Sunday, 4 October 2020

Fleetwood Mac - Crystal Visions (1975-1987)




Fleetwood Mac (1975)


Monday Morning/Warm Ways/Blue Letter/Rhiannon/Over My Head/Crystal/Say You Love Me/Landslide/World Turning/Sugar Daddy/I'm So Afraid                                                                                              
This album, from 1975, was the beginning of the second phase of Fleetwood Mac, as the blues rock of its original incarnation was dramatically turned on its head by the arrival of Californian bed-buddies Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Almost at a stroke they turned into the mega-group that many know them for being. Peter GreenJeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan seemed light years back in time now. It is quite startling, incredible really, just how radically Buckingham and Nicks utterly changed the whole raison d'être of what had been a quintessential UK blues rock band.

Buckingham is not involved on every track at all, but his production dominates the whole album. He had made the group into a West Coast pop/rock band and gnarled old bluesers like Christine McVieJohn McVie and Mick Fleetwood had to dramatically change their ways, and songwriting. Christine did this extremely well, it has to be said, writing and singing several copper-bottomed AOR classics over the next few years. You would have thought that she had been born to it.


Monday Morning, with its melodic, acoustic and drum-driven sound, sets the tone not only for this album but for, in effect "Fleetwood Mac Part Two" - The Buckingham/Nicks era. It is all rousing, singalong, breezy stuff with a distinctly summery, Californian feel to it. It is completely different to anything Fleetwood Mac had done before, yet, for many people, it will sound like archetypal Mac. Warm Ways is the same in its laid-back, warm, West Coast ambience and rubbery, Beatles-style bass runs. Blue Letter is absolutely classic second phase Mac upbeat country rock, as The Eagles go all West Coast. It is a rollicking, lively and extremely catchy number. Once again, let's be honest, it is not Fleetwood Mac as they began at all. This new line-up may as well have given themselves a new name. Nowhere in rock was the same group defined by two such completely different styles.

Then there was Stevie Nicks - flowing clothes, gypsy prettiness and a breathy sexuality. Her whole persona was never better expressed, musically, than on Rhiannon, a song that resulted in many female children being given this Welsh Celtic ancient name. It was an ethereal, beautiful and beguiling song that really sticks in the mind. This was adult-oriented, easy listening soft rock at its very best. The equally sultry, deeper voice of long term band member Christine McVie enhances the appealing gentle rock groove of Over My Head.



Crystal is a harmonious, Eagles-style piece of country-ish slow rock. Someone brought up on Shake Your Money Maker or Need Your Love So Bad simply would not have believed this to be Fleetwood Mac. Christine McVie is back again to lead the addictive easy rocking strains of Say You Love Me. Nicks' seductive tones are back on the tender, acoustic Landslide, which was another pointer as to some of the band's future sound.

World Turning is the only track that has a bit of the blues about it, being a brooding bluesily acoustic-driven folky stomper. It is only here that the band's blues roots can be detected. Who knows, they may have gone down this road anyway as the seventies progressed. Mick Fleetwood's drumming is excellent on this as is Lindsey Buckingham's guitar. As well as being perceived as a bit of a paranoid, temperamental trouble-maker, he was also a fine musician. Sugar Daddy is superb mid-seventies, organ-powered Christine McVie fare. She mastered this sort of thing really impressively. The album ends with the mysterious, heavier, drum-dominated vibes of I'm So Afraid, which act as a precursor for The Chain, from the Rumours album. Again, it features some fine guitar.

This was one hell of a change of direction and was a very appealing album. Rumours was up next. Funnily enough, though, I prefer this often-overlooked offering.




Rumours (1977)


Second Hand News/Dreams/Never Going Back Again/Don't Stop/Go Your Own Way/Songbird/Silver Springs/The Chain/You Make Loving Fun/I Don't Want To Know/Oh Daddy/Gold Dust Woman  

What is there to say about Rumours that hasn't already been said? The living soap opera of an album played out against a background of inter-band relationships, affairs, splits and divorces - John & Christine McVie - acrimonious divorce; Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks - relationship split; Nicks and Mick Fleetwood - affair. At least ABBA managed to stay relatively dignified during similar implosions. This was all played out pretty publicly. God knows how this album ever got produced and the fact it became the best selling pop album of all time is remarkable. Of course, a lot of these salacious revelations have come out years after the album was released and at the time many people had no idea what was going on. Those balls hanging down on the cover, though. Strange.

