Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Stevie Nicks Album

by Jeff Fiedler

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

Bella Donna (1981, Modern)

A +  

Nicks’ first full-length outing outside Fleetwood Mac remains her finest hour as a solo artist. Produced by Jimmy Iovine (best known at this point for producing the Patti Smith Group’s Easter and Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes), this disc is roughly half-comprised of older songs that were never used on another project (“Think about It,” in fact, was first recorded during the sessions for Rumours but missed the final cut) and half-comprised of newly-written originals. There are quite a few major hits here, including the haunting Tom Petty duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” the lovely country-styled Don Henley duet “Leather and Lace” (actually written with Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter in mind), and the hard-rocking “Edge of Seventeen” (featuring an iconic guitar riff from Waddy Wachtel that would go on decades later to be sampled in the Destiny’s Child song “Bootylicious”). There’s also a fourth Top 40 hit here as well, the oft-forgotten and seldom-heard “After the Glitter Fades,” one of Nicks’ most underrated singles. There are quite a few memorable non-singles here as well, namely “Think about It,” “Kind of Woman,” “How Still My Love,” and the fantastic album-opening title cut (which really belongs on a Nicks best-of package but somehow always gets left out). Actually, the only cut that falls flat is the album-closing “The Highwayman.” The album never quite has the same magic as Nicks’ best sides with Fleetwood Mac – chalk that up to the absence of Lindsey Buckingham, who always had a gift for crafting clever arrangements for Stevie’s songs and injecting them with all kinds of ear candy – but the songs are first-rate and the cast of players – including Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, the Eagles’ Don Felder, the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan, Russ Kunkel, Little Feat’s Bill Payne, and Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone – is a great one.

The Wild Heart (1983, Modern)

B +  

It’s not Bella Donna (though it clearly tries to repeat the formula of that album, using many of the same players – the Heartbreakers, Wachtel, Bittan, Felder, and Kunkel – and even including another Tom Petty duet), but Nicks’ sophomore solo outing is still excellent for a little over half of its running time, thanks largely to another great set of singles, including the heated disco-rock of the Top Ten hit “Stand Back” (featuring an uncredited Prince on synthesizer!) and two truly underrated gems in the synth-driven “If Anyone Falls” and the lovely “Nightbird,” a duet with Sandy Stewart (who co-wrote the cut and also co-wrote “If Anyone Falls” and the very underrated Fleetwood Mac hit “Seven Wonders”). Even the non-singles on the album’s first side (“Wild Heart,” “Gate and Garden” and the surprisingly driving rocker “Enchanted”) have strong melodies. But the album is very front-loaded and the quality of the songwriting noticeably takes a dive after the second-side opener “Stand Back” and never recovers (in spite of a cameo from Mick Fleetwood on drums on the Fleetwood Mac-like “Sable on Blond”). The first six songs are great enough, though, to still make this album a very worthwhile purchase.

Rock a Little (1985, Modern)

B –

Less organic than either of her first two solo albums, Rock a Little is definitely a more distinctly ’80s-sounding album and consequently hasn’t aged quite as gracefully as most of Nicks’ other albums (which is not helped any by the fact that Nicks’ voice sounds rougher than normal), but the songs themselves are fairly good. The album boasts two Top 40 hits in the dance-pop of “I Can’t Wait” (co-penned with Nicks’ new co-producer Rick Nowels, who’d go on to write countless hits for the likes of Belinda Carlisle, Lana del Rey, New Radicals, Santana and John Legend, to name just a few) and “Talk to Me.” [If the latter song reminds you of John Waite’s “Missing You,” that’s to be expected – Chas Sandford wrote both songs.] They’re both good, though neither is as much of a knockout as “Stand Back” or even “If Anyone Falls.” Other highlights include “No Spoken Word” (one of the most underrated album cuts in all of Nicks’ solo catalog), “Some Become Strangers,” the Tom Petty-like rock of “Imperial Hotel,” and the touching ballad “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You” (written about Joe Walsh, Nicks’ then-flame). Interestingly enough, Heart’s Number One hit ballad “These Dreams” was originally submitted for consideration on this album, but Nicks inexplicably turned it down.

The Other Side of the Mirror (1989, Modern)

C +

Nicks’ downward slide continues here on this, her final album of the Eighties. While the album (produced by Rupert Hine, best known for his work with The Fixx, whose guitarist Jamie West-Oram plays on most of the cuts here) is thankfully much less dated-sounding than Rock a Little, the album suffers from a major lack of strong melodies and solid hooks; perhaps not surprisingly, then, this would be her first solo album to yield only one solitary Top 40 hit. [That song, “Rooms on Fire,” co-penned with Rick Nowels, is a real monster, however, and is arguably even the best single of all from her post-Wild Heart solo output.] The album also strangely boasts multiple cameos from both Bruce Hornsby and Kenny G, neither of whom really fit in here at all. While the album’s second side is almost completely forgettable (with the possible exception of the decent “Fire Burning”), the album’s first side has its moments; besides the must-hear opener, “Rooms on Fire,” it also boasts the bluesy “Whole Lotta Trouble” and the clever “Ghosts” (both of which were co-written by the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell), as well as “Ooh My Love,” which ranks right up there with Rock a Little’s “No Spoken Word” as one of the most underrated non-singles in Nicks’ vast catalog.

Street Angel (1994, Modern)

C –

Stevie’s first solo outing after leaving Fleetwood Mac, this is easily also her worst solo album to date. There are some interesting ideas that simply just don’t work, like bringing in David Crosby to harmonize with her on the title cut, or covering Bob Dylan’s “Just like a Woman.” (Dylan himself actually guests on the latter, but the remake pales wildly in comparison to his own version.) But the inherent problem with the disc is that the songs just aren’t very good. The only one of Nicks’ new compositions here that is all that memorable is “Blue Denim,” but even that one is upstaged by the more memorable melodies of the two songs here penned by Sandy Stewart, “Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind” and “Unconditional Love.”

