Saturday, July 17, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1490: Fleetwood Mac

For the second time in three reviews (and the third since Disc 1423) I’ve rolled the same band. This is what happens when I get over excited about a band’s back catalogue. As you will read, this excess of enthusiasm is not always rewarded.

Disc 1490 is…. Tango in the Night

Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? A painting by Brett-Livingston Strong called “Homage A Henri Rousseau”. Rousseau was famous for painting jungle scenes just like this one. I like lush greenery as much as the next guy, so I say “sure” to this cover.

How I Came To Know It: More of me digging through the back catalogue of Fleetwood Mac.

How It Stacks Up: Of the four Fleetwood Mac albums I own, I put “Tango in the Dark” in at #4.

Ratings: 2 stars

“Tango in the Night” is everything normally good about Fleetwood Mac, blanched and overcooked into a pale imitation of their previous work. It is broccoli left too long in the steamer, and steak left too long on the grill – soggy, limp, bloodless and tough to digest.

I’m not sure where to start being angry at this record, so let’s just go with the first song. “Big Love” was a radio hit that I did not like in 1987 and like less now. It features a vaguely tribal beat, which is so artificial I imagined it was a tribe of accountants on a corporate retreat, shirts off to expose pasty chests smeared with DEET. Like a lot of songs on the record, “Big Love” sets up a rhythm and then recycles it endlessly. As for the production, the passable guitar is barely audible over the swamp of noise, but the non-sexy panting sounds are very much right up in your earhole.

Big Love” was one of four radio hits off the record, and thankfully the other three are better. “Seven Wonders” is classic Stevie Nicks, with is vaguely witchy wonderment. It is too bad that the weird triangle sounds and soup of background synth work throughout the song work to strip it of its magic. They doesn’t entirely succeed, but try very hard.

1987 was the worst year in music history for production decisions, and early on that infamy is on full display. The two hits penned by Christine McVie (“Everywhere” and “Little Lies”) are best suited to weather this storm of boredom. In fact, “Everywhere” is a delightful love song. The bass line is gorgeous, the tune makes you want to twirl through a blossoming apple orchard and McVie’s vocals are full of purity and light. It is easily the best song on the record.

Fun fact – the video for "Everywhere" is a recreation of Alfred Noyes’ 1906 poem “The Highwayman” about a brigand and his love for the innkeeper’s daughter. The song has fuck all to do with that, but I like the poem. If you ever want to hear the full poem set to music, Loreena McKennitt does an awesome job of it on her album “Book of Secrets” (reviewed way back at Disc 552). Listen to that here.

OK, after a brief respite listening to Loreena McKennitt, honour compels me to return to “Tango in the Night.” The final hit, “Little Lies” is also a passable tune, although way too smooth and jazzy. Does it help to have vocals of “close your eyes” bouncing from one speaker to the other in a way that suggests the band just discovered the wonders of stereo? Um…kind of? Anyway, it is innocuous sugary pop, and like “Seven Wonders” not totally crushed by the production.

Step outside the hits, and the record has a whole lot of forgettable going on. “Caroline” returns to the metallic non-organic tribal beat experience. The title track has a guitar bit that I believe is attempting to approximate rock and roll, but falling well short. There is one long solo where Lindsey Buckingham gives it all he’s got and manages to land somewhere on the right side of the line (he reminded me a smidge of early eighties Buck Dharma here) but then, unsure of what to do next, the band retreats to the ultimate cop out in music composition – the fadeout.

Family Man” is notably risible. It has all the stuff that makes the other songs bad (accountant style drumming, saturated production, recycled themes) but adds in awkward Spanish rhythms that are only one step away from sounding like the band 101 Strings.

I could go on to talk about all the other forgettable songs, but I’ll skip doing so because I’m 800 words in and you get the point. I’ll close by saying I’m under no illusions. I expect a certain dose of a.m. radio schmaltz in my Fleetwood Mac, but “Tango In the Night” goes way over that line. This record is a lukewarm and only intermittently pleasant bath that annoyed me more and more with each successive listen.

Best tracks: Seven Wonders, Everywhere, Little Lies

No comments: