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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Fleetwood Mac fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Fleetwood Mac fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so.
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Somebody's got to be second class, after all. And Fleetwood Mac were definitely second class - no matter what stage they were going through. For almost ten years, their quantity certainly surpassed their quality, and even after the big breakthrough in 1975-77 they didn't manage to encompass anything truly substantial, if you know what I mean. Innovation and originality are certainly not the terms to be associated with the band. On the other hand, their body of work in retrospect looks quite solid and, well, entertaining at the least. If anything, these guys (and girls) had a fantastic tenacity - and a good skill at creating not too bright, but very often catchy and sympathetic tunes. You gotta give them their due, they deserve it. I originally gave them an overall rating of B, but as time passed on and on, I found out that Lindsey Buckingham was hitting me on my brains every night and holding demonstrations of protest inside my conscience, so I just had to raise the rating one point and let him get away with satisfaction.
Maybe the most striking thing about Fleetwood Mac is their rapid evolution over the years. Having started off around 1967 as a hardcore blues band whose main ambition was to put to shame Cream, in less than a couple of years they'd discovered that this direction was a dead end and switched directions in a twinkle of an eye. New member Danny Kirwan, as opposed to the 'blues patriarch' Peter Green, shifted them to a more country/folk sound which nevertheless retained some of the old blues intonations. They dragged along with this sound for five more bleeding years before finally discovering it was a dead end just as well, and new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks finally shaped the band's identity into what they are mostly known for today - a slick, super-professional and highly commercial pop entity. No band had ever run over a distance that great in its evolution - Genesis is what comes up on one's mind immediately, but Genesis always revolved around the axeman Tony Banks whose distinctive sound characterizes the band's sound now just as it did thirty years ago. I even thought of giving several different ratings to the band's three main periods, but, on second thought, replaced them with an average rating. I guess you'll have no problem in 'reconstructing' the original three ratings from reading my reviews. Now let's get on with the lineup.
The Blues Period: John McVie - bass guitar; Mick Fleetwood - drums. This is the trusty rhythm section that gave the band its name, actually, and the band's only stable skeleton. Peter Green - guitar, vocals; Jeremy Spencer - guitar. The early Mac were pretty much dominated by Green's blueswailing, but Spencer did contribute to the band's sound seriously, too. In 1969 the band were joined by Danny Kirwan on guitar, and the big changes began...
The Lightweight Folk/Country Period: Green and Spencer both quit in 1970 after having mental breakdowns and joining religious sects (I wonder what Danny's coming had to do with that?). On the other hand, the band got McVie's wife - Christine McVie (former Christine Perfect) on keybs and vocs, and Bob Welch on guitar. Kirwan got fired in 1972 for erratic behaviour and was replaced (not for long) by Bob Weston. However, both Bobs quit by 1974, and the band seemed almost on the brink of dissection, when suddenly...
The Serious Pop Period: ...they discovered Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocals) and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) who were happy to join the band seeing as they were on the point of starvation (nah, just a silly joke: actually, their career wasn't much of a thing before 1975). Thus is brought on the most famous line-up that recorded some of their biggest sellers and which lasted, hmm, until 1987 - a real long time, ain't it?
In 1987 Buckingham quit, followed by Nicks in 1990, and there were several minor replacements in the band, which at some point even included ex-Trafficman Dave Mason (go figure) and Delaney Bramlett's daughter, Bekka Bramlett (GO FIGURE!!!). However, the original line-up had suddenly reformed for a live album in 1997, which - fancy that - turned out to be their best record in at least fifteen years. So, as you see, the band's a vivacious one. And quite a prolific one, too. Wow, I feel I'll be sweatin' when I end up these here reviews...
P.S. There's just one more thing I'd like to add about the Buckingham-Nicks lineup. Like I said, it could hardly be called substantial - and yet, there was at least one thing that the band managed to encompass with practically no equals. Nobody but Buckingham could really express a person's dark, angry or sad emotions with so much finesse, subtlety and genius. That's why so many people find Mac to their liking - quite a lot of their songs from that period, especially from Rumours (but not only) are easy to associate with one's personal troubles and sufferings. And when Lindsey delivers his material, he does it with such passion and sincerity, regardless of the real time or state he's in, that it can't but burn into your soul - listen to 'I'm So Afraid' or 'Big Love' (the live acoustic version) for proof. If anything, Buckingham is the right opposite to Motown 'soulless' soul performers who do their job with a lot of professionalism but not an ounce of sincerity, and must be acclaimed as such.
Listenability: 4/5. One
point off for... for all kinds of stuff. The early derivative blues days,
the latter manneristic days...
Resonance: 3/5. Mostly for the sake of Buckingham (stuff like 'I'm So Afraid' gotta rank with the most viciously emotional songs ever written).
Originality: 1/5. Well, at least nobody could outbeat these guys in holding up through all the lineup changes.
Adequacy: 4/5. Can't have any SERIOUS complaints in this department.
Diversity: 4/5. Granted, with so many different people going through the band, it isn't THAT unpredictable.
Overall: 3.2 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6
Bob Brunning must really hate his favourite band to release something like this.
Best song: ask those lazy slobs who refused to remaster it.
Track listing: 1) Talk To Me Baby; 2) I Held My Baby Last Night; 3) My Baby's Sweet; 4) Looking For Somebody; 5) Evil Woman Blues; 6) Got To Move; 7) No Place To Go; 8) Watch Out For Me Woman; 9) Mighty Long Time; 10) Dust My Blues; 11) I Need You, Come On Home To Me; 12) Shake Your Moneymaker.
It's a long way from the Marquee Club to Rumours, so I'll start this from an appropriately far away angle. My name's George S. I am what people who don't like me call a "wannabe rock star", or what people who like me call "an insightful reviewer". Whatever be the case, I'm your typical 'little guy'. I don't have a radio show, I don't propagate free love, I don't go into politics, I don't dabble in arts, I'm hardly likely to make a huge impact on the world. I'm just sitting here "beating on my trumpet" as Bob Dylan would say, putting up rock and pop reviews for no apparent reason other than having some sort of way to express meself as an individual.
This is why I can certainly identify with Bob Brunning. Bob Brunning is also a typical 'little guy'. He's probably known to only a few more people than myself, and most of these would probably refer to him as "that accidental freak", even if they don't mean it. He even sort of looks like me, and not just because he's wearing glasses. I figure that if I were a rock musician at some point in my life, I would probably be very similar to Bob Brunning. Quietly standing with my little guitar (or bass) in the corner, doing my little thing out there, and throwing shy glances at the "great artists" standing to the right of me, playing their hearts out. There'd hardly be anything more for me in the business.
I'm not sure, though, whether I'd swallow my being kicked out of the band as easily as Bob did. Yes indeed, his serving as Fleetwood Mac's first ever bass player was a bit misguided. The band was, from the start, intended to be placed under the care of the Mick Fleetwood/John McVie rhythm section. In fact, Fleetwood and Peter Green thought up the 'Fleetwood Mac' name so they could flatter John into joining. But John initially declined - the only reason for their hiring Brunning instead. Once the band's first appearances were noted, though, and the first positive reviews started rolling in, McVie apparently understood what he was missing, and Mr Brunning was given the boot. A less nicer and agreeable person might have spent the rest of his life letting the air out of the band's van's tyres or cutting off power in the middle of their biggest concerts; Brunning, on the other hand, became the band's biggest fan and even went as far as to write their official biography. Well - I've always had a weak spot in my heart for the pleasant Gandhi-like type, even if I'm far from being one myself.
That said, the Gandhi motives are still put under heavy suspicion by the release of this album. Now, I've got nothing against historical curiosities, and likewise, I can see that this issue perfectly ties in with the Mac's politics of releasing as much of everything that somehow ties in with "the early years" as possible (see below on that). Moreover, it's, like, the second ever live gig played by the band, which certainly gives it a unique flavour; the "supergroup" concept was only drawing its first breath in 1967, and I suppose the only band at the time who could risk releasing their second live gig, be it then or later, without falling flat on its face, were Cream. But they didn't.
Yet all of these considerations turn pallid once you actually hit the play button. All of this record - and I really mean it - sounds like it was captured on a hand-held tape recorder, stuffed by Brunning deep into one of his boots. More probably, Brunning didn't have anything to do with it (why would the others object to having nicer recording equipment, anyway?) and the tape recorder was used by one of the audience members. That nice sunny (or horrid rainy) day in August, 1967, Fleetwood Mac might have been playing like the devil, making the audiences and themselves go crazy with blues longing and rock and roll drive - but if you weren't there on the spot, this recording sure ain't gonna confirm that. Granted, I managed my three listens, and by the middle of the second one, I got a little used to the fact that I could hear the ladies and gentlemen of the audience discuss their personal problems about as fine as I could hear Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer sing the blues. But then I put on something normal for a change, and by the time I got around to my third listen, I had to start getting used all over again. A discomfortable situation if there ever was one.
I'm not going to discuss their repertoire, not only because of the sound quality, but also because it's more or less the same stuff that's been later recorded in the studio for their first two albums (where you could actually distinguish between the two guitars, at least), and you can learn all about my attitude towards the earliest stage of Fleetwood Mac out there. As far as I know, two of the three Peter Green originals on here ('Evil Woman Blues' and 'Watch Out For Me Woman') did not appear on any other Mac albums, which would make Live At The Marquee an essential purchase for those conducting serious research on the man's evolution as composer. But hardly for anybody else: both tunes are absolutely generic blues workouts, one slower, one faster. Only 'Looking For Somebody', with its spooky, jerky harmonica lines and "stuttering" rhythmics, offers a couple hints at originality, and that one can be easily located in fine quality on the band's official debut.
Spencer also gets credited once, for 'I Need You, Come On Home To Me', which is essentially Elmore James' 'It Hurts Me Too' with different lyrics (probably the band's second favourite source for remaking and remodelling after 'Dust My Broom'). And speaking of Spencer, while on later records he would often act as the band's great entertainer by offering hilarious rock'n'roll parodies, on here he is still strictly sticking to Elmore James. Which Brunning sort of speaks with adoration about in the liner notes, but me, I'm bored. Predictably. Unless it's 'Shake Your Moneymaker', which is really a dang fine performance to close the show with. Two duelling slide guitars on a fast track - wowser! (Unless it's really just one and I can't hear the other).
As you can see, that's some pretty slim credit out there. All the more dishonest, I think, is for Brunning to not mention the quality of this recording even once, leading the potential consumer into believing this might be of equal value to the band's BBC recordings, which it mightn't. 'Raw and rough round the edges the performance might have been on that Summer day back in 1967', he writes, 'but one can clearly hear the potential of the band...'. Clearly my ass. "Raw and rough round the edges". That's one hell of a euphemism if I ever heard one. Like I said, I can feel a certain inner sympathy for Bob Brunning, and understand his motivation, but forgiving is one thing, and forgetting is another.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7
Some fine blueswailing, but it's easy to see why they didn't maintain their status as a blues band for very long...
Best song: I LOVE ANOTHER WOMAN
Track listing: 1) My Heart Beat Like A Hammer; 2) Merry Go Round; 3) Long Grey Mare; 4) Hellhound Trail; 5) Shake Your Moneymaker; 6) Looking For Somebody; 7) No Place To Go; 8) My Baby's Good To Me; 9) I Love Another Woman; 10) Cold Black Night; 11) The World Keep On Turning.
Hardcore blues. That's what the record is, from top to bottom. Eh, but what could you expect from a group that graduated out of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers? The only question is: why did they have to quit Mayall if they didn't do anything different from what they did with him?
God only knows. A possible guess is that Britain had already gotten kinda sick and tired of Mayall, and Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood thought that a new hardcore blues band, with some injection of new blood and a relatively fresh approach, would rekindle the interest in 'roots-rock', so shamefully lost since the advent of the 'psychedelic' era. Thus the Mac took on an honourable function: serve as 'shining knights' of prime unadulterated blues-rock at an epoch when everybody was trying to get away from it. They performed that function with verve - proudly carrying the blues on their shoulders through 1967 and 1968 and caressing it as best they could until it became obvious that other bands, starting from the Beatles and especially the Stones, were getting back to their 'roots' as well - that's when the Mac started relinquishing theirs.
But fascinating as that little historic excourse might have seemed, let's get back to business - after all, this site doesn't exactly rate records according to their historical importance. Seriously, now, from a thirty-years-on point of view this particular record ain't very entertaining. The rhythm section of Fleetwood/McVie is not special at all - neither of them has a distinctive sound, and, while they keep up the work quite decently, virtuosos they're not. Never would be, too: perhaps one needs a very very trained ear to distinguish all the subtle peculiarities of McVie's bass, but am I listening to music in order to train my ears or training my ears in order to listen to music? You tell me.
The only arguable virtuoso in the band was guitarist Peter Green, and he does have a distinctive sound - but it's hugely derivative of his blues heroes whose songs he's singing and whose licks he's valiantly copping. If you've heard enough Muddy Waters and Elmore James in your lives, you won't need this record. Not to mention that even the production sucks: it sounds like the band were recording the album on their tape recorder in somebody's living room. The sound is flat and pedestrian; for comparison, take a listen to the far superior John Mayall's Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton with its deep rumbling echoes and a guitar that sounds like it's coming somewhere from the stratosphere rather than from somebody's bellybutton.
To be more precise, the band runs the gamut from straightforward, ear-piercing, dumb-lyricized tunes ('My Heart Beat Like A Hammer'; 'My Baby's Good To Me'), to slow, 'philosophical' shuffles ('Merry Go Round', the moody 'Cold Black Night') and even some fast rockers ('Shake Your Moneymaker'), although speed is certainly not characteristic of this record. It is obvious that these guys could play fast when they wanted to, but they simply wouldn't do it - probably so that they wouldn't be accused of making a rock'n'roll record. (By the way, you know that Mick Jagger once said around 1964 something like 'I hope we're not being considered a rock'n'roll band'. Funny what time does to some people!) 'Shake Your Moneymaker' is a groovy funny tune, though, a good showcase for Jeremy Spencer's slide playing and witty sense of humour.
The problem is, they don't have enough genius or creativity to make anything outstanding - they're just following the pattern established long ago, and both Spencer's and Green's originals are practicably indistinguishable from the covers. This stuff is not bad, but I couldn't call it more than 'okay', since only maybe, like, two songs are able to attract my attention at all. 'Long Grey Mare' in particular, because it has some great harmonica playing - not that I believe it ain't ripped off, of course. (By the way, that's the only track on this record that features original bassist Bob Brunning - yes, there was a time when the band was called 'Fleetwood Mac' without the 'Mac' being actually backed up by a real 'Mac'). I also think that the gloomy rhythm of 'Looking For Somebody' is kinda distinctive, but that doesn't make the song a particularly outstanding piece. At least they try out enough styles and moods to make it possible to sit through the entire record in one go (quite unlike Mr Wonderful, that is). But really, I think blues historians are the only people who should be seriously interested in it.
Oh! I forgot to mention the best song on the album. By accident? I guess not. Anyway, it's 'I Love Another Woman' (ooh those unimaginative song titles), and it's a real creepy tune, with echoey bass and deep rumbling guitars and lots of subtlety. It's perhaps the only song on the whole album that stands a wee bit above your average barroom band quality, and things like that make me wonder... Nah. Just an accident.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6
Background blues music for easy listening. Easy listening? Don't get in unless you're a blues fanatic!
Best song: EVENIN' BOOGIE
Track listing: 1) Stop Messin' Around; 2) I've Lost My Baby; 3) Rollin' Man; 4) Dust My Broom; 5) Love That Burns; 6) Doctor Brown; 7) Need Your Love Tonight; 8) If You Be My Baby; 9) Evenin' Boogie; 10) Lazy Poker Blues; 11) Coming Home; 12) Trying So Hard To Forget.
SPEAKING OF UNIFORMITY! You know, I've heard quite a lot of blues records in my life, but this is the ONLY one on which four songs (namely, the covers 'Dust My Broom', 'Doctor Brown' and 'Coming Home' and the Spencer 'original' 'Need Your Love Tonight') begin with exactly the same standard blues chord sequences and have exactly the same melody, intonation, vocals and (partly) lyrics. Four songs, get it? If this is what Peter Green understood as a hardcore blues band, well...
...well, you see now why, throughout the whole Sixties, there's never been even a single successful British hardcore blues band? More specifically, why couldn't Eric Clapton ever fullfil his dream of finding such a band in either the Yardbirds or Cream? If you still don't understand this, go listen to this album. Not that it's bad. In parts, it's even enjoyable. And there's not a nasty or just plain bad tune to be found for miles around. But all of them are so uniform, so friggingly similar to each other and so unpromising in their entirety that one could only imagine what a band with, say, a dozen of suchlike albums would look like. In my opinion, this album's a plain gift to bluesophobs: only a totally diehard blues fanatic could ever appreciate it. As a live show, this stuff probably worked; after all, Fleetwood Mac did gain immense popularity in Britain even back then, based on their live program. But the records suck!
Not that I have anything against an entire album of blues covers, mind you. Nope. If you need a counterexample, I enjoy Eric Clapton's From The Cradle as good as anybody. But with this particular record there are specific problems which make it significantly worse than even their debut one. First of all, this time the band really doesn't give a damn about whether the tunes sound different from each other or not: most of them are taken at the same boring mid-tempo, with just a couple really slow ones and a couple faster ones, and most have exactly the same arrangements, plainly inherited from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where most of these guys came from: moody keyboards, saddened horns and thrashing drums. And the production hasn't improved even a single bit from their debut: they still sound as if they completely ignore the possibilities of a recording studio. Some of the songs, like I've already said, are so similar that you hardly notice the breaks. Second, like I also already said, none of the band members are virtuosos: they do maintain a highly professional and technically flawless blues sound, but there's absolutely nothing to distinguish them from either most of their contemporaries or most of their predecessors. Everything's as bland and insipid as possible. Yes, even including Peter Green's guitar: the only thing he tries to do with it is to emulate his blues heroes as close as possible - and it eventually becomes painfully unbearable. Actually, it becomes unbearable from the very first track ('Stop Messin' Round', an 'original' with, as usual, new lyrics set to well-known melodies) and doesn't stop being unbearable until the very end.