Trouble in Shangri-La (2001, Reprise)

B

It’s not quite a return to form, but Trouble in Shangri-La is easily Nicks’ best solo album since Rock a Little. The only real failing of the disc is simply that Nicks goes a little too overboard in employing both too many different co-producers (seven in all, including John Shanks and David Kahne), which makes the album noticeably inconsistent sonically, and far too many special guests (including Sheryl Crow, who also co-produces five tracks, Sarah McLachlan, Macy Gray, and the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines) which just smacks of desperation. [It was one thing for Carlos Santana to do that on his album Supernatural, since Santana is not a vocalist himself and his band had been through countless lead vocalists over the years, but when perfectly self-capable artists like Nicks do that, it just seems like a ploy for attention.]  The good thing, though, is that the set of songs here is her best in decades, even if several of the highlights are leftovers from the ‘70s, like the propulsive “Planets of the Universe” (a Rumours outtake) and “Sorcerer” (originally recorded in 1984 by Marilyn Martin, though the song itself dates back to the Buckingham Nicks sessions). Other highlights include “I Miss You” (featuring Lindsey Buckingham on guitar) and the hard-rocking “Fall from Grace,” while the catchiest song on the album is the John Shanks-written “Every Day.”

In Your Dreams (2011, Reprise)

C +

An unfortunate step backwards in quality from Trouble in Shangri-La, the best thing about In Your Dreams is that Nicks is wisely back to using a single producer – in this case, the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart – to oversee the full album (with various co-producers, i.e. Glen Ballard and Mike Campbell, assisting), which makes the album sound much more unified than Shangri-La did. Unfortunately, however, Nicks is still hesitant to go it entirely alone on the vocals, and the album has two cuts sung with Stewart (“Everybody Loves You” and “Cheaper than Free”) that simply don’t work. (But then, Nicks never did sound particularly good doing duets with anyone other than Tom Petty or Don Henley.) The album also suffers from a very long rocky patch in the middle of the thirteen-song disc, consisting of ill-advised uncharacteristic exercises like “New Orleans,” “Soldier’s Angel,” and “Annabel Lee,” which finds Nicks setting the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name to music. Nicks fares much better when she stays more within her comfort zone and her formula of old, such as on the synth-heavy opener “Secret Love,” the bewitching “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream),” and “Ghosts Are Gone.” Best of all, though, is the Fleetwood Mac-like breezy rock of the album’s title cut, which is Nicks’ greatest song in years; if only there were more cuts here like it, this album might have been a real monster.

24 Karat Gold – Songs from the Vault (2014, Reprise)

A  

24 Karat Gold is such a great idea, it’s a shame it took Nicks so long to do an album like this. The album is almost entirely comprised of songs that Nicks penned between 1969 and 1987 that somehow never made it onto a Buckingham Nicks or Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks album. The songs are all of very high quality and are generally catchier – not to mention warmer – than much of Stevie’s post-‘80s output. It’s easy to see why some of them were never used before – “Cathouse Blues,” for instance, is great, but is much too uncharacteristically jazz-oriented to have fit onto any of Stevie’s prior albums, with or without Fleetwood Mac, while the hard-rock-tinged “I Don’t Care” snarls like no other Stevie Nicks song before it. But many of the other songs are so good and so within Nicks’ comfort zone that it’s hard to understand how they’ve been in the vault all this time, especially the banjo-laced “Belle Fleur,” the warm, ‘80s-tinged, vaguely-Kate Bush-like pop of “All the Beautiful Worlds,” and the piano ballad “Lady.” And why Fleetwood Mac never recorded the pounding “Starshine,” the breezy pop of “The Dealer” or the shimmering “24 Karat Gold,” I have no idea – they’re not only right up the band’s alley but also much catchier than a lot of Stevie Nicks songs that did get included on their run of albums from Tusk through Behind the Mask. The result of unearthing all these songs is an album that is easily Stevie’s most pleasant full-length as a solo artist since Bella Donna

Compilations:

While it’s more recent and consequently includes cuts from latter-era solo discs like Trouble in Shangri-La, Crystal Visions: The Best of Stevie Nicks isn’t a terribly flattering hits package, if only because, much like George Harrison’s 1976 best-of on Capitol, The Best of George Harrison, which included a full side of Beatles cuts, it omits a lot of solo hits in favor of Fleetwood Mac songs, and not even always in the original versions (“Dreams” is presented as a club remix, while “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” are presented in the form of live recordings). A much better choice is the 1991 Timespace- The Best of Stevie Nicks; it’s not perfect (it inexplicably leaves out Top 40 hits like “Nightbird” and “After the Glitter Fades” in favor of lesser hits like “Whole Lotta Trouble” and “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You” and non-singles like “Beauty and the Beast”), but it holds together as a whole much better than any of her other best-of packages, even if the three new cuts (the topical and now-horribly-dated “Desert Angel,” the Jon Bon Jovi-penned  “Sometimes It’s a Bitch,” and the Bret Michaels-penned “Love’s a Hard Game to Play”) aren’t very good. It’s a shame that the three-disc boxed set Enchanted wasn’t also made available in a one-or-two-disc form, because it’s very, very well-compiled, not only including “Nightbird” and “After the Glitter Fades,” but even going out of its way to include hit singles that Nicks made guest appearances on, like Kenny Loggins’ “Whenever I Call You Friend” and John Stewart’s “Gold,” as well as several very good (and hard-to-obtain) B-sides and soundtrack cuts, including a great live version of “Edge of Seventeen” that blows away the studio recording.