It is also surprising that the album was so successful, released, as it was at the height of punk, when "old AOR music" such as this was supposed to be despised and sacrificed on the altar of The Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones. The funny thing is, and was, that Rumours rode happily on despite all this, accepted by everyone as a good album, transcending trends and continuing to do so all these years later. It is almost immune from criticism, for some reason. It is a timeless album that appealed then, appealed in the eighties, and nineties and into the new millennium.

  

For me, although I do not dislike it, I have never absolutely loved it, although there are so many tracks on there that are pretty much impossible to dislike. It is certainly not essential listening in my world, although I own it. I didn't get it in 1977, though. I didn't need to. It was all over the radio. I knew loads of tracks from it before I even bought it, many years later. In 1977, nice, well-brought up girls bought it, punks certainly did not, neither did blokes in general. It was probably different in the US, where it was phenomenally successful.

For those who don't know the album, (I can't believe there are many who don't), it is a masterpiece of so-called "adult oriented rock", very West Coast, a mixture of hook-laden harmonious rock, country rock with a bit of folk thrown in. Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, solid drums, infectious keyboards and perfect female vocals all merge beautifully together with some of the highest quality sound you will experience. It is one of those albums that gets played in hi-fi shops to demonstrate the quality of their equipment.
                        
The highlights are many. Mine are the hauntingly beautiful Stevie Nicks song, Dreams and Christine McVie's stunningly appealing Songbird. The mainstream radio driving hits are thoroughly irresistible, one has to admit - Don't StopYou Make Loving Fun and Go Your Own Way. There are also lesser-mentioned gems like the folky Never Going Back Again and the two distinct parts of the beguiling rock of The Chain, familiar for years as BBC's motor racing theme. Nicks' ethereal slow country-ish vibe of Silver Springs is entrancing too, particularly as Nicks changes character from winsome to aggressive as the song develops. Then there is the bluesy Gold Dust Woman with Nicks sounding like Patti Smith. Another rarely mentioned good one.

So there you go, an album out of its time, never in any era. It just exists. It will no doubt be shifting copies in hundreds of years' time.

Incidentally, there is a great take of Go Your Own Way (entitled Early Take) on the Deluxe Edition of the album, with Lindsey Buckingham only on vocals. It is raw, edgy and almost punky in its rough attack. I prefer it to the eventual incarnation of the song. Gold Dust Woman (Early Take) is broodily magnificent too. Silver Springs (Early Take) has Stevie Nicks even more "in your face" as the song progresses. Dreams (Take 2) is beautifully sparse and soulful. The album could have sounded considerably different and far more gritty if these takes had been used instead.




Tusk (1979)


Over And Over/The Ledge/Think About Me/Save Me A Place/Sara/What Makes You Think You’re The One/Storms/That’s All For Everyone/Not That Funny/Sisters Of The Moon/Angel/That’s Enough For Me/Brown Eyes/Never Make Me Cry/I Know I’m Not Wrong/Honey Hi/Beautiful Child/Walk A Thin Line/Tusk/Never Forget    
                                                                                           
Double albums, oh double albums. Read most double album reviews and you will hear the words “sprawling”, “indulgent”, “lacking cohesion” together with accusations of them being far too long. All those apply to Tusk and have indeed been used many times, by many critics.

I remember when it came out, in October 1979, over two and a half years after the colossal seller that was Rumours and the huge expectation that it carried with it. I also remember the disappointment of pretty much everyone who heard it. While Rumours had been recorded as the couples within the band all fell out, by the time they produced Tusk they were utterly shattered, relationship-wise. The success of Rumours had meant that the group could pretty much release what they wanted, like The Beatles on The White Album or The Beach Boys on Smiley Smile and there were definite moments of indulgent nonsense present. However, the dysfunction of the band, the presence of experimental post punk at the time and the eventual genesis of the album resulted in something that deserves at least a bit of exploration.  Was it really as bad as so many said? Let’s see.