The fact that they tried to diversify the sound by adding some more horns and pianos doesn't help at all - in fact, they only succeeded in making it even more close to the Bluesbreakers' sound. Except that the Bluesbreakers at least tried to vaguely experiment with their arrangements; the horns on Mr Wonderful, in contrast, sound as if they were taken from a sound library. And the murky production doesn't even let them sound like a real big band; nope, it just sounds like the same home-brewed band with the horns and pianos tacked on as an afterthought. So... instead of progressing, they were only re-gressing, as you can see. Pity.
The good news? Well, aside from the fact that you can easily put this record on at a party or while 'dusting your broom', there's just a couple of songs which could hold your attention, both belonging to Green: 'Love That Burns' is a slow, sad and horns-smothered wailing which at least stands out from the pack by the very fact that it's slow, sad and horns-smothered, while the instrumental 'Evenin' Boogie' features the only lead guitar chops on the record that could be called inspired. I mean, it's fast, somewhat aggressive, and, for once, the horns really interact with the slide guitar part and result in an interesting and invigorating sound. The closing number, 'Trying So Hard To Forget', is also tolerable - suitably moody and featuring tasty harmonica work. Although, to be honest, it just kinda rips out of the general scheme and pattern of the album; as such, it's just a weak John Lee Hooker pastiche. They don't even adorn it with some scorching Green/Spencer guitar work - they easily could, but they don't.
Apart from that - get yourself some Muddy Waters or Elmore James, friend. If you're a great fan of Mac, get it for the album sleeve which features Mick Fleetwood standing half-naked and posing before the camera like an idiot. But boy does that cover stand at odds with the album material.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
British blues band idol on parade in America; not the wonderfullest of wonders, but at least they're decent enough.
Best song: GREAT BALLS OF FIRE
Track listing: 1) Tune Up; 2) If You Be My Baby; 3) Something Inside Of Me; 4) My Sweet Baby; 5) Albatross; 6) Before The Beginning; 7) Rollin' Man; 8) Lemon Squeezer; 9) Need Your Love So Bad; 10) Great Balls Of Fire.
Amazingly, while the Peter Green incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was probably their weakest and least original music-wise, it has nevertheless since become legendary - the truest and grandest of all British blues bands, etc., etc., all that crap. Anyway, this has resulted in just about a couple million official and half-official releases of the band's live shows from different locations and different periods; they are certainly most endearing to blues aficionados and Peter Green fans, but generally, I'd bravely unclam my mouth and state that they're just fucking up the band's official discography - you never know now what's an 'official' release and what's a bootleg, not to mention that many of these 'official' releases go out of print in the twinkle of an eye, as well as heavily overlap with each other. A mess, in other words - just visit the Fleetwood Mac official site and you'll see.
This here forty-five minutes little rec is, as of the year 2000, the last 'totally official' release of one of such events - capturing Fleetwood Mac on January 25th, 1969, at a relatively small venue in Los Angeles where they were opening for Zappa and the Mothers. Essentially, this only goes to show that the re-issuers were at the end of the rope. The setlist is small (just nine tunes), so that they leave in every single moment of every single pause and even include a two-minute sequence of the band tuning up ('Tune Up'! Go figure!), desperately trying to prolongate the CD's length. The sound quality doesn't exactly suck, but is no great shakes, either: the vocals are particularly muddled up at times. And, lastly, they don't really do anything significant except for 'Albatross'; not that they had anything truly significant written by the time, but still, I'm kinda disappointed.
That said, I must remark that the band really felt much more at home on stage than in the studio. Maybe it's just because the sound isn't diluted by all the boring nasty trumpets - just a regular two-guitar attack, sometimes turning into a three-guitar attack (Kirwan is already in the band, and Spencer alternates from guitar to piano depending on the tune). At times they do degenerate into boring, completely generic blues jams - the seven-minute version of 'Need Your Love So Bad' is particularly excruciating, with its ultra-slow tempo and Green just engaging in good, but non-outstanding guitar licks that any blues player with enough self respect learns to master after several years of playing. But when the tunes are shorter and more compact, the produced effect is far more satisfactory, like on the vibrato celebration of 'If You Be My Baby' and Kirwan's 'Something Inside Of Me' - funny, the guy's composition is far more bluesier than anything he'd done since. They probably let him join the band only on condition of bringing in more blues!
Five out of ten tracks, however, do stand out due to various factors. 'My Sweet Baby' (or 'My Baby Sweet', whatever - that's James Williamson's original title of the song, and that's how they announce it, too) features some extremely tasteful minimalistic slide playing; I'm a big slide guitar fan, so I might be particular, but I find Spencer's playing on that one intriguing and sly. 'Albatross', of course, is glorious - even if the tune's 'sea-breeze' feeling doesn't exactly recommend it as a typical show-stopping number. 'Before The Beginning', a tune that would soon be recorded for Then Play On, stands out here because it features a particularly dark and disturbed approach to blues - on Then Play On, the schizo, murky atmosphere would prevail throughout the whole album already, and the tune wouldn't seem that much out of place. And then, of course, Jeremy gets to shine with his 'mini-program'. In concert, the man had two beloved subjects: engaging in 50's boogie covers and displaying a particularly gross and obscene treatment of the lyrics in the numbers played (actually, Jeremy was just bravely 'uncensoring' the original messages contained in ninety percent of the blues numbers; I don't find that a great heroic deed, but it was probably considered to be so at the time, and who am I to argue?) Sometimes he used to combine both of his passions in one song; here, he prefers to dissect them. James Lane's 'Lemon Squeezer' has Spencer engaging in direct sexual provocations - 'You got fruit on your tree/You got lemons on your shelf/You know lovin' mama/You can't squeeze 'em by yourself', heh heh. I suppose Robert Plant was a huge Spencer fan around 1968 or so.
And for an encore, Spencer has his go at Jerry Lee Lewis' 'Great Balls Of Fire': the vocal impersonation isn't all that successful (I far prefer his completely authentic Carl Perkins impersonations on Kiln House), but the piano work is immaculately copying the Killer, and the fast pace of the all-time great boogie is at least a groovy relaxation after all the snail-paced blues numbers on here. And, of course, he changes the 'I wanna squeeze you like a lover should' line to 'I wanna screw you...' which brings us a little more poignancy. Or it's just blatant stupidity, whichever one of the two you prefer.
In conclusion, I'll just pronounce a wise, even if kinda limited, dictum: everybody needs a live Fleetwood Mac album, but this one's definitely not the best thing to pick up at first go.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A half-compilation which is really the best deal to make out of the situation.
Best song: ALBATROSS
Track listing: 1) Need Your Love So Bad; 2) Comin' Home; 3) Rambling Pony; 4) The Big Boat; 5) I Believe My Time Ain't Long; 6) The Sun Is Shining; 7) Albatross; 8) Black Magic Woman; 9) Just The Blues; 10) Jigsaw Puzzle Blues; 11) Looking For Somebody; 12) Stop Messin' Round.
If you're really interested in the band's Sixties' blues sound, you're well advised to stick to this album and screw the first two ones. This isn't exactly a compilation - it does recycle some numbers from both the debut album ('Looking For Somebody') and Mr Wonderful ('Stop Messin' Round', 'Coming Home'), but essentially it's a collection of singles, and that means that not only does it feature some material you won't find anywhere else, it also features good quality single material. As far as I know, they released another album like this called English Rose - maybe the British analog for this one (or vice versa); however, the track listing for it doesn't look more entertaining than on Pious Bird, mostly the same singles, so I don't know which buy's the better. Anyway, English Rose seems to be out of print, so forget about it and stick to this pseudo-compilation.
I'd say that there are two songs on here which make the album an essential buy for any Fleetwood Mac fan. These are the mystical blues 'Black Magic Woman', later made famous by Santana, and the gentle instrumental 'Albatross'. 'Black Magic Woman', while of course not as inflammatory as the Santana version without the great Latino solos, still shows that Peter had gone a long way since the band's earliest blues period. The production is deep and all-encompassing, the tonality is what I'd call 'subtly minor', and Mick chooses a very tricky time signature, although I don't really know if the fast part of the song really suits the general atmosphere. This is what I call 'adding on some edge'. As for 'Albatross', it ain't blues at all; it's an atmospheric, almost 'psychedelic' tune, with a very tender and loving guitar tone and soft hushing percussion beats - as far from a generic blues composition as could be.
Both of these are, in fact, much closer in style to the late-Sixties/early-Seventies, 'progressive blues' Fleetwood Mac, and these are great songs - they don't have almost anything to do with generic blues filler of their first records. Both credited to Green, by the way, although I wouldn't be surprised if they were credited to Danny Kirwan - their dreamy, hypnotic atmosphere fits in perfectly with his style on Then Play On. Then again, Fleetwood Mac was always known for the huge influence which certain band members always had on the others, so maybe Danny was just a faithful disciple of Green, after all. This is also suggested by the fact that the only composition credited to Kirwan, the B-side 'Jigsaw Puzzle Blues' (has nothing to do with the Stones' 'Jigsaw Puzzle'), is a fairly tolerable, but completely inessential hardcore blues instrumental in the style of early Green. What a bummer.
Funny enough, some of the blues material on here is also listenable - like the ridiculously orchestrated 'Need Your Love So Bad' that wonderfully manages to combine straightforward blues with MGM-type string arrangements (strange that so few people have tried this, before or after), or the two collaborations with bluesman Eddie Boyd ('The Big Boat' and 'Just The Blues'), where Eddie's voice and fluent piano playing is what makes the numbers really shine through. Turns out that Green just wasn't out a good vocalist - Fleetwood Mac sound perfect as a backing band, much better than, say, the Stones when you hear them sometimes backing an old bues great. The selections from the earlier albums aren't the worst, either, and the fact that the tracks are interspersed also gives a feel of slight diversity that was so missing on the previous records: when songs like 'Albatross' or 'Black Magic Woman' segue into, say, their debut single ('I Believe My Time Ain't Long', with some fabulous harmonica work), it's somewhat enlightening.
There's some filler, too, after all, it would be too much of a bias to say that it's hugely different from the debut album. For instance, I hate the band's reworking of Elmore James' 'The Sun Is Shining', since the vocals are shitty - Spencer playing his dirty tricks on the listener again? I'm so used to the pretty Clapton version of the song that I can't imagine it as a stupid parody version. And, while all the generic blues ditties are slightyl better in quality then the generic blues ditties on Mr Wonderful, they're still nothing but generic blues ditties.
However, the only major embarrassment is Green's 'Rambling Pony' - a shameless appropriation of Muddy Waters' 'Rollin' And Tumblin'' with new lyrics. It's well performed (although it would certainly be crushed down by Cream's performance of the original on Fresh Cream), but the fact that the song is credited to Green is a crying unjustice - no wonder Muddy Waters was left starving in his later years when nobody even cared about such 'annoying' matters as paying royalties. This puts Fleetwood Mac into the same dirty bag with Led Zeppelin and, hell, tons of money-grubbing blues-rippers. Too bad.
I hate the album cover, too, but I don't suppose anybody could love that... hell, for a long time I thought it was a picture of a nun holding a skinned bull skull in her hands, and I did wonder about the meaning of this a lot. As it turns out, it's a 'black magic woman' holding an 'albatross', but it takes much time and a really good eyesight in oder to perceive that.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
What's that, er, folk-blues? Whatever. Anything but not 'Mr Wonderful'.
Best song: OH WELL
Track listing: 1) Coming Your Way; 2) Closing My Eyes; 3) Show-Biz Blues; 4) My Dream; 5) Underway; 6) Oh Well; 7) Although The Sun Is Shining; 8) Rattlesnake Shake; 9) Searching For Madge; 10) Fighting For Madge; 11) When You Say; 12) Like Crying; 13) Before The Beginning.
Imagine yourself at the head of a band which is tired to death of playing straightforward blues numbers but doesn't really know how to do anything else - it's just learning. Imagine that, in a desperate attempt to revitalize your sound, you bring on a young folkie who's so timid about both his instrument and his voice, he manages to make them almost inaudible on record. Imagine that he's no big songwriter, you're no great songwriter as well, but you painfully want to record some material of your own. Finally, do not forget that you have to keep up to the epoch's expectations and be a little inventive, a little intelligent lyricswise and with just a slight touch of psychedelia, too. Keep all of these things in mind and you'll have no trouble imagining what a record like Then Play On, released in the fall of 1969, must have sounded like.
Actually, if you take a listen to it immediately after Mr Wonderful (which I just did), it doesn't sound too bad at all, and in every respect it's a huge improvement; Fleetwood Mac are finally beginning to find a style, one of the first of many of their subsequent ones. The blues covers are gone, their place being taken over by (mainly) two genres: new member Danny Kirwan's folkish ballads and Green's bluesy, but definitely not generic improvisations. At some points, however, both of them manage to blend together, giving the record a feel almost as uniform as that of its predecessors. But this time, at least, it's the band's own style - clumsy, erratic and most unsure of itself, but there it is.
The most striking thing about Kirwan at this point was that he mostly avoided loud, in-yer-face rock tunes, instead relying on ultra-quiet, almost freezingly silentious ditties. Some of these really rely on good musical ideas and could have easily been turned into a hit with a bit more elaboration ('When You Say', with a wonderful verse structure but lots of annoying la-la-la's), but most of them are just deadly boring ('Closing My Eyes', 'Although The Sun Is Shining'). Plus, he gets in an instrumental which is, well, ambivalent, whatever that may mean in the context ('My Dream'). Sure enough, all of these tunes don't even hint at the blues uniformity of Mr Wonderful, but I wouldn't say this one's a better alternative. Moreover, I always thought Green was a so-so lyricist until I actually heard and browsed through Kirwan's texts. My God, why couldn't they have hired Bernie Taupin instead?
It's strange, but the day is really saved only by some of Green's numbers. Maybe his creative spirit was somewhat disturbed by Kirwan's coming, or maybe he just grew up. Anyway, even the few hardcore blues numbers sound quite entertaining (the drunken craze of 'Rattlesnake Shake'; the bizarre feel of 'Show-Biz Blues'), but the record's highlight is the nine-minute workout 'Oh Well' which begins as a rip-roaring heavy blues (and inspires Led Zep for 'Black Dog' in the process) and then suddenly transforms itself into a moody, but strangely charming acoustic shuffle, at times punctuated by echoey electric licks, keyboards and strings. It's no masterpiece, of course, but the main point of surprise is that seven minutes of slow, repetitive acoustic notes should annoy one to death - and yet, for some obscure reason, they don't. Hmm... Also noteworthy is the fact that 'Oh Well', at least, the fast part of it (which also constituted the bulk of the single edit) had become the band's only live standard to be kept for many many years since Green left the band; it was even sung by Buckingham as late as 1980!
Some of the minor numbers, like the countryish pastiche 'Like Crying' (Kirwan!), the opening percussion-driven 'Coming Your Way' (Kirwan again!) and the closing confessional 'Before The Beginning', are also extremely pleasant. On the other hand, the two instrumentals 'Searching For Madge' and 'Fighting For Madge' don't sound that good at all, whoever 'Madge' might be. Neither Fleetwood's ferocious drumming, nor Green's flawless technique do much to save them from belonging in the same wretched Mr Wonderful bag. Yuck. Oh well, at least there are a few minutes of solid jamming to be found on 'Fighting'.
The thing to note about the record is how goddamn DARK it all sounds. Not 'spooky', actually; it's a strange, dusky kind of atmosphere, created by all the silent and slow numbers, with lots of echoes and sound depth until it begins to feel you're wandering through dark empty halls trying to find an exit and finding none - apparently, something of the kind was truly torturing Peter at the time, while Danny was only happy to oblige. If anything, this dark, introspective atmosphere is the coherent theme for all of this album, except the stupid 'Madge' bits, and for the atmosphere I'm even ready to forgive any individual flaws. Hell, in this context even the most boring Kirwan noodlings suddenly make perfect sense: they all picture a very paranoid, yet loving and sentimental mind. This atmosphere is indeed something unique and unprecedented: how many albums do you know that manage to sound dark and disturbing, but not dangerous at all? Then Play On certainly won't have you waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweat on your brow.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
The most comprehensive summary of the entire Sixties' era of the band imaginable.
Best song: ...
Track listing: CD I: 1) Rattlesnake Shake; 2) Sandy Mary; 3) I Believe My Time Ain't Long; 4) Although The Sun Is Shining; 5) Only You; 6) You Never Know What You're Missing; 7) Oh Well; 8) Can't Believe You Wanna Leave; 9) Jenny Lee; 10) Heavenly; 11) When Will I Be Loved; 12) When I See My Baby; 13) Buddy's Song; 14) Honey Hush; 15) Preachin'; 16) Jumping At Shadows; 17) Preachin' Blues; 18) Need Your Love So Bad;
CD II: 1) Long Grey Mare; 2) Sweet Home Chicago; 3) Baby Please Set A Date; 4) Blues With A Feeling; 5) Stop Messing Around; 6) Tallahassee Lassie; 7) Hang On To A Dream; 8) Linda; 9) Mean Mistreatin' Mama; 10) World Keeps Turning; 11) I Can't Hold Out; 12) Early Morning Come; 13) Albatross; 14) Looking For Somebody; 15) A Fool No More; 16) Got To Move; 17) Like Crying Like Dying; 18) Man Of The World.
Too often, the general impression of a band depends not so much on its general abilities as on the means of representation chosen for the band in question. Then Play On comes close to a 'very good' Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac album, but it's still ripe with filler. The preceding studio albums don't have any reason to exist at all unless the original recordings of Elmore James become unavailable. BUT: just a single listen to the blessed BBC album, very lovingly assembled and presented by Mick Fleetwood in the mid-Nineties, will certainly prove that Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac was a force to be reckoned with in the long run. It's just that their live and studio sides never coincided all that much.
Sure enough, the BBC recordings present us with a lot of blues covers, some reproduced almost note for note according to studio performances; even so, I would rather hear this stuff on a live basis in hope of at least some spontaneity and rawness that's unintentional, not a "Fourties reproduction" through cracking, hissing and poor production. But generic blues was only one side to the story. First of all, you have Spencer with his fascination towards rock'n'roll and pop-rock and idolization of Elvis and Buddy - he's all over the place here. Second, you have Kirwan with his folksy influence. Third, you have certain Green originals that are moody and thoughtful and passionate and go ten thousand miles beyond limp reproductions of 'I Believe I'll Dust My Broom'. You have all kinnds of little failed and unfailed experiments. In short, a concise, involving and almost panoramic view of the whole shenanigan. All this lovingly packed within two shiny discs and graced with cool photos and Fleetwood's respectful liner notes. It's as close to "ultimate representation" as possible, and obviously the best place to start with the band - and, as much as I'm concerned, you don't really need anything else (apart from Then Play On, of course, and maybe The Original Fleetwood Mac if you actually want to expand your horizons, not narrow them).
