Mac blooms in the sun
Warner Bros. BSK 3010
Rock & Roll has this bad habit of being unpredictable. You never can tell when a band will undergo that alchemic transmigration
from lead to gold. The medium of
transformation is almost always a hit single, but such turnarounds often swamp a
band in notoriety it can't live up to.
But in Fleetwood Mac's case the departure of
guitarist Bob Welch who'd reduced the band to recutting pointless and
pretentious versions of old standards amounted to the biggest break they ever
had. With that and the addition of
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac suddenly became a California
pop group; instead of laborious blues/rock jams they started turning out bright
little three-minute singles with a hook in every chorus.
Christine McVie now leads a classic vocal group
working out of the oldest popular tradition, love songs. Vocal harmonies are the meat and potatoes of California's pop identity,
and Fleetwood Mac is now one of the genre's main proponents, with three lead
singers of comparable range and tone. Taken
individually, only McVie's voice has much character, but she anchors their
vocal arrangements, since Nicks' low range and Buckingham's high range
approximate her dulcet, evenhanded timbre.
Despite the interminable delay in finishing the
record, Rumours proves that the success of Fleetwood Mac was no fluke. Christine McVie sounds particularly vital, on 'You Making Loving
Fun,' which works for the same reason 'Over My Head' was a smash. The formula is vintage Byrds: Christine sings the verse simply, with
sparse instrumental background, and the chorus comes on like an angelic choir high
harmonies soaring behind her with 12-string electric guitar counterpoint ringing
against the vocals.
This Byrds touch is Lindsey Buckingham's
province, and it's used most successfully on the single, 'Go Your Own
Way,' which employs acoustic guitar backing throughout, with best effect on
choruses. Mick Fleetwood's
drumming adds a new dimension to this style. Fleetwood is swinging away, but not in the fluid roll pattern most rock
drummers use. Instead of pushing
the rhythm (Buckingham's acoustic guitar and John McVie's bass playing take
care of that) he's punctuating it, playing against the grain. A touch like that can turn a good song into a classic.
Buckingham's contribution is the major
surprise, since it appeared at first that Nicks was the stronger half of the
team. But Nicks has nothing on
Rumours to compare with 'Rhiannon,' her smash from the last album. 'Dreams' is a nice but fairly lightweight tune, and her nasal singing
is the only weak vocal on the record. 'I
Don't Want to Know,' which is pure post-Buffalo Springfield country-rock
formula, could easily be confused with any number of Richie Furay songs.
Buckingham's other two songs here are almost
as good as 'Go Your Own Way.' 'Second
Hand News,' ostensibly about the breakup of his relationship with Nicks, is
anything but morose, and completely outdoes the Eagles in the kiss-off genre. Again the chunking acoustic guitar rhythm carries the song to a joyful
chorus that turns average voices into timeless pop harmony. It may be gloss, but it's the best gloss to come along in a long time. 'Never Going Back Again,' the prettiest thing on the album, is just
acoustic picking against a delightful vocal that once again belies the bad-news
Fleetwood Mac's change from British blue to
California folk-rock is not as outlandish as some might think. The early Sixties blues scene in England had as much to do with rural
American folk music as the urban blues sound, which was predominantly a
guitarist's passion anyway. Christine McVie is much closer to a singer like Fairport
Convention's Sandy Denny than to any of England's blues shouters. Without altering her basic sensibility McVie moves easily into the
thematic trappings of the California rock myth. She's always written love songs, and sings her ballads with halting
emotion. 'Songbird,' her solo
keyboard spot on Rumours, is elevated by its context from what would once have
been referred to as a devotional blues into a pantheistic celebration of love
So Fleetwood Mac has finally realized the apotheosis of that early-Sixties blues crusade to get back to the roots. It's just that it took a couple of Californians and a few lessons from the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Eagles to get there.
(article sent to me by Dark Angel, with thanks)