  

It begins with Christine McVie’s soft, ethereal Over And Over which has definite echoes of the material she did in the early/mid seventies with the band’s previous incarnation. It has a nice, laid-back slow country-ish vibe to it. As with all her tracks, it is difficult to find fault with it. The Ledge is a short, frantic and quirky Lindsey Buckingham song with a punky edge to it that will not have gone down well with easy listening, soft rock Rumours fans. Personally, I like it, it has a quirky vibrancy to it and shows a willingness to diversify and innovate, something he was able to do, of course, from the huge position of strength that Rumours had bestowed upon him. Christine’s solidly rocking, riffy Think About Me was a single and is suitably hooky. Nothing wrong with this in my book, it is fine sounding track. Buckingham’s slow, acoustic folky stomp of Save Me A Place is perfectly acceptable - melodic and attractive. Stevie NicksSara, also a single, is everything you would expect from one of her songs -  mysterious, seductive, mystical. It just washes all over you as if Stevie is cooing and purring while giving you a massage and then getting more passionate as she sings the “Sara” bit. 

Lindsey’s What Makes You Think You’re The One is very Lennon-esque in its cynicism, vocal sounds and stompy beat. It has some fine descending guitar parts too. Again, I really like it. Stevie’s Storms is as entrancing you would hope it to be. That's All For Everyone was a Buckingham song, sung by McVie with an airy, Beatles-ish  sound to it with a bit of seventies-era Beach Boys too. It is followed by the quirky, folky madness of Not That Funny, which was an odd choice for a UK single, and is probably the first track to be a bit questionable. Buckingham seems to be trying to ape Talking Heads’ David Byrne in his yelping vocals (he was known to admire him). There is some great fuzzy guitar near the end, though. Nicks’ Sisters Of The Moon (predictable title alert) and is a quality number, as her songs mostly were. It is more powerful than some of her others were with a chunky, insistent beat.

The old side three begins with one of Nicks’ finest songs, the gently rocking, tuneful Angel. Lovely vocals, lovely bass, lovely guitar. Perfection. Lindsey’s back again next, with Christine whooping up the vocals on the frantic, buzzy, country punk of That’s Enough For Me. Christine returns herself on her own, beautiful, dreamy Brown Eyes. Her husband John contributed a nice bass line too. That vibe continues on the tender Never Make Me Cry. Buckingham’s I Know I’m Not Wrong is a lively Second Hand News-style, vaguely Cajun stomper (most of his songs are stompers, aren‘t they?). It has Christine on vocals and is catchy and toe-tapping.

McVie’s Honey Hi is as loose and demo-ish as anything else on the album, actually, but is none the worse or it, being really fetching and appealing in a winsome, breathy sort of way. Stevie Nicks’ Beautiful Child is as beautiful as its title. Walk A Thin Line is a beguiling Buckingham song sung by McVie over a slow, marching beat. Tusk, another perplexing choice for a single, was a completely captivating one, full of the tribal drum sounds so de rigeur in 1979-80 and odd, random vocals. I remember being fascinated by it back then, and I still am. Never Forget is a sumptuous McVie song to finish this delicious chocolate box of an album with.



The overall accepted vision of the album is that Lindsey Buckingham’s increasingly madcap experimentation dominates, the listeners being pacified and comforted by the airy, dreamy Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks songs that, when  taken on their own, would have made an acceptable eleven-track single album. Also, a lot of the album was recorded individually due to intra-band tensions, the Buckingham songs in particular, so it sort of functions as three different solo albums in one, like latter-era Beatles albums (or indeed earlier Fleetwood Mac ones). That said, good songs are good songs and, as far as I am concerned, I like lots of them, disparate in their initial creation or not. The notion that it is some sort of Smiley Smile made up of half-formed, barely listenable demo versions or that there was worthless Revolution 9-type material on here is wrong on both counts. Yes, the tracks are all different, but I don’t find it as mis-shapen an album as others seem to. It runs fine to me, its very diversity is its strength. Take Buckingham’s songs out and you would have a smoother album, for sure, but a far less stimulating one. A bit like with the Yoko Ono tracks on those later Lennon albums. The Buckingham songs are much better than that anyway.

You could almost say that this was an album closer to the creative, diverse offerings the band put out in the mid-seventies and that Rumours was simply a one-off, different album. This was as inventive as The Clash’s London Calling was a month later but was never credited as such. It should have been. In my opinion, it knocks spots off Rumours.

I feel this sounds a much better album in 2020 than it did in 1979, time has mellowed people’s feelings towards it. Hell, it’s a good one. Surprisingly good and satisfying. Why it flopped I am not sure. You could almost make a strong case for it being their best album. There’s a shock for you.