This here package boasts a treat shared by few other BBC discs - namely, out of the 36 tracks, no two double each other. The recordings are interspersed, which might be a hassle for chronology lovers, but it also spares you all the generic blues placed at the beginning: the generic stuff is certainly easier to assimilate when it's placed in small doses in between the actual highlights. The earliest selections come from late 1967; the latest ones come from late 1970, but if we are to believe the track notes, there is only one track here that doesn't feature Green - 'Preachin' The Blues', a blues standard recorded in January 1971 and featuring heavy slidework from Spencer. It's kinda amazing, though, and almost ironic: Jeremy singing a tongue in cheek hymn to church preaching ('I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the Baptist church, I wanna be a Baptist preacher so that I won't have to work') - and it was months, maybe weeks before Spencer would quit the group and join a sect indeed. I'm pretty sure Mick meant this as a sarcastic blow to Jeremy while approving this particular selection...
Sure, there's plenty of filler in this package, with all the Elmore James cliches firmly in place, but when the track number is so huge, you hardly notice. And the highlights, ooh, the highlights are many. Let's just take the first disc and browse through it rapidly. 'Rattlesnake Shake': extended version climaxing in a fiery hard-rockin' jam that really rattles your walls down. 'Sandy Mary': a very untrivial blues number that easily alternates hard-rocking and silky soft parts. 'Although The Sun Is Shining': remember that Kirwan tune? Folksy perfection. 'You Never Know What You're Missing': Spencer is in the Kiln House vibe (see below), contributing a magnificent Presley-style doo-wopper. 'Oh Well': short version, concentrating exclusively on the faster rip-roaring parts of the classic. 'Jenny Lee': Spencer in super-sappy mood, almost overdoing his trademark Buddy Holly impersonation, but it still works nevertheless. 'Heavenly': another great King parody. 'Buddy's Song' & 'Honey Hush' - two 'previews' of the songs from the upcoming Kiln House ('Honey Hush' is entitled 'Hi Ho Silver' on that album), both excellent. 'Preachin' The Blues' - like I already said, notable if only for the ironic fact of its very existence. 'Jumpin' At Shadows' - haunting blues number, one that could make your skin crawl if you realize it's actually Peter Green singing about his own inner demons; Buster Bennett's lyrics, fairly untrivial for a standard blues number, fit the man's agonization to a tee, and as he chants 'What can you say, there isn't much to tell, I'm going downhill, but I blame myself, I've been jumping at shadows, thinking about my life', I really get a creepy feeling all over myself. That's eleven highlights, and that's only disc 1.
Granted, Disc 2 is a bit more heavy on blues standards, but you still can't picture your existence without 'Long Grey Mare', can you? Or without an inspired rendition of Tim Hardin's 'Hang On To A Dream' (a song that everybody used to cover at the time starting with Rod Stewart and ending with the Nice, but hey, that's no reason to dismiss another good cover)? Or a solid live 'Albatross'? Or the wall of sound on 'Tallahasee Lassie' - a performance which makes you really appreciate the presence of three guitarists in the line-up? Or yet another sappy hiccupy Buddy Holly sendup ('Linda')? Or Kirwan's 'Like Crying Like Dying'? Whatever. It's hard to name all the songs.
All in all, I can easily say it's one of the best BBC collections I've ever heard so far. Heck, let's be brave: it's THE best BBC collection in my collection. I mean, other BBC albums either lower our ideas of a certain artist (Beatles) or slightly improve it (Led Zeppelin) or just give us a good opportunity to enjoy a good live performance (Hendrix), but Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac BBC collection does the impossible, for me, at least - which is, change the perception of a band from dismissive to very much appreciative. So try to scoop it up if you were ever interested in this incarnation of the band in the first place. And if you weren't, scoop it up if only for the paranoid look in Mick Fleetwood's eyes as he stares at you from the inlay photo.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A 50's PARODY album! Now that's groovy! Spencer was a cool fella.
Best song: JEWEL EYED JUDY
Track listing: 1) This Is The Rock; 2) Station Man; 3) Blood On The Floor; 4) Hi Ho Silver; 5) Jewel Eyed Judy; 6) Buddy's Song; 7) Earl Gray; 8) One Together; 9) Tell Me All The Things You Do; 10) Mission Bell.
Peter Green had gone completely berserk and quit the band by this point (without even a single warning - rumour has it that he just disappeared on the street and they found him having joined some sect), which left Kirwan and Spencer as the only contributing members of the band - Fleetwood and McVie, even if the band was named after them, were rarely more than just a solid rhythm section, and Christine Perfect (by now, already Christine McVie) was just a recent newcomer (I'm not sure whether she was an official member of the band by the time of release of Kiln House) who played some keyboards but never sang or composed anything - as of yet.
Thus, the album is almost equally divided between Kirwan's and Spencer's 'masterpieces', and sounds completely different from Then Play On. That album was long-winded, serious and relatively gloomy; Kiln House is short, playful just as much as the album sleeve shows it to be, and very lightweight, with lots of tongue in cheek performances and humorous pastiches. Kirwan was already on the path of relinquishing his folk rock ambitions, switching to louder rockers, so overall this is a hell of a loud and 'open' record. However, the main accent is on the series of extremely bizarre parodies on fifties' rock acts, mostly impersonated by Spencer. In short, if Then Play On was the band's Peter Green album - the man and his world clearly dominated on the record - then Kiln House is obviously the Spencer album, which just goes to show how different the two guys actually were.
The list of Spencer's 'tributes' is almost endless, incorporating Carl Perkins ('This Is The Rock'), Buddy Holly ('Buddy's Song'), Chuck Berry and Little Richard all at once ('Hi Ho Silver') and even Elvis ('Blood On The Floor'). The latter is particularly hilarious, with Spencer making such an amusingly lame effort at imitating the King's vocals that I nearly fall off my chair every time I hear him going 'the reason I'm go-o-o-o-o-ing/Is blood on the floor'. However, if it's genuineness we're speaking of, the highest praises go to 'This Is The Rock': even the most qualified of experts could easily mistake it for a long-lost Carl Perkins tune, with the production easily matching the early Fifties sound and the sly echoey vocals sounding just like Carl all the time. 'Buddy's Song' is less inventive because it mainly builds on the 'Peggy Sue' rhythm, and the name is even mentioned in the lyrics themselves ('I loved Peggy Sue a long time ago-whoa-hoah', with the 'whoah-hoah' just in the Holly fashion); but for sheer energy, I'd take 'Hi Ho Silver' over all of them, because it rocks as hard as possible, with an energetic lead guitar part and hilariously gruff vocals. There are also a couple bouncy pleasant ballads in the catchy 'One Together' and the not too catchy 'Mission Bell', but as you might understand, 50's ballads aren't as interesting to imitate as 50's rockers, even if it might be a harder process technically.
I don't know what was the desired effect; to me it all sounds like absolutely unessential, but good-time harmless fun. Obviously, they were suffering from the lack of a talented songwriter, and this was their 'compensation' for the fact. You gotta give the guys their due, however: lots of bands covered the fathers of rock'n'roll, but few bands actually parodied them, and even fewer parodied them successfully. This is classic fifties rock'n'roll that's made fun of, but not in a sneering - rather in a charming and completely inoffensive way.
Meanwhile, Kirwan is incorporating certain 'variety bits' into the mix, staying away from parodies or covers and trying as hard as possible to make some of his newly composed stuff rock out. He's not particularly successful, but at least this time around he manages not to make most of his songs sound like a sleeping-pill machine. Actually, his lovely ballad 'Jewel Eyed Judy' is my favourite number on the record - if I were him, I would rewrite the chorus or at least leave out the ineffective screaming, but it still makes a nice contrast with the soothing, warm verses highlighted by a delightful little countryish riff that brings in a, well, a certain Dylan atmosphere into the song. He also contributes the album's only instrumental ('Earl Gray') which is not the greatest vocalless track ever written, but at least a serious improvement over some of the faceless note combinations on Play On. Kinda monotonous, but with Kirwan, you gotta get used to it. The only real misfire is the lengthy, boring as hell blues number 'Station Man' which has the nerve to drag forever with no particular purpose. I mean, it ain't fast, it doesn't contain any interesting musical ideas, and it's too dang repetitive. So sue me, I really dislike it.
Apart from that, you just have your average good-time, danceable, listenable, fun pop-rock, boogie-woogie record. And I do agree that it would be considered as a below par record for bands with higher status (what the hell - it ain't much better than Self-Portrait, and yet Dylan is so anthemized for that record it's a shame), but for Fleetwood Mac that was just it - an album chock-full of pleasant catchy ditties which haven't yet completely lost that generic blues touch of their earliest days. It's really something of a transitional state between 1967 and 1977, and the only record on which Spencer had a chance to rule supreme, so it's in fact a highly important link in the band's history. And it's good. And I like all that fun. At least they didn't have to have Kirwan ruining all the songs with his primitive skills.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Outtakes that show the band did have a unique blues identity after all - even if that's not saying much.
Best song: WATCH OUT
Track listing: 1) Drifting; 2) Leaving Town Blues; 3) Watch Out; 4) A Fool No More; 5) Mean Old Fireman; 6) Can't Afford To Do It; 7) Fleetwood Mac; 8) Worried Dream; 9) Love That Woman; 10) Allow Me One More Show; 11) First Train Home; 12) Rambling Pony No. 2.
Well, this is a bit more than just a bunch of outtakes - actually, it's an important missing link between the early unimaginative hardcore blues days of Mr Wonderful and the grim Then Play On stuff. If you ever wondered where those dark, depressing overtones came from, check out this album. Essentially, it's just more generic blues numbers and simplistic boogie tunes that the boys were recording in 1968-69 for their third album but never released for reasons I'm not particularly aware of. The album was consequently released in 'archive' form already in May 1971, and thus must be distinguished from the miriads of later cash-ins on the band's rich past (there are about 10,000 Peter Green Fleetwood Mac albums that nobody really has a reason to pick today).
And actually, as a concise hardcore blues album, Original FM sure beats out the boys' two first offerings. The songs are mostly self-composed, with only a couple straightforward covers, and while that might not mean much in terms of true innovation (after all, there's hardly a simple original melody on here), it certainly has a great impact on the overall mood. This material is mostly dark and ominous; even the faster boogies sound a wee bit creepy, and when Green lets rip with a couple openly depressive blues stompers, it's like, wow, these guys really feel it. And so the album is enjoyable throughout - refusing the "true-to-the-original" purist approach, the boys really put their imprint on this material, a good, if not thoroughly spectacular, approach. It also means that the production is seriously improved: no idiotic crackles and cackles that were supposed to draw a parallel between Muddy Waters and Elmore James, on one side, and trite imitations like Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, on the other one. This record is perfectly listenable in that respect, with all the instruments going through loud and clear, and at least I don't get the impression of the boys locking themselves up in the basement this time.
So what about the actual material? Still quite a lot of filler, but many songs as well that establish their own 'personalities' and have their own glorious hooks. I must confess that I hold a soft spot in my 'eart for the faster boogies, most notably 'Watch Out', which totally seduces me with its magnificent guitar work. The instrumental break is as far out as early Fleetwood Mac ever got, with a brethtaking echoey finger-flashing duel between Green and Spencer. Were they too shy or too narrow-minded to include something like this on the earlier records? Ah well, rhetoric question. 'Can't Afford To Do It' is equally hilarious, although I sure wish Spencer would not laugh too much in the microphone. This ain't the Monkees for Chrissake.
Another highlight is the instrumental 'Fleetwood Mac', a half-creepy blues shuffle done with a very high level of intensity and certainly with an aptly chosen title, as it showcases the rhythm section's talents - Green's and Spencer's guitar and harmonica solos mainly serve as the cream roses on the tart body of McVie's immaculate bass runs and Fleetwood's steady, unwavering badabooms. No, they weren't virtuosos, these guys, but dammit, were they ever steady.
Green's slow, broken-hearted material is also a step up from the more routine covers on the earliest records. He brings McVie high into the mix, emphasizing the bass parts over the rhythm guitar lines, and plays in a depressingly minor key, bringing in a level of depression unheard of in British blues before. Oh sure, John Mayall did this, of course (after all, Green finished Mayall's school, didn't he?), but Mayall never even had a tenth ounce of Green's talents, not to mention Green's unique personality, so my assertion stands. Particularly in relation to 'A Fool No More' - now there's a great blues number, and dig that echo, too. 'Worried Dream' is good, too, albeit without so much impact.
Spencer also contributes a couple bizarro folkish shuffles, all graced with his, ahem, 'extravagant' vocal talents - I still can't decide if he were really drunk while recording 'Mean Old Fireman' or just faking it. Ah well, you can never tell with Spencer. In any case, solo acoustic numbers probably aren't his forte, as he sounds grossly unassured of himself on both this one and 'Allow Me One More Show', but there is a certain "jumbled charm", as some might say, to this shakey, trembling vocal tone as well. 'Oh treat me sweet m-m-mamaaa, 'llow me one m-m-more sho-o-o-o-w'... 'scuse me.
That said, about a third of this record still does nothing for me, and while it's a big improvement, it's hardly epochal or anything, and they sure didn't need to include yet another take on 'Rambling Pony' on here. I'll just reiterate that this stuff works out fine as an important link: this is where the boys really started putting their own mark on the material, and in the end this led to complete artistic freedom on Then Play On. In that way, it's an essential buy for any fan of the early Fleetwood Mac period, although, of course, casual fans need not bother. Oh, and as far as I know, there is a CD re-issue different from mine, which adds four bonus tracks I know absolutely nothing about, so you might want to make a better choice.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7
Yuck. Boring soft rock by guys who obviously just don't know what writing songs really means.
Best song: FUTURE GAMES
Track listing: 1) Woman Of A Thousand Years; 2) Morning Rain; 3) What A Shame; 4) Future Games; 5) Sands Of Time; 6) Sometimes; 7) Lay It All Down; 8) Show Me A Smile.
You may have noticed that my Mac ratings are somewhat 'tripping', with high numbers alternating with really low ones and vice versa. This is no surprise. People came to know the band as the 'revolving door' band, but it wasn't a 'revolving door' in the common sense - that is, concentrating around a central figure and alternating sidemen, like Jethro Tull or King Crimson (well, Robert Fripp wasn't exactly the main songwriter, but he was always certainly the musical heart of the band). With Fleetwood Mac, it was really vice versa: the band concentrated around 'sidemen' - Fleetwood and McVie were the only constant members, and yes, they're good players, but they're zero songwriters, and they were never responsible for the general sound of the band. Instead, the general sound was always provided by people who'd come and go - first Green, then Spencer, then Kirwan, then Welch, then Buckingham-Nicks-Christine McVie, and recently by even more 'newcomers'. Therefore, each new album usually brought an entirely new type of music, and these changes weren't always for good.
Unfortunately, this is the case with Future Games. Spencer, having provided us with lots of pure fun on Kiln House, had suddenly joined a religious sect and quit (geez, and I though the guy had a sense of humour - but the Green legacy lived on). This brings Kirwan to the front, as well as new band member Bob Welch, a highly undistinguishable American gentleman at the time; his songwriting grew on afterwards, but like with every early member, he dropped out of the band right at his peak. Which, however, was but two years later; on Future Games, Welch is mostly just stating his presence.
As you might have already guessed, the album's almost unlistenable. In contrast with the humor of Kiln House, this time they decided to have a little something more serious, going in for ultra-long songs, bombastic lyrics, lengthy spacey instrumental passages and 'complicated' arrangements. Progressive rock? Well, with progressive influences, let's say; this stuff is still way too rootsy and way too grounded in American folk and soft-rock, particularly stuff like CSN, to be considered truly "progressive". However, progressive or not, they blew it on all of the above-mentioned counts.
The lengthiness of the songs only makes them more rotten - the bland, melodyless 'Woman Of 1000 Years' is a typical example. The liner notes draw on some critic's remarks about how this song "floated on a languid sea of echo-laden acoustic and electric guitars", but so what? If you go in for mood, you gotta make it special and unique; if it's not, gimme some melodic hooks instead. They give none; it's just five and a half minutes of passable background music. The lyrics are supposed to be clever, but end up being inept, lame and utterly derivative ('Morning Rain'); the instrumental passages only serve to demonstrate Kirwan's and Welch's un-professionalism which would never allow them to rank on the same level as prog rock bands ('Sands Of Time' - basically 'Woman Of 1000 Years' volume two, only longer and even less bearable), and the arrangements are really trite and do nothing to hold the listener's attention.
The sound is indeed all smothered in slick, uninteresting acoustic and slide guitars ("languid sea of echo-laden..."), but when they try to rock out it's even worse: 'Lay It All Down', besides having possibly the worst lyrics on the album with their pseudo-Biblical brainwashed imagery that is, moreover, highly inaccurate in its references, seems to be built around a groove picked from the Stones' 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin' (notably a guitar line picked from Mick Taylor's solo on the latter), and it's plain awful. The two-minute R&B instrumental 'What A Shame' is hardly a highlight, either; its only merit is in bringing the listener back to his feet for a couple of moments after the lethargic effect of 'Woman Of 1000 Years'.
There's some good news in the title track (written by Bob Welch) which, although overlong, distinguishes itself by having some wonderful harmonies, and I do believe it to be their only more or less successive stab at a 'serious', anthemic song. This is a good example of a song that at least knows where it is going to, with a deeply emotional delivery - at least, Welch actually sings different notes and raises and lowers his voice, which is highly unusual for the album. The true wonder of the song is the middle-eight (chorus? it's actually different all the time), an irresistible vocal melody that outharmonizes the Beach Boys; I suppose that Welch arrived at it by pure chance, but, well, every bad poet has at least one great poem in his backpack. Still, my humble opinion is that it should have been shorter by at least four minutes; I could easily do without the boring guitar solo, for instance. Also, the record features Christine McVie's first contribution: 'Show Me A Smile' is a feeble and unconvincing ode-to-a-son type song (and if you think it's the genre that stinks, check out Lennon's 'Beautiful Boy' to see how a real ode-to-a-son type song may sound), but at least it's unpretentious, and it gives a hints at her future 'games', er, gems.
