These days, most big time rock bands are as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun and a lot less exciting. Their members are anonymous; if one leaves, a replacement appears immediately, right off the assembly line. Their music seems to be determined according to demographic studies, radio formats, market research and other enemies of all that is inventive and original. And what comes out, more often than not, is merely boring.
If ever a group did things by instinct and feel, rather than by calculation, then the group is Fleetwood Mac. It should come as little surprise that this band has again broken the mold with Mirage their twelfth album for Warner Bros. and the fifth to feature the line up of Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie and Stevie Nicks. One thing seems certain: Mirage will quickly silence those who harbour suspicions that Fleetwood Mac has lost any of its power as a thoroughly cohesive, commercially formidable musical entity.
Drummer Mick Fleetwood described the mood of Fleetwood Mac as work on Mirage began in May, 1981: "I think we were quietly aware that we wanted to come off as a band, in terms of the way the tracks felt, and we have absolutely done that. On Tusk, only because there was so much music, it looked and felt a lot more segregated than it actually was; we might have suffered a bit from the aspect of people identifying with us as a unit, as 'the band.' This album takes care of that, I think. Plus, it's kept us feeling fresh about what we're doing. We're managed to keep it feeling good."
Comparisons to both Rumours, Fleetwood Mac's 16 million selling blockbuster, and Tusk, the ambitious double album (itself a quadruple platinum seller) that succeeded it, are inevitable, It might be said that ,Mirage combines the best of both worlds; it is every bit as fresh and accessible as Rumours, whilst its production sound (mainly courtesy of principal producers Lindsey Buckingham, Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat) is as lively and distinctive, and sometimes as predictable, as Tusk's. As Fleetwood puts it, "It's just an example of how a band, if it's going to continue, should learn to use their abilities to project themselves in healthy ways. I mean, all bands go through different stages. You learn to use your professional abilities, your creative abilities, everything, and put 'era in a big pot. It would be stupid not to do that.
"Basically, as a band we don't feel we have to do any one thing at all. I think Tusk, in a not particularly conscious way, definitely made it clear that we would never, ever have to comply with some given expectations. For that reason it will probably always be the most healthy album, in terms of the onward going motion of this band, that will ever be. It made us very confident, feeling that we can do what we want to do, and not be frightened of doing it. As for this album, it's not a matter of, 'Well, we better rush back and do something that's going to be more accessible,' I think it just shows that we're getting better at our trade."
Keyboardist/singer Christine McVie, describing a modus operandi that for nearly 15 years has kept a group of musicians together under the Fleetwood Mac banner, puts it this way: "The thing about this band is that there's never any specific direction that we put ourselves in. This album may end up being called Rumours II, but we couldn't have planned it that way. We just get the songs together that we want to do, and that reflect the way we're all feeling musically at the time. This just happens to be very fresh, innovative stuff. It's something for which we have no accounting." Adds co-producer Dashut, "We just do what we do it's that simple. God help us if we think we know what we're doing, because then we're in trouble! We're playing music, not chess. Leave the calculations to the chess players."
Many of the basic tracks for Mirage were recorded last year at Le Chateau in HerouviIle, France, the studio that yielded Elton John's Honky Chateau and many other works. The five weeks spent in France "put everyone on the line a little bit," says Buckingham. "I think it brought us together," notes Fleetwood, before France, we hadn't really seen too much of each other for about eight months, in terms of official 'band involvement,' you know. So it served a purpose by bringing us together where there were no distractions."
After returning to the U.S., the band continued the recording process at two Los Angeles studios, Larrabee Sound and the Record Plant. Except for one two month interval, work on the album, continued straight through to mid-May, 1982.
Those 10 months of hard work on two continents resulted in 12 songs, with each of Fleetwood Mac's three resident composer/vocalists represented with some of his or her strongest contributions yet. Christine McVie's four songs include the first single, "Hold Me" (co-written by Robbie Patton), as well as "Love In Store" (written with Jim Recor) and two ballads, "Only Over You" and "Wish You Were Here" (the latter with lyrics by Colin Allen). Stevie Nicks songs are "That's Alright," "Gypsy" (the subject of the first promotional video for the album, directed by Russell Mulcahy, who was also responsible for Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes") and "Straight Back," while Lindsey Buckingham contributes five: "Can't Go Back," "Eyes Of The World," and three co-written by Richard Dashut, "Book Of Love," "Empire State" and "Oh Diane."
As always, the instrumentation features Buckingham's guitars and Christine McVie's keyboards backed by the rock solid rhythm section of Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Some slightly more exotic instruments were used as well, including vibes and harp, both played by Buckingham. Meanwhile, the vocals of Lindsey, Stevie and Christine have never sounded so lush, lovely and completely together as they do on Mirage.
Five consecutive albums, Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk, Fleetwood Mac Live and now Mirage by the same personnel is about three more than any of the previous Fleetwood Mac incarnations could come up with and probably more than anyone expected from this lineup. But Fleetwood Mac is nothing if not a group of individuals, with a few surprises up their collective sleeve. Says Buckingham, "You know, a lot of people thought this album would not be forthcoming; when the solo albums came out last year, everybody was saying that that was the end of Fleetwood Mac. But I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised by this album. It represents a real band effort and it shows that we're still got it.
