Wednesday, November 11, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1423: Fleetwood Mac

Today is Remembrance Day. Please spare a kind thought and a minute of silence for members of the Canadian Forces past and present, who have served, fought, and died to preserve and protect our freedom.


OK – here’s some music.

Disc 1423 is…. Rumours

Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Year of Release: 1977

What’s up with the Cover? Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks. Nicks inhabits her role of “dark pixie” while Fleetwood poses as Haughty Drummer. As for the rest of the band – separate trailers, I presume, and not invited to the shoot.

How I Came To Know It: If your car had an a.m. radio back in the late seventies – or any time since – then you have heard songs from “Rumours” on a regular basis. For all that, the only Fleetwood Mac I’d owned prior to this year was a Greatest Hits album on CD that I sold back in the early nineties for beer money.

Then, for reasons I still don’t understand but I think have something to do with liking great music, last month I decided to dive into Fleetwood Mac’s back catalogue. “Rumous” was the logical starting point for the journey.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Fleetwood Mac albums, all bought in the last month. Of those four, “Rumours” is unsurprisingly, #1.

Ratings: 5 stars

There aren’t many superlatives that can be employed in discussing “Rumours” that haven’t been used before, and I’m not going to take a coward’s journey through a thesaurus to find them. The record is a classic for a whole bunch of reasons that you will already know.

“Rumours” is so ubiquitous to music collections that the only people who don’t own a copy are people who have converted entirely to streaming services. Even those people are streaming it. For years, I’ve had to guiltily admit I didn’t have it. Parting with the Greatest Hits album was partly me wearying of saying “no, but I have a Greatest Hits record” when someone offhandedly asked “I don’t know, can you put in Rumours?” when I asked what they wanted to hear.

I’ll admit, this irked the iconoclast in me. There’s a reason I take the piss out of the Beatles. Partly, someone has to. Also if every casual “I just like music in the background” rando with an a.m. radio likes something, something must be wrong with it, right?

While this is true more often than not, in the case of “Rumours”…no. There isn’t anything wrong with it. Also, the music is so light and airy and unassuming in its brilliance it doesn’t even inspire me to give it a poke, a la the Beatles. Fleetwood Mac isn’t claiming to reinvent music, or revel in their sudden discovery of the sitar; they are showing what pop music sounds like when everything is absolutely fucking perfect.

We could start with the production, which is clean and lush – the epitome of why everything good from the seventies sounds better on vinyl (my copy is on CD but let us not quibble). It isn’t easy to have this much going on in music and still make everything feel like a single organism. That they did this while going through multiple nasty and intensely personal breakups is a minor miracle that’s already seen all the ink required in previous explorations of the record. Let’s just move on.

The record has three gifted songwriters (Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks), all at the height of their talents. Everyone of these three have a penchant for memorable melodic structures, and none feels out of place. The album sounds cohesive because somehow everyone brings everything to the middle, without it ever feeling like they’re compromising.

These three are also all gifted vocalists – both in their own right, and in harmony with one another. Each has their distinct sound: Nicks with her light quaver, McVie with that sweet classically trained voice, and Buckingham with that high indie rock thing, twenty years before indie rock was a thing. The album features various combinations, all to good effect.

The combination is a hit machine. The record spawned somewhere between four and six radio hits. It is hard to tell where the hits end, because all the songs have become so ubiquitous to pop culture they might as well be hits. It would be too much to discuss them all, so I shall instead offer a few stray observations that caught my attention this time around:

  • Songbird”: Holy crap, but Christine McVie has the voice of an angel. I love Stevie Nicks as much as the next guy, but this song is the pinnacle vocal performance on the record.
  • The Chain”: The bass solo in this song is great, but it also drives me crazy. This is because it sounds so similar to a couple of Blue Oyster Cult bass riffs by Joe Bouchard. The basslines throughout the record make me feel like John McVie and Joe Bouchard were reading each other’s mail, but “The Chain” has literally driven me mad for hours searching for the same riff in a BOC song. I was unsuccessful.
  • Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work: With all those great vocals and memorable lyrics, it is easy to forget just how good Buckingham is on guitar, whether he is wailing out a rock odyssey at the end of “Go Your Own Way” or plucking a light-hearted jangle on “Never Going Back Again”.
  • I Don’t Wanna Know”: Yet more proof that handclaps make all songs better.

In the unlikely event you own music and don’t own this record, please go buy it as soon as you can. One day this pandemic is going to end and you’re going to host a dinner party. Don’t be that person who says “I don’t have that album” when your guests inevitably call for it.

Best tracks: all tracks 

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