Anyway, the material is hardly offensive. It's just boring. It's just a bunch of guys ringing their guitars absentmindedly and hoping that something interesting will come out of it. Well, they did have the title track, after all - pure chance, no doubt. But don't bother about getting this album unless you find it for a laughable price in the "lullabies" section.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Prog-rockers they're not, but this time the pop songs are truly better (and shorter). They slowly start to rise...
Best song: SPARE ME A LITTLE OF YOUR LOVE
Track listing: 1) Child Of Mine; 2) The Ghost; 3) Homeward Bound; 4) Sunny Side Of Heaven; 5) Bare Trees; 6) Sentimental Lady; 7) Danny's Chant; 8) Spare Me A Little Of Your Love; 9) Dust; 10) Thoughts On A Gray Day.
I wouldn't really go as far as to say that the true 'classic' Mac begins here, like some critics do. The melodies are still way too unassuming and ordinary, and in no way could this record shatter the minds of the band's contemporaries as Rumours. But to my ears the album's still a serious improvement and succeeds where Future Games failed miserably. They're still treading water with prog rock elements, but this time they're mostly limited to the lyrics sphere (like on the spooky 'The Ghost' where Bob Welch goes for almost Genesis-like 'allusions'). On the other side, the songs are considerably shorter, they rock out a little more, and they do have more melodies than pure bombast or anything like that. Not to mention the slowly crescent talents of Christine McVie who already gets two of her numbers on here. And what does it mean? Well, it actually means that this is their most consistent and entertaining album so far (Kiln House was better, of course, on a song for song level, but that's just because of the kitsch and the fun factor).
While this turned out to be Kirwan's last album with the band, it's also his peak, as he finally completes his transformation into a 'rock' singer, and the opening track, 'Child Of Mine', showcases his new personality ('heavy country blues keep-a rockin'), being an utterly enjoyable rocker with certain heavy overtones and suitably grim lead lines. In fact, the song could have easily fit onto Then Play On - it's uncanny how it recreates the 'un-menacing gloominess' of the latter, eventually predicting Kirwan following the steps of Peter Green. On 'Danny's Chant' Kirwan gets even raunchier, blasting off into the song with a chaotic feedback intro, almost heavy metal in style; unfortunately, the hooks are not that strong to proclaim Fleetwood Mac particularly successful in that genre, and maybe it would be a better idea to add up some lyrics instead of the pompous gothic la-la chanting. He, however, redeems himself with yet another moody instrumental, the pretty 'Sunny Side Of Heaven' - my only complaint is that it seems to have been written for the weather channel, but at least that'd be a mighty tasteful weather channel - and 'Dust', a melancholic introspective ballad with a gentle, memorable chorus. As for the album's 'magnum opus' - the bombastic title track, with multiple guitar overdubs and a seriously prolongated ending, well, I have mixed feelings towards it. In brief, I suppose that the intro, with the 'jumping' Knopfleresque guitar in one channel and the fast ringing guitar in anoher one, is a brilliant melodic idea, and the bass/vocal unison in the middle eight is quite amusing. The rest is not.
Meanwhile, Bob Welch is on the sentimental trail again - actually, his 'Sentimental Lady' is usually considered to be the highlight on here. Essentially, it's just a slight and seemingly forgettable ballad; but somehow it manages to grow on you a little, until you notice that it's really constructed in a way similar to that of 'Future Games'. It's certainly similar - a little worse, but also a little shorter, and therefore a little better. But notice how Welch loves these 'emphatic' vocal melodies all based on the repetition of one note sequence: 'HOW-many-PEOple-SIT-home-at-NIGHT...' ('Future Games'), 'And ALL of the THINGS that I SAID that I WANted' ('Sentimental Lady'). Coincidence? Rather a subconsciously stuck scheme. And on the already mentioned 'Ghost' Bob gets all mystical and deeply self-conscious again, but the song is little more than atmosphere.
As for Christine McVie, her two songs on here are certainly the best of the lot: 'Homeward Bound' is a strange, paranoid raving (strange enough, one of Chris' most rocking efforts ever), while 'Spare Me A Little Of Your Love' is just a generic love pop song - the one that really leads into the Buckingham/Nicks epoch and truly links Bare Trees with that epoch, except that it's nowhere near as upbeat and bouncy as her work in that epoch. Not that they're as flawless as her classic work in the Buckingham-led Fleetwood Mac, but everybody has to learn, you know.
In fact, the only real misfire on record is an odd monologue recited by an old English lady and entitled 'Thoughts On A Grey Day'. Maybe that was Danny's idea of how a prog-imitating record should sound like. Sounds like shit, actually.
God only knows how they would develop in the following years had Kirwan not been fired soon afterwards for drinking and breaking guitars. Why he did that I have no idea. At this point he was virtually the leader of the band - main singer, songwriter and guitar player. Bob Welch certainly did not contribute a whole lot, and Christine was only starting her career. I have no general opinion of Kirwan - after all, it's not that I studied his biography or anything - and I really don't know anything about his future career, but I do think that with a little patience and self-discipline he could have grown into a really good songwriter. During his four years in the band he'd really gone a long way, from an unexperienced, idea-less folkie to a self-confident rocker, whose only flaw was not knowing how to spice up his work with a few carefully placed hooks, and who knows? maybe he was just a step away from 'final maturation'. Then again, maybe not - after all, the world is infested with mediocre songwriters spending their time on endless recycling of existent melodies and writing shallow, uninspired material for the sake of either making money or, even worse, trying to convince themselves or the world that they are geniuses when they're not even close. Okay, away with Danny: despite all the 'ifs' and 'buts', he quit the band, and that's that. After which the Mac fell into total chaos which lasted for almost three bleedin' years.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Has some great Christine McVie tunes, but the rest is just okay - Welch is no Jon Anderson, after all.
Best song: DISSATISFIED
Track listing: 1) Remember Me; 2) Bright Fire; 3) Dissatisfied; 4) I'm A Road Runner; 5) The Derelict; 6) Revelation; 7) Did You Ever Love Me; 8) Night Watch; 9) Caught In The Rain.
The beginning of yet another Fleetwood Mac, but this one is much more close to the future Buckingham-Nicks lineup than everybody thinks it was. Danny Kirwan got fired, and together with him gone were the last remains of blues rock the band had yet left at this point. No 'Child Of Mine' on this album: it's Bob Welch on parade. Oh, I forgot, they got themselves two new members: Bob Weston on guitar and Dave Walker on vocals, but these guys didn't really contribute much to the band apart from their personal problems (Walker tended to cling to the bottle more than to the microphone, and Weston even had an affair with Fleetwood's wife). So the songwriting is neatly shared between Welch and Christine McVie.
The former's tunes aren't surprising; they're all written in the same style we've come to know on the previous two albums and which could be amply described as 'that dreamy guitar, morphaeic voice and lethargic lyrics kinda schtick'. Indeed, of all Fleetwood Mac members, past, present and future, good ol' Bob was the only one trying to get very serious in his songs - apparently, he spent more time listening to Yes than anybody else. Unfortunately, he's no good at writing 'prog' lyrics, in fact, he turns out to be an absolute loser in this area of experience: most of his verses can be described as serious on the surface, but shallow on the inside (Tony Banks would be the one I'd be a-namin' among the other runners in the category). thank God, at least the melodies are decent - nothing spectacular or breathtaking, but listenable. Plus, he's got a good voice, and this, coupled with a few more sound effects like Fleetwood's trademark tambourine assault on 'Revelation' or nice vocal harmonies on 'Bright Fire', really makes the tunes somewhat pleasant and well, consolating to listen to. Welch would get better eventually, with more fire and more hooks coming out of his system, but on Penguin he is definitely cruising on autopilot.
Unfortunately, I couldn't say as many good things about vocalist Dave Walker. Why they decided to get him in the band is beyond me. Sure, he's got a good voice, but so what? With both Welch and Christine McVie accomplished singers, why did they need a third guy who didn't even play guitar? Beats me. Maybe Welch couldn't pull off a rocker? Now of course Walker can pull off a rocker, but what rocker? The stupid cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland's 'Roadrunner' that they decided, for no obvious reason, to slag on the album? Yeah, it's the one that ends in a stupid harmonica jam that goes on for eternity, with the rest of the band trying to support a sweaty arena-rock atmosphere with their backing vocals. To no effect, of course. This ain't a rockin' album - for Chrissake! It's half pop half prog. Rather like Abacab. No, no, forget that, it's just a stupid joke. There's no synths or drum machines for miles around on Penguin. Anyway, I was speaking of Dave Walker; his only self-penned composition on here is a strange, banjo-driven but totally non-country mystical love song called 'The Derelict' for probably the same reason Mark Prindle decided to dub people writing reviews for him 'the A-OK Gang', in other words, because sometimes one just doesn't have anything else to do. Needless to say, the song is a piece of prime garbage. At least the band did a good job by firing Walker right after the album's release.
All of this leaves Christine McVie, and she comes up with four compositions, probably her best up to this point and quite comparable to anything she wrote during the 'Golden Age' of 1975-82. These are short, keyboard-and-drums-driven pop love ditties, memorable, catchy and intriguing. Not to mention her voice that is truly unique: it manages to sound both feminine and masculine at the same time, if you know what I mean. My favourite tune is 'Dissatisfied', with its bouncy rhythm certainly paving the way to that Clinton jingle, but both 'Remember Me' and 'Night Watch' all qualify. They rule! They sure sound just like any average upbeat Christine McVie song should sound, which is rather formulaic, but fortunately, that average sound is in fact above average. Oh, and 'Did You Ever Love Me' is good, too. Chris must have been extremely happy, as she was the only band member to have truly benefited from the lineup perturbations: with Kirwan out, Welch not yet having reached his zenith and Walker a complete songwriting dud, she gets to dominate this album like she never ever did before and would never do after (four out of nine tunes credited to Chris? Hand over the royalties!)
Yup, the only low point (besides the Walker crap) seems to be the closing instrumental 'Caught In The Rain', said to feature Peter Green on guitar (acoustic rhythm, actually). I don't know whether it was an outtake or whether Peter really joined them for the sessions, but I really don't care: it's boring anyway. Sounds close to Green's guitarwork on 'Oh Well', but that one was moody and dark, and this one is just boring and complaintive. Nope. At least it's short and it doesn't spoil a truly enjoyable album. If you're able to cope with Welch's dreamland, of course.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Definitely Welch's high point with the band, and the variety of styles is impressive.
Best song: HYPNOTIZED
Track listing: 1) Emerald Eyes; 2) Believe Me; 3) Just Crazy Love; 4) Hypnotized; 5) Forever; 6) Keep On Going; 7) The City; 8) Miles Away; 9) Somebody; 10) The Way I Feel; 11) For Your Love; 12) Why.
Arguably the best album of the band in the pre-Buckingham/Nicks epoch. Unlike most of the others that took a really long time to digest, I've acquired it only recently, but it managed to impress me on first listen. It's even more surprising considering the background against which the record was released and toured to: constant bickerings among band members, Weston's affair with Jenny Fleetwood and his subsequent firing, and Welch's heavy drinking (not that the others didn't enjoy a good sip now and then, too). This is Weston's second and last album, and he's not very prominent on it, apart from some fiery solos on the heavy numbers. Instead, this is Welch on parade, and there's also Christine McVie's debut as a solid, full-fledged member of the band: she gets five of her compositions on here. But it's certainly not a rehashing of the old Bare Trees leg. The obvious aim was to make a diverse record, so the experimentative atmosphere makes most of this really fresh and exciting, if not always successful.
Oddly enough, it is not Christine who is responsible for the experimentation. Having already developed a steadily working pop formula, she just writes one solid, commercial love ballad after another, some rather lightweight ('Just Crazy Love' - and hey, I'm not using 'lightweight' as a negative, but isn't that one kind of song that denotes 'lightweight'?), and some certainly worthy predecessors of her later major successes (the catchy foot-stomper 'Believe Me'; 'The Way I Feel'), and she also contributes the album closer 'Why' - a huge, anthemic chant which was her most 'puffed-up' product up to date, with 'heavenly' organs, ecstatic, but not over-aggressive, guitar solos, and the obligatory orchestration in the background. All of these songs are utterly enjoyable, if not terribly original. And, funny enough, if you listen real attentively, you'll notice that Christine's musical growth did not pass without contact with the other band members - 'Keep On Going' sounds exactly like it could have been written by Welch (the melody, in fact, is almost the one used on 'Revelation'; the lyrics, of course, are one hundred percent McVie). You gotta respect that attitude.
But the album really belongs to Welch in person. In fact, it's extremely intriguing to see the guy go through several stages of maturation, from the naive, bizarre and boring prog rock imitations on Future Games to the really clever lyrics and curious melodies of Mystery. The album opener, 'Emerald Eyes', could easily trick you into thinking that Bob has finally settled on banal love songs with uninspired melodies. He hasn't. Except for this passable tune (which still ends up growing on you due to its romantic, relaxed and dreamy mood - did I just sum up Welch's life credo?), everything else ranges from not too exciting, but at least attention-drawing (the reggaeified 'Forever') to weird, but fascinating (the funky 'Somebody') to blistering and intelligent (the mini-hit 'Hypnotized', with well-thought out lyrics about, well, er, the strength of faith maybe?). Besides reggae, funk and prog, you'll also find your basic hard rock in the Led Zeppish 'Miles Away', with Weston doing a Page-style echoey guitar solo - a very convincing one, at that, sounds like something Page would have eagerly inserted in the middle of a forty minute long 'Dazed And Confused' jam. There's also some really rockin' heavy blues in 'The City', with an odd guitar-synth line distinguishing it (sounds not unlike Townshend's solo on 'Going Mobile'); and, most strange of all, the cover of 'For Your Love' - yup, the same 'For Your Love' that was the best tune ever done by the Yardbirds. Here it is taken at a slightly slower pace, so it can't surpass their version; but it is nevertheless quite a worthy effort, with superb harmonies and a really tight performance. The only thing I don't understand is why the hell did they need a cover on this album. Then again, even the Stones kept putting a cover on their albums now and then. You never can tell with rock'n'roll stars. In any case, 'Hypnotized' and 'The City' are a couple of outstanding numbers, and not just outstanding, "awaystanding" as well - both illustrate two absolutely different sides of Welch, the thoughtful one and the hard-rocking one. In fact, Bob had never been as pissed off previously as he seems to be when he's singing 'The City', a blazing bluesy condemnation of the evils of Big Apple, and the song still stands out in my memory as the angriest that Fleetwood Mac ever got in their career. Sure said, they're no AC/DC, tho'.
The fact that keeps me puzzled all of the time is how Welch managed to finally make a transition out of his 'lethargic' period and create such a bunch of entertaining melodies that don't bore you to sleep. Then again, same thing happened to Kirwan several years ago. Maybe there was some kind of hidden influence exerted upon the guitarists by the trusty bluesy rhythm section? You know - come on boys, stop picking your guitar as if it were a lyre, get a little blood flowing, and so on?
Unfortunately, both Kirwan and Welch also shared a nasty thing about them: just as soon as they were starting to pick up steam, they usually got fired. This was Welch's next-to-last album with the band. Grab it while it's still hot! It has their coolest album cover ever! An easy 9 for it!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7
An unexplainable letdown. This album seems to lose everything they'd manage to gain.
Best song: SHE'S CHANGING ME
Track listing: 1) Heroes Are Hard To Find; 2) Coming Home; 3) Angel; 4) Bermuda Triangle; 5) Come A Little Bit Closer; 6) She's Changing Me; 7) Bad Loser; 8) Silver Heels; 9) Prove Your Love; 10) Born Enchanter; 11) Safe Harbour.
The usual argument against Bob Welch goes like this: 'he never did manage to gel with the band'. Considering the fact that the only other creative member in the band for the last two albums and for this one was Christine McVie (and the other formerly creative member, Danny Kirwan, had a style extremely close to that of Welch), the argument sounds a wee bit incorrect. The faithful rhythm section of Fleetwood/McVie sounded quite in touch with Welch's 'serious' numbers, just as it sounded in touch with Christine's pop balladeering. So the formula has to be re-worked as 'he never did manage to gel with Christine McVie'. I guess this statement derives of the fact that, since the coming of Buckingham/Nicks, we mostly think of Mac as a commercial power pop group where Christine certainly managed to gel with the above-mentioned two, while Welch would certainly never be able to fit in a band like that. But you also have to remember that during the first half of the Seventies Fleetwood Mac were a band whose main definition was 'not knowing where to go', being equally torn between Welch's prog ambitions and Christine's 'sweet' sound. So it's really hard to tell who exactly didn't gel with whom. Considering that Welch was always the dominant songwriter, I'd say we'd have to rework the formula again: 'Christine McVie never managed to gel with the band's early sound'. Now we get it straight.
Why am I digressing so much? Well, see, never is the contrast between 'serious' and 'sweet' so strong as it is here. The album's title, Heroes Are Hard To Find, derives from Christine's title track, a pleasant little ditty about how it's hard to find a good lover. However, taken together with the album's cover, the phrase quickly changes its meaning: the defective gentlemen in underwear and tennis shoes on the front cover, with miserable little children clinging to their hands, probably symbolize the weakness of this world and the fact that heroes are, indeed, hard to find (the word 'hero' probably defining a person whose ribs don't show out). I don't know whether the idea of the cover belonged to Welch, and I'm also not sure whether I get it right, but the effect is certainly quite natural. You get the album and think it must be their response to Dark Side Of The Moon, and then you hear the title track and... oh... sheez...