Mirage (1982)


Love In Store/Can't Go Back/That's All Right/Book Of Love/Gypsy/Only Over You/Empire State/Straight Back/Hold Me/Oh Diane/Eyes Of The World/Wish You Were Here  
                               
After the rich, sometimes experimental diversity of parts of 1979's sprawling double album, Tusk, it was back to stadium-pleasing AOR all the way on this blatantly commercial 1982 offering. It stood pretty incongruously alongside the contemporary musical trends of the time - post punk, new romantic, electro pop and new wave/two tone.

Love In Store is a wonderfully poppy and catchy Christine McVie soft rocker of the type that was now second nature to both her and the band. As often was the case, Christine took lead vocals on Lindsey Buckingham's new wave-ish , appealing pop of Can't Go BackStevie Nicks' trademark breathy vocals return on the typically sensual, but lively That's All Right, which also has a bit of a country rock twang to it.

Lindsey Buckingham's Book Of Love is a harmonious, slightly sixties-ish celebratory number, with fine, vibrant McVie vocals and a general level of enthusiasm all over it. His songs were more mainstream pop  on this album. Nicks' songs didn't ever change much, always retaining that airy, classy feel to them and Gypsy is no different. They seduce you instantly. There is not a Nicks song that I do not like. There is a lot of Dreams about it too.

Only Over You is a sumptuous, slow burning smoocher from the ever-throaty, husky McVie. This was dedicated to her ex-lover, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. It would have sounded good on his Pacific Ocean Blue album. Her voice has delivered so many great songs over the years yet it was never a great voice, it was more of a characterful, unique one. Buckingham's songs still retained their punky vibrancy, however, and the upbeat Empire State is no exception, featuring a fine mandolin solo as well. His tracks were often underrated - an album of them would sound rather Nick Lowe-ish, I reckon.

The beguiling Straight Back is a kind of ethereal Rhiannon part two from Stevie Nicks. It features some nice subtle piano parts. Hold Me was a single and is suitably attractive - melodic and joyful. The same applies to the sixties/Roy Orbison-ish Oh Diane, also a middle of the road radio staple single. This was as overtly poppy as Buckingham got, he was back to quirky rock 'n' roll/new wave on the infectious Eyes Of The World. I really like this, the acoustic/lead guitar interplay near the end is outstanding and uplifting. Old Lindsey was a bit of a misunderstood genius, wasn't he? I think so anyway.

Christine McVie's soulful, evocative early Mott the Hoople-esque (listen to the piano ending) Wish You Were Here ends this most pleasing album. I have to admit I've always had a bit of a thing for Christine. She never lets you down. One of the great rarely credited singer/songwriters.

** A fine non-album track is Nicks' strong, bluesy rock of If You Were My Love. Other rarities include her Smile At You, which is similarly hard-rocking. Both these tracks were a bit of a departure from her usual, dreamier fare. Goodbye Angel is a rock 'n' roll-influenced slow ballad type song from Lindsey Buckingham. If You Were My Love is a sleepy, piano-backed, slightly rambling Stevie Nicks song. Cool Water is a mournful, acoustic, harmonious blues dating from 1936, written by Bob Nolan, with a seventies Beach Boys vibe to it. Put A Candle In The Window is a Christine McVie bluesy rocker similar to her early/mid-seventies material. Teen Beat is a punky, rolling drum thrash of an instrumental. It could almost be The Ramones.




Tango In The Night (1987)


Big Love/Seven Wonders/Everywhere/Caroline/Tango In The Night/Mystified/Little Lies/Family Man/Welcome To The Room...Sara/Isn't It Midnight/When I See You Again/You And I, Part II   
                                                   
Five years on from 1982's Mirage, many of the tracks of this final album from the Rumours-era five piece group were intended for a Lindsey Buckingham solo album. He was persuaded by Mick Fleetwood to use them for this one last hurrah for the group, and they managed to get the increasingly drugged-up Stevie Nicks to contribute too, three songs at least. It was hugely successful and yielded no less than six singles, as albums tended to do in that period. Overall, it is a pleasant, attractive and lightly poppy album that suited the carefree late eighties perfectly.

