Saturday, July 10, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1488: Fleetwood Mac

Last night I went to the drive-in! It was the first time since around 1978 (when I saw Superman from the back seat of a 1961 Rambler). In keeping with the seventies theme, here is the third album in a row from that decade!

Disc 1488 is…. Self-Titled

Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Year of Release: 1975

What’s up with the Cover? Just like the Rumours cover, but instead of an artful dance pose, we get a hippy fun house. Look at how the tall guy is short! Isn’t it hilarious? And the other tall guy is super tall and drinking a beer. Isn’t it just delightfully whimsical?

No, it is not.

How I Came To Know It: Late last year I finally bit the bullet and bought Fleetwood Mac’s classic album “Rumours” (long a hole in my collection). This led me on a bit of a deep dive into the band’s back catalogue and this was one of a number of albums I bought in the process.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Fleetwood Mac albums, all from the mid-seventies through the late eighties. (Or to put it another way, when recently asked at a party “do you have any of the Peter Green albums?” I replied, “Who is Peter Green?” I may go investigate now that I know he exists (and apparently founded the band), but it’s all new to me. Admission of ignorance is the first step on the road to knowledge.

I’m still grokking the four albums I do have, making it hard to stack up, but I feel reasonably confident their self-titled album comes in at #2, just behind “Rumours.”

Ratings: 4 stars

The inordinate amount of radio play (FM and AM) that Fleetwood Mac has received over the years causes their hits to always stand out more when you finally put on a studio album. On this record that proved true, but there were also a few deep cuts that pleasantly surprised.

I didn’t have to look long to find one of those deep cuts, as the album’s opening track, “Monday Morning” jump starts the record with an upbeat sing-along groove. It is grounded in some sweet drumming from Mick Fleetwood, but you can still tell this is Buckingham’s song all the way. His high tenor vocals and airy head voice - all the rage with many a modern pop band - leads the way. Sure it is helped with a bit of well-placed backing vocals from Stevie Nicks, but this is Buckingham’s moment on a record where most of the best stuff to come will be fronted by the ladies.

This ability for three gifted vocalists (Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie) to each shine at different times, and then selflessly round out a song’s sound when it is someone else’s turn, is a key to the Fleetwood Mac sound, and the record features plenty of it.

Stevie Nicks has some of the album’s iconic and most enduring moments, including “Landslide” and “Rhiannon”. “Landslide” has since gone on to become an iconic Fleetwood Mac song, but it wasn’t one of the hits when originally released. I guess in that way it qualifies as one of those pleasantly surprising deep cuts, even if the surprise took a while.

Landslide” features a powerful vocal performance from Nicks that manages a quiet confidence that belies the uncertainty and doubt expressed in the lyrics. I slightly prefer the Dixie Chicks’ cover version on their album “Home,” but there is no doubt that Nicks has the edge over Natalie Maines on the song’s more haunting elements.

Rhiannon” is another Nicks tune, and one of the band’s most enduring hits. It evokes mysterious forest groves and eldritch romance. I’m not sure who Rhiannon is, but I am sure I’m willing to get lost in the woods to find out. “Rhiannon” is not just the great composition and lyrics of Nicks, however. In true Fleetwood Mac style, the rest of the band fills in the blank space to make the magic happen.

That magic is grounded in the insistent pull of Mcvie’s keyboard playing, and some great guitar work from Buckingham. Buckingham’s guitar sound on “Rhiannon” reminded me favourably of Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma. Long time readers will know this is high praise indeed.

Back to Christine McVie, who for me is the most consistently awesome member of the band. While I do not recommend her solo album she recorded as “Christine Perfect” (which I could not get through) she is the heart and soul of Fleetwood Mac. Her standouts here include “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me” (both also hits).

Over My Head” showcases the purity of McVie’s vocals and on “Say You Love Me” she gets her boogie woogie, singing in her lower register with equal grace. “Say You Love Me” also has some of those great Fleetwood Mac harmonies on the chorus. My only quibble is one verse that includes:

“…I’m getting weaker, weaker, weaker every day
I guess I’m not as strong as I used to be…”

This always irks me. Yes, if you are getting weaker, it follows that you’re not as strong. I don’t expect Christine to be “perfect” (get it? Get it?) but she can do better.

The only songs that fall a little short for me are “Crystal” and “I’m So Afraid” both of which seem a bit too packed in the arrangements, with melodies that can’t quite carry the burden. I think they are intended as immersive mood pieces, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in either one.

However, the rest of the record ranges from very good to nigh on perfect. It is another example of an iconic band at the top of their game.

Best tracks: Monday Morning, Rhiannon, Over My Head, Say You Love Me, Landslide, Sugar Daddy

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