Paradox? Might well be. Great album? Certainly not. Welch's lyrics have matured, sure enough (even though he manages to still embarrass himself on the Jon Anderson-style 'Coming Home'); unfortunately, the atmosphere is nowhere near as experimental as on Mystery To Me. Maybe it had something to do with Weston's departure - this is the only album they recorded with just one guitarist, and this deprives us of energetic solos. Maybe with something else - the band's problems (they'd just liberated themselves from a band of impostors sent on the road by their manager in view of the general chaotic situation within the group) as a whole or their personal ones (drinking, for instance: McVie is even pictured with a bottle on the back cover!) I wouldn't want to guess. But the fact is that Welch had gone back to his formula - lethargic noodlings set to one and the same 'dreamy' melody with melancholic singing. 'Coming Home', 'Bermuda Triangle', 'Born Enchanter' and the closing half-instrumental 'Safe Harbour' all qualify in that category. All of this stuff we'd already had on Future Games and Penguin, and who wants more of the same? Give me 'Hypnotized' or 'Somebody' over this recycled waste any time o' day! 'Angel' is slightly better, with a memorable refrain, but it's all really based on Welch shouting 'Ain-GEEEL!' with a heavy accent on the second syllable. It's so unusual that it draws your attention.
Some face is saved on two other Welch tracks: 'Silver Heels' is just as dreamy, but at least it's a bouncy pop number with some groovy notes to redeem it, and 'She's Changing Me' is arguably the best song on the album; with a different set of lyrics it could have been easily misunderstood for a late period Mac song. Had they appeared on Mystery To Me, they'd have significantly added to the diverse atmosphere; here, they rather remind me of 'excusatory' tunes, included only so as to remind us that Welch did know how to write catchy songs. Only he didn't like doing it, that was his problem.
The worst blow comes from Christine, though. Now I know it's very hard to draw an exact line between banality and genius when we're speaking of pop music, but her numbers on here rather speak of banal than of anything else. 'Bad Loser' is yet another borrowing of Welch's approach to songwriting (the first one was 'Keep On Going'), and it's not encouraging; 'Prove Your Love' and the title track are catchy, but way too trite for me (although I'll be the first to admit she does a great singing job on the former); and 'Come A Little Bit Closer' is a disaster - a smash disaster, a totally lame attempt at writing an anthemic love song, with next to no melody and unbearable lyrics. Yup, she was really a heck of a talented songwriter, but it's apparent that the patchiness of these songs wasn't to go away until the coming of her concurrents in the 'classic' Mac lineup. Being invigorated by Stevie Nicks, she wrote some of the band's best songs; being invigorated by Bob Welch, she wrote songs that ranked from passable okay (Mystery To Me) to hardly listenable crap, as on here. A weak, passable album which you certainly don't need if you're not a diehard fan and already grabbed yourself a copy of Mystery To Me. Funny enough, they expected it to rise high on the charts. It didn't. What a surprise. Eventually, this led to Welch quitting the band. Which finally brings us to the moment you've all been eagerly waiting for.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A somewhat unsecure, but still fascinating debut album displaying flashes of genius; maybe it was just recorded a bit too quickly.
Best song: RHIANNON
Track listing: 1) Monday Morning; 2) Warm Ways; 3) Blue Letter; 4) Rhiannon; 5) Over My Head; 6) Crystal; 7) Say You Love Me; 8) Landslide; 9) World Turning; 10) Sugar Daddy; 11) I'm So Afraid.
Yup, this is where songwriter/guitar player Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend/songwriter Stevie Nicks finally come on board, and Fleetwood Mac's miraculous transformation is completed. Christine McVie's contributions to the album are mostly in the same style as on the previous ones, but this is the only true link. No more dreamy Bob Welch 'serious' tunes: the band goes totally 'pop', with Buckingham's pop rockers complemented by Nicks' pop ballads. The few 'serious' fans that the band still had left have probably evaporated into thin air, but the band didn't care: with their first 'new' album, they have certainly secured themselves a thousand times as much fans as they had lost. Of course, in order to do that, both John McVie and Mick Fleetwood had to betray their blues roots, and I still can't understand the developments of the trusty rhythm section. Were they so desperate in their search of commercial success, or were they so fed up with blues and 'prog' tunes? You tell me, I won't even begin to guess.
Whatever be, the band was certainly aware of the fact that they were beginning an entirely new life. This is probably why the record is self-titled. Special note to all future (and present) artists: NEVER make two records that share the same name. You don't really imagine to what extent this muddles up the discographies. The Hollies did the same thing with their 1964 and 1974 records, and it's disgusting, because you never know what album you or somebody else are speaking about. Apart from that, Fleetwood Mac is a very good, somewhat innovative and obviously well-written, noteworthy album, but not without its flaws and a certain percent of filler. Personally, I feel it was recorded a bit too quickly after Heroes (all the future Mac albums would take at least two years to be completed), and the band still hadn't had time to gel. The songwriting is more or less evenly split between Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks, and all of them are starting to near their peaks but not quite reaching them, except maybe for Nicks. This "pre-perfect" status, however, isn't explainable by any general faults or flaws - on the contrary, the general styles are well-established and flawless. It's within the individual compositions where the rub lies: I realize I'm being a little subjective here, since we're always on less trusty territory when dealing with individual songs, but hey, most of them are fab anyway, so why quibble when you can just agree with my quibbles? Who's the reviewer on here, goddammit. Okay, enough ambitions - let me take them writer by writer and see all the pros and cons.
First of all, our old friend Christine McVie is still in her Heroes vibe, which means that most of her numbers are bland to the extreme, and I don't see any particular reason why they should be preferred to anything she put out earlier. Okay, one reason - she is acquiring more and more skills as a melody-writer, and the arrival of Buckingham marks an obvious improvement of the production, which means that even if the melody doesn't work for you, the little arranging tricks will. What about that marvelous 'tee-da-dee-da-dee-da-dee-da-TING' crystal acoustic line that follows the opening lines of each verse in 'Over My Head'? Not to mention the song's unbelievable catchiness itself. 'Say You Love Me' rolls along freely and smoothly, although since I've become an addict of the 1997 live version, I kinda miss the faster tempo, the banjo and the backing 'ooh-la-la-la's of the band - still a great and perfectly flowing piece of work. Somewhat worse are Chris' two other contributions - 'Sugar Daddy' seems like a weaker imitation of 'Say You Love Me', maybe it has a wee bit more full-fledged arrangement, but the chorus seems to be forced and heading for a dead end instead of brilliantly resolving itself into something like "...sa-a-a-a-y that you love me". As for 'Warm Ways', that one's way too mellow for me, hell, whatever, Chris is almost predicting the basics of Nineties' adult contemporary. That 'forever, forever now' almost seems to be coming out of a romantic moment in Santa Barbara. Duh.
Nicks distinguishes herself even more than Chris. Come to think of it, it was her only chance - she was only accepted as a band member under the threat of Lindsey not joining at all. So she contributes the most memorable number - the mysterious ballad 'Rhiannon' which already displays all of Nicks' trademarks: mystical lyrics, slightly acid-tinged voice and a standard, but catchy pop melody (actually, the riff of the song is the best on this record - did Stevie really think about it herself? I bow down for her if yes). It's certainly good, though not as good as the similar 'Dreams' on Rumours. Her other ballad, 'Landslide', is a beautiful piece of acoustic bliss - once I was so blind as not to notice the hooks, but hey, time heals all the wounds and all the silliness. But unfortunately (or fortunately - whatever, aren't we supposed to be talking objective here?), time hasn't changed my attitude to her third contribution, 'Crystal', which she donated to Lindsey to sing. I still can't understand why this is so often supposed to be a highlight. It has, like, one or two chords - just an ultra-slow, monotonous folkish acoustic shuffle with moody organ in the background. Gee. Fleetwood Mac were never an atmospheric band: even if atmosphere was a necessary part of the charm of some of their numbers, mostly Stevie's ('Dreams', for instance, can't be enjoyed unless you dig in that atmosphere), they never managed to get out on atmosphere alone, always complementing it with memorable guitar lines or quirky catchy beats. No memorable guitar lines or quirky catchy beats here - so 'scuse me. Gotta admit it, though, the ending is pretty tasteful - I like the way Lindsey's acoustic swirls contrast with that organ.
Even so, already at this point Lindsey is definitely the most self-assured and creative writer of the three. He manages to churn out a couple of punchy, danceable and truly enjoyable rockers, such as the opening 'Monday Morning' which sets a good tone for the entire record, and an obscure cover of an obscure outfit, the Curtis Brothers, called 'Blue Letter' that's become a stage favourite since then. The honour of closing the album goes to him as well, and he sure doesn't let the band down: 'I'm So Afraid' may not be truly outstanding in the melodical sense, but it gives the album a slightly darker and menacing edge: exactly the thing that was needed to compensate for McVie's sentimentalism. In concert, the song would become a real showstopper and an incredible showcase for Lindsey's guitar playing abilities, but hear me rave on that one later on. And on 'World Turning' (co-written and co-sung with Christine), Lindsey even gives a hint at his rock'n'roll abilities, engaging in a lengthy (but not overlong) rock jam with the rhythm section.
In any case, Fleetwood Mac, despite all my complaints, is still a first-rate pop album - not glossy perfection like Rumours, of course, but then again, some prefer it that way. And the new version of Fleetwood Mac was really eager to prove the world that it was yet early to lament the death of poppy melodicity.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
An ideal pop record with next to no flaws - it's so immaculate that it's almost terrifying.
Best song: THE CHAIN
Track listing: 1) Second Hand News; 2) Dreams; 3) Never Going Back Again; 4) Don't Stop; 5) Go Your Own Way; 6) Songbird; 7) The Chain; 8) You Make Loving Fun; 9) I Don't Want To Know; 10) Oh Daddy; 11) Gold Dust Woman.
I'm perfectly aware that everybody is sick to death of this album due to its best-selling status and state of overplayedness on the radio. But me, I wouldn't know, and furthermore, the argument 'this song is crappy because it's overplayed' is totally invalid. Real works of art don't lose any of their objective value because of overexposure. Neither do Rumours, certainly the peak of Fleetwood Mac's career, both commercially and artistically. Just like the Beatles a decade and a half before them, they suddenly discovered a way of writing really exciting pieces of music evoking the word 'genius', on one hand, and making them easily adaptable, on the other. In this respect, Fleetwood Mac created a real revolution, and together with the Sex Pistols, they might be called the most groundbreaking groups of 1977. Of course, both of them weren't true revolutionaries at all, merely re-creating some earlier breakthroughs on a new spiral level - if Fleetwood Mac were the Beatles of 1977, then the Sex Pistols were its Who. The revolution was also shortlived, because most of the 'power pop' bands inspired by Mac turned out to be cheap imitators, and even Mac themselves couldn't hold the same level for very long - unlike the Beatles, they couldn't do any better than Rumours. Nevertheless, the album deservedly remains a milestone in classic rock and might be one of the last minor masterpieces ever...
Where do I really begin with this album? As usual, the songwriting is split between the three main 'graphomaniacs' (no, no, just a little humour here), so let's discuss the ladies first. Whatever complaints I may hold against Christine McVie, there is no doubt that her contributions to Rumours are among her most miraculous creations ever. 'Don't Stop' (which you all probably know as that Clinton ditty, but I don't vote for Clinton, dammit! I voted for Yeltsin!) takes the long forgotten speedy, 'Europop' line of 'Dissatisfied' from Penguin and pushes it even farther into the joys of fast, joyful, optimistic pop (the only thing I can't understand is why the song was given to Buckingham - I think Christine would have done a far better work by taking the lead vocal). And her three love ballads sound nothing like the boggy, all-too-identic kind of sentimental slush that marred so many of her earlier compositions. 'Songbird', recorded live, is a simple piano-driven ditty without pompous arrangements or artificially sweetened-up vocals. 'You Make Loving Fun', on the other hand, mostly distinguishes itself by possessing some beautifully constructed vocal lines. It also has a steady, disco-ish beat (a very rare thing for Christine) and features a nice rock solo from Lindsey. Finally, 'Oh Daddy' is a genuine love complaint with one of the most beautifully sung refrains ever. Apparently, Christine had gained quite a lot of skills from Lindsey and Stevie, and her divorce with John added a faint streak of sincerity to her work, just as the same thing happened to Stevie and Lindsey themselves (they broke up almost as soon as they joined the band. Verily and truly, Fleetwood Mac must have been a bane for all lovers!)
Nicks? She mainly secures her 'Rhiannon' style: 'Dreams' is even weirder, with her slightly hoarse, 'magic' voice doing wonders to the song, and 'Gold Dust Woman' is certainly the record's 'groovy' number, with Stevie croaking out totally incomprehensible lyrics over a breaking and stuttering swampy melody - and, strange enough, it works, even though I'm often left wondering why the song evokes visions of medieval cemeteries in my mind. Hope that's not the case with you. Anyway, good songs. Maybe as good or even better than Buckingham's 'Second Hand News', which sounds very close to 'Monday Morning' but which is actually better because it has some tremendous acoustic playing and a lot of silly happy noises. Tremendous acoustic playing? Not as tremendous as on 'Never Going Back Again', a little bluegrass excursion with a little tricky riff that amply demonstrates Lindsey's talents as a guitarist. If you ever thought Fleetwood Mac were nothing but a well-oiled commercial machine churning out lifeless, faceless bubblegum, take a listen to this one and you'll be cured instantly. I bet it's the only song from the album that's never broadcast on the radio (although I admit I'm really taking a wild guess here).
In fact, the entire album's so strong that it's very hard to pick out one favourite tune. I guess I'm going to take the band anthem 'The Chain', for several reasons, I guess. First of all, it's one of the most unhappy songs on here, and who needs a happy song as a favourite? Second, it's angry and menacing, and this brings it closer to 'rock'. Third (and most important), it's simply beautifully constructed, and the harmonies on the refrain ('you would never break the chain...') have never been topped. But that's just me talking. I might change my mind tomorrow. Enough of that. I hate talking about great albums. An album is only worth reviewing when it has some bad sides and some good ones. A great album is like a smooth rock - there's just nothing to put your foot into. In compensation, I might only say that, great or not, I don't listen to Rumours that much - after all, it's nothing but a power pop album. It might have 'a little bit of real emotion', but there's too few real substance in it for me to induce it into my Top 20 or something. In other words: if I can't cry over a record, it ain't worth it.
It sure is worth a listen, dammit! Maybe worth A HUNDRED listens! Have you listened to Rumours a hundred times already? No? What are you waiting for? Go and get your money's worth!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A tasteful record indeed, and very close to Rumours, but there are just too many songs...
Best song: ...err... every time I look at the track listing I feel like I'm lost in a thicket... help me get out!!
Track listing: 1) Over And Over; 2) The Ledge; 3) Think About Me; 4) Save Me A Place; 5) Sara; 6) What Makes You Think You're The One; 7) Storms; 8) That's All For Everyone; 9) Not That Funny; 10) Sisters Of The Moon; 11) Angel; 12) That's Enough For Me; 13) Brown Eyes; 14) Never Make Me Cry; 15) I Know I'm Not Wrong; 16) Honey Hi; 17) Beautiful Child; 18) Walk A Thin Line; 19) Tusk; 20) Never Forget.
The worst thing about this record is the length. It's a well-known fact that short songs usually make for a better single album than long ones. However, stuffing a double album with twenty short songs can prove to be a real pain. Of course, the Beatles pulled it off (not counting 'Revolution 9'), but both the Stones and the Who failed at the attempt (Exile On Main Street is patchy, while Tommy is marred by the 'Underture'). And if even for the giants of rock and roll the task proved to be a truly difficult one, then what can be said about Fleetwood Mac - a band with quite a lot of verve but far less substantial? These twenty songs are mostly good, and some of the material ain't any worse than on Rumours, but the length drags it down, and rare were those moments when I was able to sit through the entire piece in one sitting...
I guess that's just the reason for which the album was despised by the critics: long, long and... long again. Because the individual songs are mostly strong. I'd say that Nicks is approximately on the same creative level as in 1977 (but more prominent); Buckingham has even improved, with most of these songs being even more funny and exciting than on Rumours; and only Christine McVie is at a slump, stagnating and even retreading. But let us make all this more clear, okay?
Lindsey is the main hero of Tusk, of course. While the girls were still dreaming in their idealized romantic world and the 'trusty rhythm section' was probably just boozing away, Buckingham was on the lookout, carefully listening to the different types of music in the outside world. After all, this was the heyday of punk and New Wave, so somebody should have been on the lookout. In the end he came up with quite a bizarre collection of half-baked tunes, along with a couple blistering pop anthems, that are evidence of a not too bright, but smart and agile Musikmeister trying to stay commercial so as not to lose money and become experimental so as not to lose the good name all in one time. None of his tunes go over four minutes (that's important), and some are downright shorty, like the 'primitive' rockers 'The Ledge', 'What Makes You Think You're The One' and 'Not That Funny', with punkish three-chord melodies, ridiculously loud drumming and fast, almost raunchy rhythm. 'That's Enough For Me' is probably the best of the lot, though I couldn't say exactly why. Of course, none of these songs are really rock tunes, but that doesn't count, they're quite entertaining. Apart from that, however, Lindsey shows that he didn't change his qualification: 'Walk A Thin Line' is a charming, moody, dreamy anthem, and 'That's All For Everyone' has the most stunning arrangement of vocal harmonies on a Mac record. And 'Save Me A Place' is the most emotionally resonant piece on the album, even more so than any of the girls' pretty, but fake ballads. Funny, with its acoustic rhythm section and insecure singing style, it kinda reminds me of 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' - was Lindsey intentionally imitating Dylan?
The strangest song on the album is also Lindsey's, and that's the title track. I wouldn't call it 'psychedelic', but it's close. More exact would be its description as a 'weird sonic exploration': there are a couple countryish rhythms with a little bit of lyrics and the word 'Tusk!' thrown in over crowd noises and other random stuff. Releasing this as the first single from the album certainly gave a totally misguided portrait of the LP because none of the other songs are like that. I guess it also accounts for some of the critics' hatred. On the other hand, this was certainly a brave and audacious decision on the band's part: obviously, they just didn't want to seem predictable, and for that even sacrificed some of their commercial glamour.
Now the girls' material is, well, iffy at the least. Nicks is highly prominent, getting five numbers of her own, but they're so patchy it's even annoying. The worst is that one slowly realizes she can't really pen a good melody: all of these five songs are just discoish zero-tone tracks, and the only thing that saves them is a decent, sometimes brilliant level of performance, and Stevie's magic, hypnotizing voice - when she uses it in full force, it's mesmerizing (the hit 'Sara', 'Sisters Of The Moon'); when she doesn't, it's unbearable (the boooooring 'Storms'). Lyrically she's still riding the 'mystical ballad' horse, and third time around it starts to get a little bit annoying. Can't deny the voice, though; the voice, ooh, it's charming. And Christine is slowly starting to sink down, back to her 1973-74 level. Once again, all of her unsophisticated love pop balladeering is quite listenable and not too schlockish, but it just ain't the kind of rousing, tasty stuff she donated to Rumours. The album opener 'Over And Over' and the album closer 'Never Forget' might be terrific choices for an album opener and an album closer, but individually they're just the same song, and the rest is more of the same.