FLEETWOOD MAC - A BRIEF HISTORY
08/67: Fleetwood Mac makes its debut at the National Blues and Jazz Festival in Windsor, Great Britain. Members include three John Mayall alumni--guitarist/vocalist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie and slide guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Spencer
11/67: "I Believe My Time Ain't Long"/"Rambling Pony," their first single, is released in England on the Blue Horizon label.
02/68: Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, the first album, is released in England; four months later, it is released by Epic Records in the United States.
03/68: Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman," later a major hit for Santana, is issued as a Fleetwood Mac single in the United Kingdom; in the U.S., it is issued by Epic in June.
08/68: Mr. Wonderful, the second English album, is released. Some of the same tracks are included in the second American album, English Rose, released in January, 1969.
11/68: "Albatross," which will become Fleetwood Mac's first number One English single, is released on Blue Horizon.
Late '68: Fleetwood Mac gains a third guitarist/vocalist in 18 year old Danny Kirwin. Kirwin's "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues" is the flip side of "Albatross."
10/69: Then Play On, Fleetwood Mac's first album for Reprise/Warner Bros., is released in the U.S. Included in later editions is "Oh Well," the third of their first three major English hits (the second was "Man Of The World").
Early '69: Fleetwood Mac jams and records in Chicago with several legends of the blues, including Walter "Shakey" Horton, Willie Dixon and Otis Spann.
05/70: Peter Green, the group's most prominent member, announces his departure. His last recorded contribution is "The Green Manalishi," a single released in the U.S. in June.
09/70: Fleetwood Mac, without Green,
releases its fourth LP, Kiln House. Helping out on vocals is Christine McVie,
John's wife since 1968 and a former member of the group Chicken Shack, as well
as an erstwhile solo artist. Though uncredited, she is now an official Fleetwood
02/71: Jeremy Spencer abruptly quits Fleetwood Mac during an American tour; while in Los Angeles, he is accosted by a member of the Children of God religious sect, and is converted. The tour is completed with the assistance of Peter Green.
11/71: Future Games, the fifth album, is released in America. Contributing the title track is Spencer's replacement, American guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch.
03/72: Bare Trees is released, with Kirwan, Welch and Christine McVie again handling all the songwriting and singing. Included is "Sentimental Lady," later re-recorded by Welch to launch his solo career.
10/72: Danny Kirwan becomes the latest Mac member to leave the group; with his departure, none of the three guitarists who fronted the band during its heyday in England remains.
03/73: Penguin is released, featuring two members, guitarist Bob Weston (late of Long John Baldry's band) and singer Dave Walker (late of Savoy Brown). Walker lasts but this one album with Fleetwood Mac.
10/73: Mystery To Me is released by the quintet of Welch, Weston, Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie. Weston, however, is gone by year's end, and Fleetwood Mac is reduced to a quartet.
09/74: Heroes Are Hard To Find is released. Yet another personnel change is on the way; Bob Welch, describing himself as "burned out," leaves the band in December.
1975: Another new line up is unveiled, with Americans Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and Stephanie "Stevie" Nicks joining Fleetwood and the McVies. The pair has already recorded an album together, called Buckingham Nicks, and released by Polydor in September, 1973.
07/75: Fleetwood Mac, the first album by the new line-up, is released. It goes to number One, yielding the hits "Over My Head," "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me" and becoming Fleetwood Mac's first platinum album.
02/77: Rumours, the Buckingham Nicks line-up's" second album, takes Fleetwood Mac's fortunes to dizzying heights, holding down the top spot on all the national album charts for well over 20 weeks. Four singles are issued: "Go Your Own Way," "Dreams" (their first Number One single in America), "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving Fun." Rumours wins a Grammy Award for Album of the Year and sells 16 million copies, and the band tours the world for I0 months in support of it.
10/79: Tusk, the. long-awaited Rumours follow-up, is released. A double albums', it is perhaps their most ambitious work. It also marks the first time the same personnel have appeared on three consecutive albums. Singles include Buckingham's "Tusk" (recorded live at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles with the assistance of the University of Southern California Marching Band), Nicks' "Sara" and Chris McVie's "Think About Me."
09/80: Fleetwood Mac again tours the world, playing some 115 shows before finishing up at the Hollywood Bowl on Labour Day. A long rest follows.
12/80: Fleetwood Mac Live, the group's first official i.e., non-bootleg live album, is released. Among its 17 songs, recorded in 11 cities, are four never before recorded by Fleetwood Mac: Brian Wilson's "Farmer's Daughter, .... Don't Let Me Down Again" (an old Buckingham Nicks number), Nicks' "Fireflies" and Christine McVie's "One More Night."
1981: Three Fleetwood Mac solo albums are released: Fleetwood's The Visitor, recorded in Ghana (June); Nicks' Bella Donna (July), and Buckingham's Law And Order (October). By year's end, Christine McVie has revealed plans for her own solo project, her first since 1969.
06/82: Mirage, the fifth album from Fleetwood Mac's Buckingham Nicks era, is released, with "Hold Me" b/w "Eyes Of The World" the first single. Work on the album had begun in France in May, 1981.