why is it on their "Best Of"?  Seems like a b-side.

"World Turning"
A bit of a country stomper, but with a bit of manic energy.  A little bit of cracked out bluegrass.  Like the previous song, they're stretching here.  Geez.  About time.  These tracks are alphabetical, because that's how they came up in my media player.  But it seems that the hits were all at the beginning and the weird stuff is at the end.  Like the old phone books back in the day, in which the small businesses would call themselves Aaaaron's exterminating, or Aaaandy's auto parts to make sure they were listed first. But this one must be an earlier track.  Pre-Rumours for sure.  They seemed to have ditched the folksy stuff after that.  
And, it's a wrap.

Selection for the IFHTB mix tape: I wanna say "Tusk".  But honestly that's kind of defeating the purpose.  If I want to select a song that actually represents this band, I'm gonna have to go with "Go Your Own Way".  I could be convinced otherwise.  Any of their adequate catchy pop singles are good for mixes

Post-listening research.

Ok, as always my comments above are purely what I was thinking in real-time as the album unspooled, edited only for spelling and clarity.  Doing some research after the fact, I did kind of nail one thing:  "[Tusk] is considered more experimental than their previous albums: partly a consequence of Lindsey Buckingham's sparser songwriting arrangements and the influence of post-punk."  And: "Buckingham – infatuated with bands such as Talking Heads – was 'desperate to make Mac relevant to a post-punk world', according to music journalist Bob Stanley". 

I feel vaguely smug and unjustifiably vindicated at having read that.  This is why I dumped classic rock at age 12 or so and went straight to post-punk.  It was relevant to my generation.  Fleetwood Mac was not.  Buckingham straight-up admitted it.  But good for them to try to get current in some way other than just buying a synthesizer like all the other aging dinosaurs (even if they did go straight back to bland mega-commercial pop with their next record, Mirage).  Turns out that indeed, the songs "Tusk", "What Makes You Think You're One", and "Sisters of the Moon" are all on Tusk, as are "Sara" and "Think About Me" (which turns out to be a straight McVie song, without help from Buckingham's fountain).  Well, maybe we'll come back for Fleetwood Mac round three and listen to Tusk some time.

I also keep thinking about Alejandro Jodorowski's film Tusk, which came out about a year after this record.  I'm not saying they're related at all, but the identical titles and chronological proximity are striking.  

Oh, and Neil Finn has replaced Buckingham for Mac's touring lineup as of 2018.  What the actual...?  Back in the late 1970s, Finn joined New Zealand's hippie-rock-turned-new-wave band Split Enz just as their music started getting interesting, then went on to form the mega-popular pop act Crowded House.  Now he's in Fleetwood Mac?  I did not see that coming.  (If you wanna get into the Enz, get True Colors and Time and Tide right away, then go for Waiata (called Corroboree in some territories), followed by either the more weird Frenzy or the more pop Conflicting Emotions).  It is unexpected that Split Enz have now popped up in this listening series twice already.

Next: Pink Floyd, part two (of three) coming August 01, 2021

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