You understand now why I couldn't really select the best song on the album? And I wouldn't even want to. It just goes on and on and on and on and on... And all of the songs are good. Forget my critiques - there's not even a single offensive or stereotipycally 'boring' number here (the closest thing to 'boring' are a couple of five-minute Nicks ballads, but it's just because they're much too samey). That's why I easily give the album a 9. But there's just nothing great about any of these songs - nothing, really, that grabs me, shakes me, bleeds me beats me kills me and makes me say 'Wow! The definite pop song of the epoch!' like I could say about 'The Chain', for instance. Still, a must for everybody who's fascinated about Rumours, and certainly much better than you're probably told it is.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A MUST HAVE for any Mac fan with enough self-respect.
Best song: I'M SO AFRAID
Track listing: CD I: 1) Monday Morning; 2) Say You Love Me; 3) Dreams; 4) Oh Well; 5) Over & Over; 6) Sara; 7) Not That Funny Never; 8) Going Back Again; 9) Landslide;
CD II: 1) Fireflies; 2) Over My Head; 3) Rhiannon; 4) Don't Let Me Down Again; 5) One More Night; 6) Go Your Own Way; 7) Don't Stop; 8) I'm So Afraid; 9) The Farmer's Daughter.
In case you didn't know it, Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac were one of the best live bands in the world. To understand their power properly, one should actually see the band in live action (on video), because this here live album is a wee bit disappointing in that respect; now that I can compare it with the Mirage tour video (see the review below), I can certainly say that Fleetwood Mac Live suffers. The sound is a bit muddy, so that you can't really judge Buckingham's potential as a guitarist full scale. The track selection isn't perfect - where the hell, where the hell is 'The Chain'? Or 'Sisters Of The Moon'? Or 'Tusk'? Don't tell me they did not play those songs on the 1979 tour, they did. And they kicked ass. What happened? Finally, without the video you won't be able to assess the full impact that the stage presence of Miss Nicks produces on the audience.
So it's kinda, um, non-perfect. The Dance is a far more 'perfect' record, if you ask me, even if it showcases the "out-of-breath" reunion of the band. But even so, Fleetwood Mac Live kicks more ass than more inferior live albums by good bands you could shake your fist at. Buckingham and Fleetwood fully understand what makes a live performance different from a restrained studio one, and they set out to outdo each other by playing like they're possessed (well, okay, I guess Mick actually was possessed - one look at the photos inside proves that firmly). Only the relatively rigid Christine McVie numbers like 'Say You Love Me' and 'Over & Over' are played more or less by the book, with little space for improvisation; the Buckingham/Nicks numbers are totally transformed.
There are actually a few unpredictable surprises on the album, not all of them ideal, but most of them fun. First, Disc 2 has a couple studio songs on it - a new number from Stevie called 'Fireflies' and a new number from Chris called 'One More Night'. Both are decent compositions firmly in the vein of both: an ominous, mystically-tinged, monotonous rocker for Stevie, a sentimental sappy hook-filled ballad for Chris. Not outstanding, either, and they never made the 'classic' list, but nice to have 'em if they're already written. Also, disc 2 has Buckingham and Co. performing an obscure song from the commercially unavailable Buckingham & Nicks record (the one they did right before joining the Mac), called 'Don't Let Me Down Again'. A fun little rocker played with just as much energy as Lindsey spends on anything else, but unfortunately, not at all memorable. Finally, the last surprise of Disc 2 is a charming little tribute to Brian Wilson as the band joins in a muffled down, but tasteful performance of 'Farmer's Daughter' with terrific three-part vocal harmonies.
The main surprise of Disc 1, then, is the band's performance of 'Oh Well'. Lindsey himself has complained many times about how he hated performing Peter Green era material with the band and how he gleefully dropped most of it as soon as the new edition of the band had enough stage material of their own, but I guess these complaints do not apply to this - obviously inspired - rendition. Of course, they only do the first part of the song, the rocking one, but surely Peter shoulda been pleased with the way they do it; very true to the original version, but with even more energy. Buckingham really lets go on that one, particularly during the breakneck section, and what's more important, the song is very close in spirit to some of the man's own bluesy passages he occasionally throws on.
As for the original material... well, like I said, the track selection could have been better, but apart from a particularly quiet and even hoarse Stevie on 'Landslide', I see no real problems anyway. Christine only gets three numbers (plus an okayish soundcheck recording of 'Don't Stop'), which is understandable because she's not the main star of the show. 'Dreams', 'Sara', and particularly 'Rhiannon' are all highlights.
But Lindsey is still the number one guy. He transforms 'Not That Funny' into a lengthy jam showcasing the skills of both himself and the rhythm section (this here version lacks a drum solo, though, which Mick always used to have for this number - maybe for the better, as it really only works when you see Mick pulling all those scary faces while crashing on his cymbals); slows down the tempo of 'Never Going Back Again' so that the audience can feel and live every single one of his notes'; adds a burning, Neil Young-style distortion to the electric guitar parts on 'Go Your Own Way', pushing the energy level twentyfold; and finally, delivers a trademark "best guitar solo of all time" on his main showcase, 'I'm So Afraid'. My personal opinion is that the Mirage tour video solo is even better, but that's no reason not to hear this one. Dave Gilmour can suck my left toe; this is the definition of "supreme emotional explosion". I've always found it kinda quirky that in among all those happy pop numbers Buckingham would insert a song so gloomy, so depressing, so totally pessimistic and pitchdark that the Cure sound like Beethoven's 9th in comparison to it, but hey, even if it is merely showbiz, it's the highest class in show-biz there ever was. No rock lover has any excuse not to hear this version, or at least any live version of 'I'm So Afraid'. Hear that?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
I'd say 'less imaginative'. Also 'less substantial'. Also 'more commercial'. But I like it!
Best song: GYPSY
Track listing: 1) Love In Store; 2) Can't Go Back; 3) That's Alright; 4) Book Of Love; 5) Gypsy; 6) Only Over You; 7) Empire State; 8) Straight Back; 9) Hold Me; 10) Oh Diane; 11) Eyes Of The World; 12) Wish You Were Here.
Ugh. Correcting old mistakes and making new ones. After an almost three-year pause the band returns with yet another bestseller, both 'better' and 'worse' than its predecessor. The good thing is that it's single: apparently Lindsey and company realised that, as happy, boppy and popular the numbers on Tusk could be, people just couldn't take that many of them. In order to render the album more commercially appealing, however, they've also eliminated any traces of experimentation or originality: Buckingham no longer pretends to be influenced by the Clash, and this is sad, as his imitations of the Clash were more interesting than the Clash itself (no offense, bro'r). And the girls... well, the girls just mine the already well-mined. The overall sound is nice, but it sure gets modernized: there are more synths than earlier, and even though there are no drum machines (guess Master Mick would get disappointed at that perspective at such an early stage) and there ain't no Phil Collins to produce this record for miles around, it still slightly reeks of the early Eighties' banality, even if on some tracks they push for a nostalgic, early-Fifties sound. Which makes the record sound not exactly as inspired as the earlier material.
But we can't always be that inspired, can we? After all, we have enough songwriting talent to churn out a good number even without divine inspiration, and there are enough good songs to guarantee your pleasure. Buckingham is the leader, as usual, and he contributes the most 'serious' stuff: 'Empire State' is a bizarre, funky chug-a-lug 'bout the Big Apple, and he even goes for a sorta, er, uh, anthemic sound on 'Eyes Of The World' that begins as almost a call to arms and ends in a furious guitar solo. I must say, though, that after seeing the frantic, wild-beyond-imagination live version of the song on the Mirage Tour video, I became kinda disappointed in the studio version... which is not to say the song is bad by any means, just a bit feebly arranged.
Lindsey also unexpectedly gets retrospectively mellow on 'Oh Diane', a jolly little ballad in his early 'Monday Morning' style with charming 'oh-oh's a la Elvis. Short, almost destined for Top of the Pops, but never got there, well, it was too late for retro pop balladeering in 1982, I guess. Only 'Book Of Love', another nostalgic, simplistic ballad, seems somewhat embarrassing to me: did he really think these 'wow-wow-wow-wow' refrains are tasteful? Oh, okay, maybe they are; I think the song is kinda stupid, but it's so generic that by accusing it I'd be accusing the whole genre. Forget it. I'd say his best on here is 'Can't Go Back', a fast, melodic Beatlesque ballad that, for me, stands out primarily because of the vocal harmonies. It boasts the prettiest acoustic licks on record and it's more emotional than anything else Lindsey sings on here. Then again, who knows? If two songs are good, how can you say which of the two is better?
Neither Nicks nor Christine McVie don't get too much chances to shine on here, but at least of one thing I can be totally sure: each one contributes at least one superior number. If this doesn't surprise you, please remember that they hadn't had a 'superior' number for five years already. Nicks, in particular, goes again with her fast-paced, mystically-tinged ballads (the countryish 'That's Alright'; 'Straight Back') that aren't particularly interesting since you heard all that before, but 'That's Alright' eventually establishes a couple hooks of its own, with a weirdo combination of mysticism placed over a fairly straightforward country-rock melody. But I'll hardly ever acknowledge the merits of 'Straight Back' - sounds like an inferior rewrite of 'Sisters Of The Moon', 's all.
However, there's also 'Gypsy'! Hey, there's 'Gypsy'! It's better than the Moody Blues' classic of the same name! (Well, that's subjective - remember what I said above about two good songs - but that was just meant to give you an idea of the song's greatness). 'Gypsy' got to be one of Stevie's best ever, right there together with 'Dreams' and 'Rhiannon'. Her vocal part here is absolutely, undeniably stunning, showing that not only she hadn't forgotten how to exploit her voice's potential since 'Sara', but she even managed to improve it. Say what you will, but no white female singer sang like that in 1982. It breaks me into tears each time I hear it, and Lindsey's wonderful ring-ring-ringing guitar solo towards the end of the song only sharpens the feelings. God, is it ever beautiful.
Finally, Christine doesn't surprise us much on here - her inscrutable, non-stop brain power machine churns out one immaculate, glossy, shining pop love ballad after another, and there's been no progress at all, but no regress either. 'Love In Store', 'Hold Me', 'Only Over You', all of these are good and hook the listener on, say, the second listen. Or was it third? Maybe fourth will do. Of course, Chris doesn't even try to mask the fact that this is mass production rather than anything seriously thought over. Not so, however, with one true chef-d'aeuvre of hers that's tackled onto the end of the record. 'Wish You Were Here' (no, not to be confounded with the Pink Floyd number; actually, this one's better) is a luxuriant, almost tear-inducing ballad sung with the highest degree of emotion that could be squeezed out of McVie, and it's all the more surprising considering that for quite a long time all she's been capable of were mostly happy romantic ditties. Wish you really were here, Chris, and wrote more songs like this.
On the down side, the album leaves a subtaste of disappointment. For me, and presumably for most of the record buying public in 1982, this is the ultimate evidence of lack of progression: while Tusk was too confused, long and cluttered to make any final decisions, this is final proof that they'd already reached their peak with Rumours and were unable to superate it. They didn't even try, and this was their last effort in five years - during which quite a lot of changes happened in the world in general and in popular music in particular. Still, there's no denying that 'Wish You Were Here', 'Gypsy', and 'Eyes Of The World' are timeless pop classics, and since none of the other songs are bad, I don't see what prevents me from smiling a big, uncompromised GRIN. This is one happy album. Too happy, perchance?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Moving towards pablum at lightning speed, hanging dangerously on the brink, but some of the songs are still nice.
Best song: TANGO IN THE NIGHT
Track listing: 1) Big Love; 2) Seven Wonders; 3) Everywhere; 4) Caroline; 5) Tango In The Night; 6) Mystified; 7) Little Lies; 8) Family Man; 9) Welcome To The Room Sara; 10) Isn't It Midnight; 11) When I See You Again; 12) You And I Part II.
Not the kind of stuff that I could be particularly fond of. Where Tusk was bizarrely experimental and Mirage ridiculously nostalgic, Tango In The Night makes a return to the stylistics of Rumours in that it sounds almost painfully 'modern mainstreamish'. There's one significant difference, though. In 1977 the band pretty much defined and directed the mainstream: Rumours benefited from all the then current technology and production advances, but it was a breakthrough, of sorts, with Lindsey throwing in a completely new type of guitar-dominated mainstream pop and the girls demonstrating the importance of emotional and individual vocal harmonies, reinstating the role of vocalist after the disco craze. Tango In The Night does not define the mainstream - it follows it.
What you get here is mostly flawless, but soulless Eighties production with hi-tech synths all over the place (did Chris really play all that stuff?) and electronic drums overshadowing the trusty rhythm section. Also, the songs aren't as good as before. Sure, they did manage to fit in with the times: the album was a megahit one, probably their biggest seller since Rumours, and the songs, especially McVie's love stuff like 'Everywhere', were all over the radio. If this was their main goal, they succeeded admirably. Unfortunately, nothing on here is terribly interesting. What I like the band for is Lindsey's groovy pseudo-rock'n'roll style, McVie's amazing hooks and Nicks' eerie voice: it was these three factors that mattered in the first place, giving the band a real solid basis on which to build up. And there are but a few weak traces of the band's glorious past on Tango. CORPORATE GREED ATE UP YET ANOTHER GOOD BAND. What times we're living in?
Anyway, guess I have to state my point. Okay, here goes: my point is that the album is entirely dominated by Christine McVie. No, I don't want to say that she's got the greatest number of songs on here: she's credited for four songs out of twelve while Lindsey still gets five. But to me, it's obvious that these numbers were destined to be the highlights of the album, and indeed, 'Everywhere' and 'Little Lies' were big hits. Not that this is a problem by itself: she used to be a good songwriter. Not any longer. If anybody made that little treacherous step on the album, it's Christine McVie. 'Everywhere' is the worst of the lot, a bland, ultra-sweet hymn that almost eschews melody (and certainly eschews an original one) in favour of the sickeningly saccharine refrain ('oooh-iiiii... I want to be with you everywhere': didn't you get sick of the line twelve years ago?), and 'Isn't It Midnight' is a banal disco offender that sacrifices Chris' identity in favour of being acceptable for disc jockeys. Same goes for 'Little Lies': the song may be more interesting cuz it has a superb harmony arrangement, but it sounds as if it was written by a well-oiled robot. Perhaps the only reminder of the good old gentle Chris is 'Mystified', a sad, but warm and touching ballad that does showcase the old girl's vocal chords, and the overall harmonies are some of their best up to date. Still, one number is certainly not enough to redeem Christine.
The biggest blow, though, comes from Lindsey's decline into brainless pop machinery as well. No, not overall. He contributes what is by far the best song on the album, the dark, growlish title track that has nothing to do with tango (it's disco, actually) and is distinguished by a ferocious Gilmourish guitar solo. But this is where the rub really lies. What I liked so much about Buckingham was his guitar playing - be it the twisty and tasty acoustic picking of 'Never Going Back Again' or the almost ridiculously 'clumsy' and totally unique garage-rock strumming of 'The Ledge'. There is practically no audible guitar on the album, except for separate bits and pieces, and when you do get to hear the guitar, it's mostly the modernized trite metallic chords and 'climactic' solos, like the ones that are played on 'Isn't It Midnight'. Thus, Buckingham's distinctive sound is gone: the only song where you can still suspect him of guitar-loving is the paranoid rhythm of 'Big Love' that opens the album. If not for the out-of-place call-and-answer sighs and gasps from Lindsey and Nicks, this could have been a minor chef-d'oeuvre; as it is, these 'ah! - ah! - ah!' spoil it for me. But, just so as he could successfully disclaim his past, Lindsey hits the dirtiest bottom with 'A Family Man', a complete waste of tape that, besides exposing what I deem to be the worst Fleetwood Mac lyrics of all time ('I am what I am, a family man/Mother... Father... Brother...'), also has the ugliest 'inter-singing' I could ever hope to hear on a presumably good record. The gentle guitar plucking in between the verses tries to rectify the mistake and convince us of the hidden potential of the song, but don't let it fool you: this is just a mask. And 'Caroline' and 'You And I Part II' are just meaningless filler for me: never before had Lindsey taken so little time and spent so little effort to work on any of his numbers.
So the honour of 'raising some steam' falls to Nicks; with 'Seven Wonders' she manages to reinstate my faith in the world, making it her last memorable 'ferocious' workout in the band. However, 'Welcome To The Room... Sara', though still sung with decency, is spoilt by the noticeable lack of anything resembling a melody, and 'When I See You Again' is an even lower point for the band than 'Everywhere' or 'Family Man': Nicks croaking? Lord! She sounds like a dying dog! This probably means that her voice really was starting to deteriorate, so she couldn't handle gentle, quiet vocals without giving the effect that sends the nasty kind of shivers down your back. That's the trouble with voices, you know: don't put too much in your voice, it's sure to let you down some day.
Actually, this is the last of the 'classic' releases: Lindsey quit the band soon afterwards, since his relations with Stevie reached the boiling point, and the others weren't getting together very well as well. Even diehard fans usually leave the story at this point, some of them never to return, some to return briefly in 1997 for their reunion album, because what is Fleetwood Mac without Buckingham? Of course, not many people remember that the first eight years of Fleetwood Mac passed without any Lindsey in sight, but who cares?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Harmless pop with enough elements of diversity and creativity to guarantee it a worthy place in the catalog.
Best song: SAVE ME
Track listing: 1) Skies The Limit; 2) Love Is Dangerous; 3) In The Back Of My Mind; 4) Do You Know; 5) Save Me; 6) Affairs Of The Heart; 7) When The Sun Goes Down; 8) Behind The Mask; 9) Stand On The Rock; 10) Hard Feelings; 11) Freedom; 12) When It Comes To Love; 13) The Second Time.
