Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Fleetwood Mac Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums

Fleetwood Mac (1975, Reprise)

A

Why none of the band’s albums during Bob Welch’s tenure with the group failed to land the group a Top 40 single is a bit of a mystery, but radio programmers sure sat up and took notice once Welch left and the group replaced him with Lindsey Buckingham, who insisted on bringing along his musical partner and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who would quickly become one of the biggest sex symbols in all of pop music. (Fun musical debate topic: would the band’s fortunes have still changed if only Buckingham had joined?) The band’s recent albums had already been of such high quality that this really isn’t all that huge of a leap forward from what they were already doing; it simply just got more attention. This isn’t to dismiss the talents of Lindsey and Stevie, who make a wonderful first impression with classic-rock-radio staples like the hypnotic “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win),” the wistful ballad “Landslide,” and the groovy “Monday Morning.” But two of the three major hits here come from the pen of Christine McVie, whose “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head” are both excellent but no more so than past non-hits like “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” “Spare Me a Little of Your Love,” or “Did You Ever Love Me.” The album’s a bit of a head-scratcher for that reason, but that doesn’t keep it from being an incredibly enjoyable listen and deservedly one of the more beloved pop-rock albums of the ‘70s.

Rumours (1977, Warner Bros.)

A +

Possibly the single-most iconic and fondly-remembered pop-rock album of the late ‘70s, there’s little denying that Rumours is a pop masterpiece, all three of this lineup’s primary songwriters at the very top of their game. Nicks contributes the band’s first and only American Number One hit, “Dreams” (“Thunder only happens when it’s raining …”), as well as the poppy “I Don’t Want to Know” and mystical “Gold Dust Woman,” while Buckingham offers up the unforgettable punchy rock of “Go Your Own Way,” the chugging opener “Second Hand News” (“Won’t you lay me down in tall grass and let me do my stuff?”), the acoustic folk of “Never Going Back Again,” and the anthemic “Don’t Stop.” McVie turns in her prettiest melody yet in “You Make Loving Fun,” as well as the lovely ballads “Oh Daddy” and “Songbird,” while the whole band teams up to write the haunting, muscular “The Chain” (“If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again”). Much has been written about the emotional turmoil the band was going through during the making of this album (i.e. John and Christine McVie divorcing, Lindsey and Stevie breaking up), but you don’t need to know any of that to be able to appreciate this disc. Sure, the album is packed with a lot of emotion and naked honesty, but the real bottom line – and what truly made this album sell in bucketloads – is that the band simply never wrote a catchier set of songs, period.

Tusk (1979, Warner Bros.)

A

If Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s Pet Sounds, then Tusk is the band’s Smile, the moment when the band’s desire to create high art caused the band to take leave of their senses and nearly derailed the band entirely. This means that Tusk was both a commercial flop and perhaps their most fascinating album. Yes, this album has filler. Most double albums do. But you have to admire the sheer bravado of the band following up the multi-platinum success of the polished-to-perfection Rumours by going the exact opposite route and making a double album of relatively lo-fi pop confections that periodically sound like home-recorded demos. Yet, for all the quirks of the album’s deliberately raw production, this isn’t an entirely uncommercial album, because the best songs here have plenty of pop hooks, be it Stevie Nicks’ masterpiece “Sara,” Christine McVie’s “Think About Me,” or Lindsey’s bizarre but strangely-addictive title track, which includes both the USC Trojan marching band and a completely off-kilter drum solo that temporarily throws off the entire meter of the song. While Christine and Stevie still contributes the occasional minor gem (McVie’s album closer “Never Forget” is particularly good, and Nicks’ “Angel” is quite underrated), the star of the album is undeniably Lindsey, who also contributes the best and catchiest non-singles on the two-disc set with winners like the avant-garde rockabilly of “The Ledge,” the paranoia-infused pop of “Not That Funny,” and the quirky and wildly-underrated “What Makes You Think You’re the One,” which features what is perhaps the muscular and clever drumming Mick Fleetwood has ever put to record, the band’s co-founder sounding like he’s having the time of his life plowing through the song’s unusual rhythms.

Mirage (1982, Warner Bros.)