Lindsey Buckingham's infectious, drum-powered Big Love is very much of its era, with a very mid/late eighties vibe to it - soft rock meets subtle dance grooves. It is an effective mix, though, ad it captivates from the first note. The swirling lead guitar is excellent. A similar intoxicating, smooth and slick rhythm is found on Stevie Nicks' blissful Seven Wonders. Also intoxicated was Nicks herself, as mentioned, and this lends a certain edgy tone to her voice which enhances her vocal. Christine McVie's floaty but irresistibly commercial Everywhere was deservedly a big hit.

Buckingham's Caroline is another insistent, drum-driven number with impressive, uplifting vocals. It has that essential pop catchiness to it that merges with vaguely experimental off the wall vibes that he specialised in. Tango In the Night is a mysterious song in the same vein, enhanced by some intricate acoustic  plucked guitar parts.

McVie and Buckingham wrote the sleepy, ethereal ballad Mystified and it has a laid-back beauty to it. Little Lies was also a McVie song and it was the album's other big hit. Along with Everywhere it often appears on eighties compilations. It very much sums up that mid/late eighties period. It is as good as eighties pop got. Buckingham's Family Man has a rhythm typical of its tome too, and features another fine McVie vocal. It was also a single and its chorus tells you why. It is sort of Madonna-esque in places and is one of the album's most appealing numbers.

Welcomes To The Room....Sara was evolved from Nicks' time in rehab when she was known as Sara. It is an insistent, chunky song with some suitably unhinged (vaguely) sounding vocals. Isn't It Midnight is a chugging, riffy McVie/Buckingham rocker in a sort of eighties Stones/solo Mick Jagger style. It features some killer lead guitar. Nicks' When I See You Again also finds her vocal sounding slightly damaged, spoilt by intoxication and, because of that, sounds so sad. Buckingham salvaged her drunken efforts and pasted them together in an attempt to get a full song, hence its edgy, unfinished feel. She sounds completely at her lowest ebb, to be honest, nothing like the mystical nymph of earlier songs. Thankfully she came out the other side.

The album returns to normality with the breezy You And I, Part II. In conclusion, this was a happy-sounding final offering from the group's classic soft rock line up, but the Nicks songs give it an underlying darkness.




Don't Stop - 50 Years


I am exactly the sort of Fleetwood Mac fan that this excellent compilation is aimed at. Yes, I have all the early blues albums from the Peter Green period, Rumours and Tango In The Night but that's as far as it goes for me with the Mac. So, this one suits me fine. I am not sure whether the remasters on here are new ones done specifically for this collection or whether they are taken from the recent "deluxe edition" remasters of their classic albums. Either way, I have to say that the sound quality is simply superb. (Just trying to ascertain it, I think the remasters date from 2015). Check out Seven Wonders or Don't Stop as they pound out of your speakers and you realise that, as clichéd a band as they were in the seventies, rather like The Eagles, for what they did, there were not many better. The musicianship is peerless and the vocals of either Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie (or both of them in their perfect harmony) are sumptuous. Both melodious and strong when necessary.

You can't move for 50th anniversary collections at the moment and this, of course, in this case, (as with all of them) emphasises that Fleetwood Mac have been around for one hell of a long time. They are one of those bands that had two incarnations - the early, raw bluesy one featuring the talents of guitarist Peter Green is completely different to the West Coast, easy rock of the one most people will be buying this collection for. No group had two so utterly different styles under the same group name and some of the same members. Yes, that smooth, easy on the ear, warm sound of tracks like Think About Me or Love Shines, the slick disco of Family Man, the radio-friendly pop of Oh Diane and the huge hits from Rumours is pretty irresistible at times, but, for me, you can't beat that stonking early blues sound. So, I urge people not to dismiss that part of their career and try not to listen to the seventies/eighties material only. Highlights are Black Magic WomanShake Your MoneymakerNeed Your Love So BadMan Of The World and Station Man. These are all energetic, muscular blues cuts of the highest quality, dating from the British Blues Explosion of the mid-late sixties. Fleetwood Mac came in at the end of that, but they were good, of that there is no doubt. Check out the psychedelic, dreamy rock of Hypnotized too. In fact the whole of Disc One, which covers the band from their Peter Green blues phase through their Danny Kirwan era to their laid-back Bob Welch period, is truly excellent, packed with little-known gems like Spare Me A Little Of Your LoveTell Me All The Things That You Do and Did You Ever Love Me.

So, as a "casual" Fleetwood Mac kind of guy I can heartily recommend this to anyone of a similar outlook. It is a really enjoyable listen from a quality band(s).



                               

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