Underrated as hell. Indeed, for a long time I was wondering whether purchasing anything from the post-Buckingham output would be a good investment of my money, just because it's hard to find even one positive review of this album on the Web. Reviewers are crazy people, man! Out of all the 'dinosaur' output in 1990, this album is probably the most enjoyable. So Lindsey is gone. So what? Oh, yeah, I forgot to remind myself that for the ordinary Mac fan the band usually begins in 1975, the previous eight years of its existence being a trivial footnote. In this case, I won't argue: the departure of Lindsey really changed the band's sound, and those who aren't curious enough to peep behind the curtains of 1975-87 need not worry. But for me, Behind The Mask manages to be valuable even without Buckingham's contributions. One reason is that they decided to get rid of the stupid modernistic trends they'd started to display on Tango, going back to a more 'traditional' sound (except for the 'psychedelic' intro to 'In The Back Of My Mind', you won't really guess that the album was recorded in the Nineties). Yet it ain't the almost defiantly 'retro' sound of Mirage either: what it really reminds me of is the innocent tuneful Fleetwood Mac of Mystery To Me. Which means that there are no 'giant hooks' on the record, and the songs probably aren't as catchy or even inspired as you'd like 'em to be; yet practically none of the songs are bad, and the album's overall pleasantness grows on you after each new listen. Which probably was the reason why the album did manage to reach # 1 in the UK, after all.
Since Lindsey was replaced by two guys at once (Billy Burnette, vocals (predominantly) and guitar (occasionally), and Rick Vito, vocals (occasionally) and guitar (predominantly)), there's quite a bit of a lot of a collaboration on the album, and it doesn't fall that easily into the by now usual three categories. Stevie is still quite prominent, and her songs aren't bad, even if she is trying to depart from her successful formula by employing a more 'mainstream' pop sound and, worse still, concealing her voice's potential: she gets raunchy on 'Love Is Dangerous', but just about patches it up on the acoustic, gentle 'The Second Time'. However, the major star on the album is Chris - with Lindsey gone, she's naturally becoming the band's main songwriter, and, curiously enough, this is not so bad as one could have imagined after listening to 'Everywhere'. With modern production values in the trashbin, she mainly concentrates on writing happy guitar-and-pian-based love songs again, and while her title track on this album leaves a lot to be desired, 'Skies The Limit' and especially 'Save Me' are catchy without sounding grossly banal, and even the lyrics have somewhat improved without being dominated by well-worn cliches.
One should also notice the talents of the Burnette/Vico pair - after all, they do contribute about half of the songs on the album, and even if they would sound completely out of place on a Buckingham album, they're still Fleetwood Macish in that one never knows where these guys are gonna turn the next minute. Like, you know, there's a lengthy seven-minute chant reeking of serious prog ('In The Back Of My Mind', with a stupid noisy synthesized intro and a terrific chorus), a little bit of Spencer-ish rockabilly ('When The Sun Goes Down') and an angry, though somewhat pedestrian, rocker ('Stand On The Rock'). A couple of numbers do make me feel uneasy (the generic popster 'Hard Feelings'), but overall these two dudes make a decent contribution to the band. I'm not saying they're the equivalent of Lindsey, but at least they didn't allow the band to move further in the direction they'd taken on Tango. Of course, nobody knows much about the album anyway, which is a bloody mistake - indeed, I highly recommend it. Indeed. And Vito can play a mean guitar, too: he's no slouch, b'lieve me.
To this I'd like to add that I have an updated version of the album which also incorporates four songs taken from their retrospective boxset The Chain that came out two years later. A couple of them should have probably stayed unreleased (the clumsy 'Paper Doll' sung by Nicks in one of her worst intonations; the palpable 'Heart Of Stone'), but two are great. Christine's 'Love Shines' is nothing short from a gorgeous, blistering pop single - if only your average female love song could sound thus catchy and attractive, maybe we wouldn't clench our teeth at MTV so much; and Buckingham's contribution 'Make Me A Mask' is a surprisingly moody, tragic-sounding kind of song we'd be least expecting from such a seemingly pop-happy guy as Lindsey (then again, he did write 'The Chain', didn't he?) If this edition of mine is available somewhere, don't hesitate to grab it; otherwise... well, anyway, 'Love Shines' is a must for any Fleetwood Mac collection.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6
Again, harmless pop, but the songwriting seems to have gone through the drain and down the poop.
Best song: HOLLYWOOD (SOME OTHER KIND OF TOWN)
Track listing: 1) Talkin' To My Heart; 2) Hollywood (Some Other Kind Of Town); 3) Blow By Blow; 4) Winds Of Change; 5) I Do; 6) Nothing Without You; 7) Dreamin' The Dream; 8) Sooner Or Later; 9) I Wonder Why; 10) Nights In Estoril; 11) I Got It In For You; 12) All Over Again; 13) These Strange Times.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Why they didn't call it quits after Nicks left the band is way, way beyond me. This five-year break between records and the loss of yet another significant songwriter proved to be the band's death sentence. This album, on which the band is augmented by Dave Mason (ex-Traffic) and Bekka Bramlett, daughter of the late Delaney Bramlett, has about the same entertaining value as a dead clown and about the same amount of energy as a spent Duracell. Indeed, while none of the songs on here can be stamped as horrendous - the band members were too smart for that - almost none of them goes beyond primitive, as well. Enduring this hour-long record in its entirety is only possible if you're busy doing something else, because these songs do not need to be listened to to be 'appreciated' or anything.
They do seem to push the nostalgia trend even further forwards - the instrumentation is minimal, and you'd never guess the album is a product of the Nineties: Fleetwood takes it completely to normal, tasty drumwork again, there's quite a lot of acoustic and electric guitars throughout, and keyboards/synths play a minimal part. That's why I insist the album isn't offensive in the least - at times, it's even vaguely pleasant. But the songs are totally rotten. One by one, we get presented with almost the same minimalistic and, let's face it, already over-exploited chord pattern. With a few exceptions, the songs are all mid-tempo; the album never picks up steam, nor does it become moody - there's nothing to grab your attention like 'In The Back Of My Mind' or 'When The Sun Goes Down' from the last record. And the lyrics are practically all straightahead love songs. It almost seems as if they did not care in the least about the record - what it painfully lacks is a style or a sense of direction. Or some hooks! Gimme some hooks!
Just like on the previous record, there's quite a lot of collaboration, but this usually leads nowhere. First of all, Bekka Bramlett is a total good-for-nothing - if they really thought she could make a good substitute for Nicks, this only demonstrates how much Mick and John cared for the band at the time. Her only composition on the album is a weak acoustic ballad ('Dreamin' The Dream') that sounds forced and tired, and her vocals might be pretty, but there's just nothing exceptional about them. Dave Mason is the kind of guy I never really cared for, but it seems that over the years he's simply gone off the deep end, metamorphosing from a one-time emulation of Brian Jones to a half-witted popster. Out of his two songs on the album, 'Blow By Blow' is probably the most memorable, but it's so pedestrian and derivative that it wouldn't even be fit for Traffic. I could write a better song in about five minutes time, tho' I ain't no musician - in fact, I think I already did. Never mind - you can probably do it as well.
Leaving Billy Burnette aside (his contributions are even more forgettable), I tried to concentrate myself on Chris McVie: after all, she was the only professional songwriter left in the band, and all my hopes were drawn in that direction. Lord, what a terrible disappointment I had. After 'Save Me' and 'Love Shines' I really convinced myself that not all was lost and the old girl would still manage to pull the band through. She didn't. All right, 'Hollywood (Some Other Kind Of Town)' is a good one, a jolly pop number with the same kind of hook that used to grapple you in ancient times. The refrain, with its tight vocal harmonies, is simply superb, and the song is thus probably their last all-time classic. But the other numbers are mostly the same watered-down mellow stuff that McVie had begun to plague the band's albums with since Tango: slick, commercial and going nowhere. Neither 'I Do', nor 'Nights In Estoril' manage to catch my attention or win my praise, and this leads me to the sad conclusion that 'Hollywood' was written by accident. Or maybe stolen? Yeah, that's it! You tell me where it is stolen from!
Of course, it's useless to blame the band for releasing this weak album with penguins on the cover. The problem with Fleetwood Mac was always in that it lacked songwriters: backing musicians formed its basis while songwriters came and went, and in a certain sense this was pure lottery. They won the lottery with Kirwan, Buckingham and Nicks; they lost it with Welch, Weston and Burnette. Will they ever win again? Hardly. Good songwriters are terribly expensive nowadays. Oh, by the way: the album also features a first in Mick Fleetwood's first composition. It's called 'These Strange Times', runs for about seven minutes and is a perfect candidate for the title of worst Fleetwood Mac song I ever heard in my life. Mick can't even sing: he recites his nostalgic lines as a poem, while in the background the band plays some dull instrumentation, supposedly 'progressive'. Blech. Thanks Krishna that Mick Fleetwood never thought of composing a song for the first twenty-five years of the band's existence. Good night, all.
P.S. That is, if you do not count 'Fighting For Madge'. Good night again.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A magnificent reunion album - apart from the hits and wounds of time, you won't find anything that lets this down.
Best song: I'M SO AFRAID
Track listing: 1) The Chain; 2) Dreams; 3) Everywhere; 4) Rhiannon; 5) I'm So Afraid; 6) Temporary One; 7) Bleed To Love Her; 8) Big Love; 9) Landslide; 10) Say You Love Me; 11) My Little Demon; 12) Silver Springs; 13) You Make Loving Fun; 14) Sweet Girl; 15) Go Your Own Way; 16) Tusk; 17) Don't Stop.
A reunion! Okay, so seasoned experts might have expected this - after all, Lindsey was bound to get back into the band as soon as he ran out of cash. Tango In The Night provided him with enough dough to last ten years on his own, but nothing's eternal, you gotta understand that. However, for amateurs this was certainly one big surprise, and this contributed to the album's popularity. Oh, and sales, of course.
So, it's evident I was somewhat sceptical about this one at first - after all, why shouldn't I? But, seeing as to the fact that it was a live album with next to no new material, I decided to give it a try anyway. And, well, all I can say is that this is one of the most stunning comebacks ever, and I do mean ever. Of course, there's a bit of a cheat here: this live album is mostly comprised of older material, so the problem is actually reduced to whether they're gonna sound good in their newer renditions of trusty classics or not. There are four new compositions, too, and they're not bad, but God only knows how a whole album comprised of this stuff could have sounded - a new Time, mayhaps? Whatever. Anyway, there are no 'ifs' in this world: what you're presented with is a superb live album, diverse enough to make it a valuable acquisition in its own right and professional enough to convince you that the band still got enough potential after all those years.
Any complaints? Well, what album goes without complaints? Stevie hits us with all the might of her spent voice, and, while there are no signs of 'croaking' like on Tango, due to her drug cure, that's small consolation: 'Dreams' and 'Rhiannon' are just feeble shadows of what once was. Still, there's a positive side: it's just curious to hear Nicks trying to adjust these songs to her new singing style which results in a certain shift of atmosphere, if you know what I mean. If you don't, you'll just have to buy the album 'cause this is one thing I can't explain.
Also, the song selection is not enough to satisfy me, even if the track listing was certainly seriously worked upon in order to please the casual fan. Personally, I could have easily done without 'Silver Springs'. Yeah, I know that this is probably the most controversial Mac number, a song that Nicks loved so much that it made her suffer two personal traumas, first, when it was not included on Rumours, being relegated to the B-side of 'Go Your Own Way', second, when Fleetwood did not permit her to use it on her own hits collection (or boxset, whatever). But to my own ears, the song does not deserve this fame - it's just one of Stevie's least successful mystical ravings. Even 'Sisters Of The Moon' would have been welcome instead of this. I also don't particularly appreciate 'Landslide'. And, well, the newer material still doesn't hold a candle to the 'originals'. Christine's 'Temporary One' is a solid love song, quite in her vein and better than most of the stuff on Time, at least, and Lindsey's 'My Little Demon' is verrry funny (together with the opening 'demon' noises), but 'Bleed To Love Her' is very pedestrian, and certainly not in Buckingham's style at all. If it is, I can see as to why most of his solo efforts were flops. And Nicks' 'Sweet Girl' is completely forgettable, too. Pity, that: this leaves little hope in that they'll actually deliver a solid studio album anytime soon.
Yup, but the album is seventy-nine minutes long, and these complaints get lost in a sea of praise. What's much more important than anything else is that, apart from being a great songwriting band, Fleetwood Mac were a superb live band - tasteful, diverse and energetic. The rhythm section is simply incredible, propelling every second song to a breathtaking, kickbutt groove; and Lindsey is king just as he was in the band's glory days. Not only does he demonstrate that his ample talents as a guitar player only grow stronger with time, he manages to breathe an entirely new life into quite a few of his own and his colleagues' compositions. Thus, it wasn't until I started listening to Dance that 'I'm So Afraid' which I once almost overlooked on the Fleetwood Mac album (and hadn't yet the chance to hear on the Live album), suddenly jumped out at me as one of the greatest songs by the band - a dark, painful ode to fear and the sense of defenselessness before life and its dangers, immediately evoking memories of Lennon's 'Scared' to mind. Of course, Lindsey's lyrics can't even hope to beat John, but he compensates with his soulful, strained singing and such a gorgeous, throttle-guitar solo (funnily enough, loosely based on the more chaotic solo on Live) that you can't help but wonder why nobody ever mentions Buckingham in the number of best guitarists on Earth. The guy is indeed a wonder. Goes without saying that his guitarwork on 'Go Your Own Way' and 'Big Love' (here far superior to the original, without the stupid disco beats and almost without Buckingham's grunts on the way, albeit a little bit less involving than the one on Live) is not less impressive.
And Christine? She is immaculate as usual. While she never claimed to have an extraordinary voice, this helps her not to be let down thirty years after the start of her career, because you simply couldn't tell by her delivery on 'Say You Love Me' or the infamous 'Everywhere' how many years have passed since their original release. The old girl really is the most constant member of the band - in all senses of the word; she is not only a veteran, having worked with the band since 1968, but she's also the one who's never changed neither her style nor her attitude. Three cheers, everybody.
And if this is not enough to convince you, there are quite a few surprises on the album. There's a great version of 'Tusk', for instance, where the band is joined by the USC Marching Band, just like in the good old times. Whether it was a good idea for these guys to stay on stage for the closing 'Don't Stop', I'm not as sure, but they certainly don't spoil it. There's some funny stage banter. There are some jokes. There's a good feeling in general. What else do you need? Let us just hope that they won't profanate the band's moniker again by releasing an inferior studio album. So go out and give the guys some cash to just keep them happy.
P.S. I'm a dunce. I've listened to this album about a zillion more times and I must say frankly and simply: every single tune on here rules, including the re-arranged ones and new ones. 'Bleed To Love Her' is a magnificent love ballad, 'Sweet Girl' rocks as much as anything else Nicks ever wrote, and 'My Little Demon' has some of the most invigorating guitar playing on the album. My only complaint now is that they renounced the idea of a double album and thus left off the fantastic live renditions of 'Gold Dust Woman' and Lindsey's solo 'Go Insane' (see the video review below for these ones). And I've even come to appreciate 'Silver Springs', although I still don't believe that it really represents Stevie at her best. I keep the rating because no way this album could be the equal of Rumours, but I urge every Mac lover to get it, get it and get it. If you're afraid of 'oldies acts', overcome your fear.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2003
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Okay. I will.
Best song: MURROW TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE
Track listing: 1) What's The World Coming To; 2) Murrow Turning Over In His Grave; 3) Illume (9-11); 4) Thrown Down; 5) Miranda; 6) Red Rover; 7) Say You Will; 8) Peacekeeper; 9) Come; 10) Smile At You; 11) Running Through The Garden; 12) Silver Girl; 13) Steal Your Heart Away; 14) Bleed To Love Her; 15) Everybody Finds Out; 16) Destiny Rules; 17) Say Goodbye; 18) Goodbye Baby.
Supercool album cover (Nicks has this quirky talent of making herself look ten times as stylish on front sleeve pictures than she is in real life, and she is pretty stylish in real life). Apparently, this album went all the way up to # 3 on the Billboard charts - meaning the world still remembers and is still prepared to forgive, but not forget. That said, the overall response to the first "true" new Mac album in, what, 16 years has been fairly mixed, and for obvious reasons. Here's just a few.
a) No more Christine "Perfect" McVie for these guys. She is still providing backing vocals on two of the tunes, but otherwise has packed the bags in much the same fashion as Bill Wyman earlier had it with the Stones, with gloomy hints at the collective energy being spent and "time to call it a day" and other blah blah blah that modern day Mac haters like to quote when explaining how much this record sucks. And certainly, while Fleetwood Mac are the Mac as long as they have both Fleetwood and Mac, Christine, one of the world's finest no-bull pop songwriters, will be missed.
b) Many of these songs - most, I guess - weren't even intended to be on a Fleetwood Mac album. A fourth Buckingham solo record was rumoured to be in the works for almost a decade, and Stevie likewise was working on her own projects. Somehow, at some juncture, though, most probably while touring or helping each other out in the studio, the two solo projects converged into one. This is the main reason for the album being so long: Say You Will is, in fact, two short solo records spliced into one like two decks of cards. This even results in amusing overlaps - such as the two final songs, Lindsey's being called 'Say Goodbye' and Stevie's named 'Goodbye Baby', as if the second was her direct response to the first.
c) Finally, there's the creative factor. Too many songs, and this is almost equally true for Stevie and Lindsay, seem to be inferior rewrites or, at best, imitations of previously explored styles. There's no real venturing outside the gates, it's just a bunch of tunes which are trying very, very, very, very hard to be Fleetwood Mac. And they are, but geez, do they have to try that hard?... Just how many different takes on 'Gypsy' or 'I'm So Afraid' does the world really need?
And it's all reasonable. It's just a case where I don't want to listen to the voice of reason - I'm having too much fun enjoying the music. It sometimes seems to me that so much time has passed since Fleetwood Mac were last spotted as a significant presence on the musical scene that most people have simply forgotten what the Buckingham-Nicks version of that band was all about in the first place. Well then may I be so bold as to remind: Fleetwood Mac were a pop band writing pop tunes - but with a refined, exquisite, personal, intimate, and occasionally mildly experimental touch. Now Say You Will is an album of pop tunes, most of which are refined, exquisite, personal, intimate, and occasionally mildly experimental. What exactly did I miss, then?