A –

The band’s first studio album of the ‘80s finds the quintet retreating from the experimentation of Tusk, making a transparent effort to return to the sunnier pop territory of Rumours, while Christine McVie seems to figure more prominently here than she did on the previous disc, penning two of the album’s Top 40 hits, the mellow rocker “Love in Store” and the Top Ten Buckingham-McVie duet “Hold Me.” Nicks pens the album’s only other Top 40 hit, the mystical “Gypsy,” but don’t let that fool you: Buckingham’s cuts here are every bit as catchy as any of the singles, be it the pensive, uptempo pop of “Can’t Go Back,” the dramatic second-side opener “Empire State,” the ‘50s-rock-and-roll-flavored “Oh Diane” (which could nearly pass for a lost Buddy Holly or Bobby Vee cut), or the fun pounding rock of “Eyes of the World,” which boasts one of Buckingham’s most memorable guitar licks. While it may not have quite as much personality as any of the previous three Buckingham-Nicks-era studio discs, it at least boasts nearly just as many hooks.

Tango in the Night (1987, Warner Bros.)

A +

After a nearly-five-year-long hiatus largely spent making solo records, the band reconvenes for its final studio outing with both Buckingham and Christine McVie in the lineup, Lindsey departing the band shortly after this album was completed. It’s a strong note for him to have left on, however, the disc serving as their most cohesive – if not necessarily their best – outing since Rumours. The band updates its sound slightly for the late ‘80s, which means there’s a greater reliance here on synths, but it’s still recognizably the work of Fleetwood Mac, and Mick Fleetwood in particular seems especially delighted to be back in the studio with his mates, turning in great performances on the drums on the more organic numbers like Stevie’s excellent “Seven Wonders” (a Top 40 hit) and the autobiographical “Welcome to the Room … Sara” (written about her stint in drug rehab). Christine pens the album’s catchiest and most radio-friendly material in the hits “Little Lies” and “Everywhere,” while Buckingham once again offers up the most artistically adventurous material in the hypnotic title cut, the tribal rhythms of “Caroline,” the synth-laden sonic sleigh-ride of “You and I, Part II” (the first part of which is only available as the B-side of “Big Love”), and the playful, quirky pop of “Family Man” and the Top Ten hit “Big Love.” The album is brimming with personality and also boasts a lot of fun ear candy in its busy arrangements, so this is an especially fun album from the band to listen to through headphones.

Behind the Mask (1990, Warner Bros.)

B +

Lindsey is sadly gone and is replaced with session guitarist Rick Vito and rockabilly royalty Billy Burnette (the son of Dorsey, nephew of Johnny, and cousin of Rocky), but don’t let that scare you away: this album may have flopped commercially and is consequently a common sighting in bargain bins, but it’s a real steal at two or three bucks and is significantly better than most critics make it out to be. Sure, Lindsey is missed, but not since Rumours has the band sounded quite as much of a true team rather than a bunch of solo artists teaming up, and Christine in particular remains at the top of her game, penning a fabulous set of songs in cuts like the sunny pop of “Skies the Limit,” the pounding Top 40 hit “Save Me,” and the alluring title cut. Nicks’ material is a bit more hit-and-miss, but her “Affairs of the Heart” is easily one of her most underrated compositions for the band. Vito and Burnette make a wonderful first impression, too, and the two men team up for the deliriously fun rockabilly rave-up “When the Sun Goes Down,” while Burnette also teams up with McVie to write and sing the devastatingly gorgeous ballad “Do You Know,” which strangely got passed over as a single but could have been a massive adult-contemporary-radio hit. The lone flaws are that the album is a little bit front-loaded, the second side not being nearly as captivating or as catchy as the first, and the seven-minute “In the Back of My Mind” seems to last almost twice as long as that and temporarily halts the momentum of the disc.

Time (1995, Warner Bros.)

C –

Not so much bad as it was simply misguided, Time is the sound of a band going through a major identity crisis. Nicks has departed the band at this point, leaving Christine McVie the only remaining vocalist from the band’s commercial heyday, and Rick Vito has also left. To fill the void, the band brings in two new – and very unlikely – members: Bekka Bramlett (the daughter of early-‘70s pop stars Delaney and Bonnie) and Dave Mason (yes, the same Dave Mason who was in the band Traffic and later had a solo hit with “We Just Disagree.”) Unfortunately, talented though they are (particularly Mason, who has always been fairly underrated), neither Bramlett nor Mason really fit in with the band. Mick Fleetwood even takes a lead vocal – and also plays guitar! – for the very first time here, on the closing cut “These Strange Times.” Nothing here is embarrassing per se, but the new lineup just doesn’t gel, and this never really feels like a Fleetwood Mac disc. Christine does offer up a few overlooked strong cuts in the likes of “Hollywood” and “I Do,” but it’s not enough to keep this from being the least essential album the band ever made. It’s certainly intriguing for what it is, but even for a transitional disc, it’s never as fun as, say, Kiln House was.

