Saturday, September 3, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1585: Fleetwood Mac

It has been a hard 48 hours. Shortly after posting my last review Sheila noted that the wide-eyed stare our cat Vizzini had been giving us when we got back from holiday was not just relief at our return. He had become blind. A very long day and night at the vet later, and it turns out he has Stage 3 kidney disease, and the blindness (which is almost total, apart from a bit of light sensitivity) is irreversible. He now has medication, and has a life expectancy of between a few months and a few years. We just don’t know.

Vizzini’s not in any pain or discomfort and seems to be accepting his new lack of vision a lot more gracefully than we are. I’m a little better tonight, but that’s partly just being cried out. We’ll make the best of the years that remain and give him a good life, but it still hurts.

Sorry to start with such a downer. I will now try to distract myself from this shitty situation by reviewing a shitty record.

Disc 1585 is…. Mirage

Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Year of Release: 1982

What’s up with the Cover?  It looks like some Fleetwood Mac style “drama”. Lindsey Buckingham is dancing with Stevie Nicks, but it looks like Christine McVie wants to cut in. Is this “Rumours” all over again? Sadly, no.

How I Came To Know It: This was part of my deep dive into Fleetwood Mac in 2020 where I temporarily convinced myself that I needed to own more of their records.

How It Stacks Up: After reviewing “Tango in the Night” at Disc1490 I was so disappointed I ranked it last (#4) leaving one rung up for “Mirage”. However, "Mirage" has now failed even this most basic test, and so I must now place it  at #4. “Tango In the Night” moves up one slot by default, although both are equally banished from my collection. Since this is the final review for the band, here’s a full recap:

  1. Rumours: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 1423)
  2. Self-Titled: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1488)
  3. Tango in the Night: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 1490)
  4. Mirage: 2 stars (reviewed right here)

 Ratings: 2 stars

"Mirage” is what it looks like when pop becomes pablum. “Mirage” came out at a time when Fleetwood Mac could do no wrong, commercially speaking, and it spawned several hits. Many of these songs are the best songs on the record, and yet they still found ways to annoy me.

Let’s start with “Gypsy”. Unless you live under a rock, or perhaps in a cult where popular music is forbidden, you will know this classic penned and sung by Stevie Nicks. This tune is solid and has all the elements that make a good Stevie Nicks song. The witch-light quality of the lyrics, and compelling melodies in a mid-tempo sway. In terms of what it is about, Nicks is similar to Ronnie James Dio in her ability to make songs feel mysterious and magical without ever being all that clear what is going on. Does lightning strike? Yes, maybe once, and maybe twice, but all that lightning still left me light on narrative.

Gypsy” has some annoying production. Fleetwood Mac was an early adapter of every smoothed out soulless sound that ever came out of the depths of 1987 five years later. The worst part of the song is a synthy guitar bit that fades away with a merciless slowness. It is the equivalent of eating a bowl of raspberries where the last one you eat has a worm in it. Sure there was some delightful flavours previously, but that’s not the taste left in your mouth.

Also, good is “Hold Me” which was a top five hit, and inescapable if you watched music videos back in the eighties. The production here is also painful, but the song has a gentle sway to it that is hard to resist, despite the presence of One Thousand Unnecessary Sounds, the worst of which is what is what I suspect is a cowbell on helium.

Other than the hits, we have songs that range from the forgettable to the irritating. They all flow together in the same way instant oatmeal flows together; nice and even, and without any discernable colour. Nicks and Christine McVie have amazing rock voices – two of the best – but even they struggle to rise up out of this morass of sound.

The record’s nadir is “Empire State,” a Lindsey Buckingham number that is supposed to be a love song to the energy of New York City but comes across as a musical number so far off Broadway, you could see the Rio Grande from the loge window. This song also features the only ‘phone with a greater propensity to wreck a rock record than the saxophone: the xylophone. A telephone would have been more welcome.

The record’s best song is the final one. “Wish You Were Here” shows that latter-stage Fleetwood Mac owes a lot to Christine McVie, who can sing her way out of any jam. Here she blows the doors off with her signature voice, and despite some less than enthusiastic drums, manages much better production choices, relying on some well-placed piano to deliver the accompaniment to her brilliance.

“Mirage” is not without its charms, and if you like something that won’t nag at your emotions too hard while you listen to AM radio on your way to work, it will serve. However, if you’re reading this review there’s a good chance you want your music interesting and emotionally impactful. If that’s the case, stick with Rumours and the self-titled record. This “Mirage” is likely to leave you as most do, with nothing but a mouthful of sand for your effort.

Best tracks: Gypsy, Hold On, Wish You Were Here

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