Nothing. Say You Will is this band's best album since at least Tusk, and maybe even Rumours. So there's maybe like a couple slightly inferior Nicks tunes (although I can honestly say that there isn't one truly bad song on the entire record) - big deal, considering it's just two out of eighteen. And yes, I miss Christine McVie, but somehow the dynamic Californian duo, probably realising that with their resident piano player departed they have extra responsibilities to assume, are able to compensate for that by being alternately gloomy, depressed, and shiny happy. More than that - they get a great balance between these extremes. If you ever felt a bit odd about the paranoid nightmarish vibe of 'I'm So Afraid' sitting so close to the saccharine Prozac vibe of 'Say You Love Me', Say You Will guarantees no such discrepancy over its sprawling seventy five minutes.
There are two real weaknesses to the album, both of them overcomable. First, it is a bit too "technophilic" for my tastes. Oh no, nothing like the confused days of Tango In The Night when the band's idea of "sonic advance" was to dive into the hi-tech synth world. But they're a bit too heavy on the production. Maybe it's all a simple trick to disguise the age-related problems with their voices - especially actual for Stevie, of course, who was obviously straining on a lot of The Dance material and could have decided to use the studio as personal barrier shield. Maybe not, though. But the fact remains that there's just too many overdubs, too much echo on the guitars, too much rebound on the vocals, and not necessarily on the more experimental numbers. The bad news is that this gives the album a rather monotonous sheen. The songs are, indeed, quite different in style, but the production sometimes stifles potential.
Second, well, it's okay if Nicks keeps on rewriting 'Gypsy', that's her goddamn schtick. You can't blame her for doing it any more than you can blame the Young brothers for recycling their old riffs. But Buckingham's behaviour is weirder. It's as if he actually took the time to read what people thought of his playing on The Dance and said to himself, 'Hmm, looks like they really dig the crazyass soloing on 'I'm So Afraid' and the thumb-on-the-bass acoustic picking style on 'Big Love'. Well, that's it then, I'm gonna be big on it!' So there's plenty of times on Say You Will where you'll be going like 'hey, wait a minute, wasn't he just playing the 'I'm So Afraid' solo?' or 'okay, not another 'Big Love', Lindsay, we know you're God on the acoustic already'. I know I've said that, so "say you will" as well. But even so I never said that in an annoyed or angered manner. Curious, maybe, puzzled a little, but still happy.
Now all this might sound as if I were being too "forgiving", coming up with lame, hardly working excuses to justify a big fat rating for a miserable record from a bunch of has-beens. Uh-uh. All these songs rule. They may be nostalgic on the surface, but they are cleverly integrating nostalgia with new ideas and sounds. They got melodies, they got moods, they got energy, they got meaning, they got style. They got the trusty old rhythm section, too, which might have been threatened by the hi-tech onslaught in the late Eighties, but which shines through perfectly even on the most "machine-oriented" numbers on the album. Well, they did drag in drum machines, I think, but they only use them sparingly, mostly on tiny bits of selected songs, later to be replaced by the full band sound.
There's no misleading. The record opens with the familiar punch-thwack-punch courtesy of Ol' Man Mick, and in less than a few seconds Lindsay's vocals are already over the place. Sound familiar? They used the same "no intro, straight to business" approach on both the 1975 and the 1977 albums, and this is as clear a message as any: the Mac is back. And what a great song, too. The only reason they never put it out as a single, I think, is that its clearly and precisely stated liberal agenda might have pissed off potential Republican buyers. Then again, what the heck am I talking about - no sane Republican will ever buy a Fleetwood Mac record, not since the 'Don't Stop' campaign, at least.
Well, anyway, welcome to the "I have openly declared my political creed in the 21st century" club, gentlemen. Actually, the first three songs are all politically bent - sort of a personal record for the Mac, who until now would have probably liked to speak up for the common man, but were a bit too busy figuring out who was sleeping with whom to focus on much of anything else. 'What's The World Coming To' is the simplest and most direct of the three, structured as a straightahead folk-pop song and featuring the quintessential Mac magic (I have no idea what has driven that chorus so deep in my head and have pretty little chance of ever finding it out).
Then there's the Buckingham extravaganza 'Murrow Turning Over In His Grave' - cleverly hidden behind the accessible opener, it probably never hurt the sales, but has caused many an Amazon.com reviewer (yeah, I still read these things, I should have gone into sociology) to experience the "what the fuck is this shit?" reaction. Me, however, likes me some weird shit from Buckingham, because this guy sure knows when to break out weird shit and when to stay quiet. This song is about... well, if you know who Ed Murrow is (I honestly didn't - so sue me, I never claimed to be an expert on the history of American mass media - I do know now, however), you probably get what the song is about. (And no, it has nothing to do with the paparazzi phenomenon). And this is one instance where all the elements of the technological coating given to it by Lindsay fall perfectly in place, and I don't even mind the 'I'm So Afraid' factor because it's so phenomenally dazzling.
The third song isn't exactly political - it's Stevie's ruminations on the national tragedy, specially subtitled '9-11' so you won't get the message wrong. It's not the album's strong link, but I don't even think of it as a song all that much, more like a warped requiem of sorts. The important thing is that it does capture a certain special mood - maybe it runs along with it for too long, but as a tribute, it's done elegantly and in a completely non-cliched way, and that's what counts. (I had a similar reaction to a couple songs on Bruce's The Rising, for that matter).
Going along on a song-by-song basis could get me well through the night, so I'll try and be brief about some of the rest. The radio-played singles off the album are, from a pure musical standpoint, among the least interesting tracks (which is not to say they aren't perfectly well written pop songs in their own right). Oh where are those days when the band could allow itself to put out 'Tusk' as a single? Today, in order to get those top spots, they have to contend themselves with 'Peacekeeper', a decent, moderately catchy, moderately dreamy popper which, however, manages to be almost completely ruined by a dreadful, HORRENDOUS kazoo-produced "pa papapa pa paaa!" on the chorus, the cheapest of cheap tricks, clearly designed to make supermarket customers lift up their heads and go "uh? wazzat?". The title track is somewhat better (no kazoo!) - it's a conscious attempt on Stevie's part to write something in Christine's lively style, and the final result is interesting in that it still retains a layer of Stevie's melancholy but tries to be happy on the surface.
Lindsay's other highlights include the 'Big Love'-style folksy 'Red Rover' (six minutes of fussy folky picking and trippy vocal harmonies), the eminently danceable, Eastern-tinged 'Miranda', and the two straightahead catchy poppers 'Steal Your Heart Away' and 'Bleed To Love Her' (a new studio version of the tune already premiered on The Dance). I don't like the semi-acoustic, semi-balls-out psycho metal screecher 'Come' that much, but it's certainly memorable from a technical point of view at least. Stevie's other highlights include the irresistible 'Gypsy/Dreams' rewrite 'Thrown Down' (that little synth line at the end of the chorus gets me every time); 'Smile At You', heavily laced with extremely complex vocal overdubs; the frantic rocker 'Running Through The Garden', much like the furious part of 'Rhiannon' but brought over "mature control"; and another straightahead catchy popper, 'Destiny Rules'.
And finally, both of the "goodbyes" are quite sweet. Lindsey's is the expected 'Big Love'-y one, scattered and nervous as befits the character, and Stevie's is the expected stately, slow, and tender one, as befits an older, wisened up, experienced singer-songwriter.
In short, it's an older, greyer-haired, grimmer-looking Mac that still has something left to say. Kudos. And for all the "commercial" character of their music, on Say You Will there's no compromise - this is their vision and their vision only. Everything is produced by Buckingham in person (Rob Cavallo and John Shanks are listed as co-producers on some of the tracks, but everything is being done under Buckingham's supervision), everything is played by the band and no one else, and this time around, they pander to no one - if you're looking for old farts fooling around with hip-hop beats and nu-metal riffs without the slightest idea of how to use them, start looking elsewhere. This, my friend, is the Mac, no doubts about it, and I, for one, am tremendously glad the Mac is back.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
All three main songwriters of the Mac were way too smart to not have themselves solo careers of their own (and I'm not even mentioning all the other members of the Mac, starting from Green and ending with Welch). Most of their solo records sound, well, pretty much the same way the individual members' songs sound on Mac records; after all, Fleetwood Mac never was a true "melting pot". Which, of course, means that all these records can be boring and monotonous for those not individually in love with Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine, just as they can be great and exciting for seasoned Mac fans. For the moment, only McVie and Buckingham will be reviewed; I hope to get around to Nicks somewhat later in my life.
Year Of Release: 1984
Overall rating = 8
Once again - songwriting is one thing, but putting your songs in the hands of suspicious people is quite another.
Best song: THE SMILE I LIVE FOR
Track listing: 1) Love Will Show Us How; 2) The Challenge; 3) So Excited; 4) One In A Million; 5) Ask Anybody; 6) Got A Hold On Me; 7) Who's Dreaming This Dream; 8) I'm The One; 9) Keeping Secrets; 10) The Smile I Live For.
In a contemporary interview - early 1984, some time about that - I remember somebody asking Christine whether she thought it too boring to be the only songwriter on her solo album, to which she replied along the lines of 'not boring - rather self-indulgent'. Uh, come again? Let me get this straight: after more than a decade of work within one of the most popular bands of all time, she releases a solo album - and that, all by itself, is not self-indulgent. But apparently having "Christine McVie, Christine McVie" all over the credits is. Looks like pretty rotten logic to me, and to a large extent, responsible for why the album itself is so pretty rotten.
Of course, I understand where some people would probably shiver at the perspective of sitting through an entire LP of Christine's own compositions. They're all right when they're filling in the spaces between Buckingham's ambitious rockers and Stevie's mass-mysticism, but don't all of us know sugar is only healthy in limited doses? Which is not to say that "sugar" is the only thing McVie is capable of ('Oh Daddy' and a handful of other equally disturbing tunes spring to mind immediately), but it's definitely her prime specialty. So maybe there was something to the 'self-indulgence' thing, although the correct word then would be 'pity on the listener' rather than anything else.
Unfortunately, few of Christine's collaborators on the album have anything to offer in the way of pity. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the list. First, the regulars. Mr Todd Sharp - a suspiciously clean looking "child of the Eighties", playing bland, generic guitar and adding bland, generic songwriting ideas to more than half of the songs. Mr George Hawkins - an absolutely non-suspicious looking bass player who looks a little like Eric Clapton and that's about all I can say about him. Mr Steve Ferrone - professional percussionist and all-around nice guy who would later go on to become Eric Clapton's regular drummer on some of his atrocious Eighties albums. Beware of all-around nice guys, folks. They bring trouble.
The guests, then, include Mr Eric Clapton himself, contributing just one lead guitar part in his then-current Money & Cigarettes style (not the worst, far from the best); old pal Stevie Winwood, who, if my memory does not fail me, had just entered the most abysmal part of his musical career; keyboardist and soon-to-be-husband Eddy Quintela; everyone's favourite percussion man Ray Cooper, who has this weird knack for adding his inimitable touch to all kinds of otherwise completely unimpressive recording sessions; and - very very rarely - trusty bandmates Mick Fleetwood and Lindsay Buckingham. Now multiply this explosive combination by 1984, and you got yourself the exact number of chances out of one hundred that this was bound to be a disaster.
Well, all of us actually know what a generic adult contemporary album in the mid-Eighties would sound like. This is not Phil Collins-style, so it's not all air-brushed synths and drum machines and live instruments in the meager pay of electronic devices. There's guitar, and real drums, and even an occasional touch of the rock'n'roll spirit, or, rather, the twice removed cousin of the rock'n'roll spirit. But a few of the songs - such as the dreadful yawnfest 'Ask Anybody' - are choked with synths, and a few others are choked with leaden "tough guy" Eighties-hard-rock guitar, and the rest all sound the same and can only be told apart by seasoned McVie experts.
It's very hard for me to say if the actual melodies are weaker than the ones Christine wrote for all those great Mac records. When you think about them, they look sort of okay: the same kind of upbeat verse welcomes catchy chorus approach as usual. But listening to this stuff does not make me rejoice at the upbeatness, nor does it make me remember the catchiness. It may be that it's all about the flat production. The very first notes of 'Love Will Show Us How' do show indeed that it's a long, long way from Buckingham's technique - when the guitar would be loud and crisp and so close to the listener and so frickin' real. This Todd Sharp guy, he is merely playing for accompaniment. Then the chorus comes in, and it's a glossy overdubbing of several Christines, nothing else - which makes me wonder just how much exactly have I always underappreciated Lindsey/Stevie's backups on her vocals.
The other single, 'Got A Hold On Me', starts in direct and straightforward Fleetwood Mac-1975 fashion: as long as everything you have is the verse with Christine's singing and keyboard playing, it's like you're listening to a rewrite of 'Say You Love Me'. Then the chorus starts and it's General Bland time all over again, with stupid sugary vocal overdubs and equally stupid percussion chomps. I dunno, maybe I'm just led astray by Todd Sharp's name in the credits, but I really despise the arrangements, and that, in turn, leads me to despise the melodies. These choruses, they be so stupid and all. Maybe Chris wrote the verses and Todd wrote the refrains.
Predictably, almost every song that Steve Winwood adds his touch to is just as rotten. This refers to the shit-rocker 'One In A Million', where Christine and Steve trade vocals ('that kind of loving ain't easily found, if he tells you he loves you don't turn him down' - yeah right) and Todd blazes large yellow stains with his Macho Guitar Thrust; and the McVie-Winwood cowritten synth-ballad 'Ask Anybody', for which they actually had the gall to ask Mick Fleetwood to contribute the drumming (even if the song was quite obviously designed to be accompanied by a drum machine and I wouldn't even blame them for it, because, well, you don't blame the garbage can for stinking, if you pardon the comparison).
Then when you get to side two you actually start falling upon songs that Christine had no part in writing - all of them the brainchilds of Todd "Sharp" and personages with names like 'Danny Douma' and 'Alan Pasqua' (my first guess would be they were most probably recruited from nearby L.A. juvenile gangs, but apparently the liner notes say that all of this was recorded in England and Switzerland - then again, you don't really fall upon people named 'Danny Douma' in Switzerland every day, do you?). These are just complete crap and only worth mentioning for the sake of these names.
In the end, the only song on the entire album that would really be able to look even a latter day Fleetwood Mac album right in the eye is the last track, which comes as your beautiful reward after a seance of mega-disappointment. It's the only song on the album that has the lead guitar parts handled by Buckingham, not Todd, and it makes much of the difference; and it's the only song on the album that is proudly credited to 'Christine McVie' and no-one else, which makes the rest of the difference. It's also the only song which really fits the cool album sleeve because when it starts it does look like all you have there is McVie sitting on that hill and playing that piano and gazing at the sunset blah blah blah. And it's the only song that really has a memorable and somewhat impressive character - even stately, I'd say. Even the vocal harmonies are arranged with a proper sense of majesty.
Other than that, well, it's plain to see it's one of those records that had sown the seeds for the suffocating approach of Tango In The Night. I don't know if the record flopped commercially - actually, the two singles seem to have been minor radio hits at the time - but at least Chris had the good taste to refrain from further experiments in the genre, in fact, staying away from solo records entirely for a whole twenty years. So much for the underappreciated talents of Todd Sharp. But big bulging question: why the heck is Christine's publishing company called Alimony Music? Is this supposed to be veiled picking upon ex-husband John?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1983
You just need to see this - or anything else of the kind you're able to find of the band in its glory days. Indeed, I don't remember what was the last video that I'd watched for five or six times and couldn't get enough of it. Simply, the band is magnificent in action. Not only do they sound totally different from the studio, they are a great visual attraction as well. This particular video from their Los Angeles gig in 1982 doesn't boast a particularly long running time (80 minutes), but 80 minutes of Fleetwood Mac in their prime are certainly worth 3 hours of Pink Floyd past their glory days. In fact, it's worth almost anything. My only complaint is about Nicks - she sounds completely out of her voice on here; whether it's due to excessive drugs or just a headache is an unknown factor, but it doesn't save her. 'Gypsy' is all right, but 'Rhiannon' is completely ruined, and this is really bad, because, quite unlike the others, Nicks doesn't have anything but her voice to attract the public - if you don't count her ridiculous dresses that she's changing all the time, of course. I know she tried to be the next Janis Joplin, but she isn't one. No matter how much drugs she'd taken.
However, this is compensated by Lindsey and Mick. The former is a genius on stage, and you also get to see his unique, almost 'clumsy' guitar picking techniques that nevertheless lead to transforming songs like 'I'm So Afraid' and 'Go Your Own Way' into blistering guitar fiestas. And I started by hating 'Not That Funny' where he plays the fool so blatantly it's almost disgusting, but I've come to appreciate it as well. As for Mick, he is certainly the clown of the band, and he plays the funniest drum solo on 'Not That Funny' that I've ever witnessed.
My final verdict: Fleetwood Mac is certainly one band to be seen, not just heard - if you like 'em, you must reserve at least one place in your video collection for something of the kind.
Year Of Release: 1997
While the 1997 reunion live album sounded really great, the video certainly does not, at least not if compared to the old stuff. The energy is almost gone from the band, with Lindsey, Stevie and Mick losing most of their visual appeal, and of course I understand that you can't always look like you were in your early twenties, but still, they're much too stiff and strained for me. Lindsey sweats, puts all of his efforts into hitting the right notes and mostly stands on the spot without illustrating his music with his movements at all. Stevie has shifted her image of Mad Gypsy to the one of Mystical Lady, and even if she does succeed in that, with her long black dress and slow, gracious movements, that's small consolation. Even Mick does not save the situation.
Still, there are numerous reasons to own this video. It's perfectly filmed (these MTV guys do know how to make things after all), and those who'd like to learn Lindsey's guitar techniques are particularly welcome as there are perfect snapshots of his fingers now and then. Also, one might enjoy the band lining up on the stage during 'Say You Love Me' and laught at the ridiculous helms of the USC Marching Band during 'Tusk' and 'Don't Stop' (what the hell were they doing there when they're practically unheard behind the amplified instruments?) What's even more important, there are several songs on video that have been left off the album due to length problems, among them a moving acoustic rendition of Buckingham's solo number 'Go Insane' and a magnificent version of 'Gold Dust Woman'. Why this one has been left off the album when it could have easily replaced the far inferior and, let's admit it, generic version of 'Rhiannon', is way beyond me: it's one of the few songs of the whole evening with Stevie sounding near-perfect.