Say You Will (2003, Warner Bros.)

B +

The great news: Lindsey and Stevie are back. The bad news: Christine is gone. Without Christine around, the band doesn’t quite exactly seem or sound the same, and her presence is certainly missed, but thankfully, Lindsey is in really fine form here, and his songs here are mostly first-rate stuff, be it the breezy album opener “What’s the World Coming To,” the haunting rocker “Peacekeeper,” the nostalgic-sounding simplistic pop of “Steal Your Heart Away,” the hypnotic “Miranda,” or the gorgeous “Bleed to Love Her.” What prevents the album from quite being A-grade material, great though it still is, is that, at eighteen cuts, it’s at least four or five songs too long. This wouldn’t exactly be a problem if the songs were all great, but the majority of Stevie’s nine songs here suffer from forgettable melodies, although her title track is definitely a keeper and “Silver Girl” isn’t bad, either. The lack of editing, however, means that, however pleasant it is to have Lindsey and Stevie back in the fold again, the album is no more consistent than the underrated Behind the Mask.


Compilations:
Surprisingly enough, for as long as Fleetwood Mac has been around, their material for Warner Brothers has only been anthologized on three occasions to date, boxed sets included. The single-disc 1988 best-of package Greatest Hits (which adds two new studio cuts, “As Long As You Follow” and “No Questions Asked”) is okay for a single-disc package, but it’s hard not to wish that the two new cuts had been replaced by the three missing Top 40 hits (the very underrated singles “Think About Me,” “Seven Wonders,” and “Love in Store”), and critical album cuts like “Landslide” and “Second Hand News” are missing as well. The 1992 4-CD boxed set The Chain is poorly executed. There are some great rarities and outtakes included (especially the “Go Your Own Way” B-side “Silver Springs”) and even some great new cuts (especially the Stevie Nicks-sung “Paper Doll”), but too many hits are presented in alternate versions, “Hold Me” is strangely missing, and the tracks are in maddeningly non-chronological order. The Chain was also released in a 2-CD version, which does include “Hold Me,” but it simultaneously deletes critical hits like “Say You Love Me,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Think About Me,” “Little Lies” and early classics like “Hypnotized” and “Sentimental Lady” while strangely adding “Bermuda Triangle” and retaining forgettable album cuts like “Crystal” and “Beautiful Child.” The only best-of package for the band that actually feels all that well-done is the 2002 2-CD package The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac, which includes all of their Top 40 hits except for 1990’s “Save Me” (although “Big Love” is unfortunately presented in its live version from The Dance) while also including rarities like “Paper Doll” and underrated album cuts like “What Makes You Think You’re the One” and “Skies the Limit.” The only major flaw with the package is that it sadly fails to include anything from the band’s first six years under the Warner Bros. umbrella, before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came aboard; if nothing else, they should have at least included “Oh Well,” “Sentimental Lady,” and “Hypnotized” to give Peter Green and Bob Welch some kind of presence on the package. The Epic-era material from the ‘60s is best anthologized on the 2007 Columbia 2-CD package The Essential Fleetwood Mac.

Live Albums:
The 1980 double-disc package Live unfortunately is more interesting for the song selection than the actual performances. (Lindsey sings the old Peter Green classic “Oh Well,” while “Don’t Let Me Down Again” from Buckingham Nicks is also showcased. The package also includes three new cuts: “Fireflies,” “One More Night,” and a cover of the Beach Boys’ “The Farmer’s Daughter.”) The 1997 single-disc The Dance is more vibrant, featuring four new songs (highlighted by Christine’s “Temporary One” and Lindsey’s “My Little Demon”) alongside thirteen catalog numbers, including a fun, very fast, and very furious acoustic version of “Big Love” by Lindsey. This disc is also where you can find the live versions of “Silver Springs” and “Landslide” that became ubiquitous on radio in the late ‘90s.