Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (35th Anniversary 3CD Deluxe Edition)
They don’t make ‘em like this any more. No. Really. They don’t. They don’t dare. Rumours. The monster. The behemoth. That arch scrawl of poisoned confessional, re-fashioned as a loose-limbed, brown-skinned, white-toothed exemplar of all that is FM-friendly. LA to the core but an ocean away from California dreamin’, Rumours is shadowy and sorrowful. On one level, sure, it's breezy and carefree; from a distance there’s little to pick between Fleetwood Mac and their smooth contemporaries. But the likes of, say, The Eagles and The Doobie Brothers, while matching them for drive-time, cross-party appeal, lacked the Mac’s dark heart and their genre-crossing musicality. West Coast vibes never sounded quite so…overcast
They don’t make ‘em like this anymore because they can’t. More than a generation on and albums are a gamble, a high risk expense. These days, even established artists record on a spreadsheet, a project tracked in such miniscule detail that the drummer knows three weeks in advance he’s doing cymbals on a Friday at 8.30am. Fleetwood Mac, already side-tracked by a mire of break-ups and divorce, would arrive at their studio in the evening, have dinner, get royally smashed into the early hours…and then start recording. Young pups, you think you’re rock ‘n’ roll? This lot were picking up their instruments not even sure of what they’d put down the day before.
Of course, part of Rumours’ continuing appeal lies in its legendary booze/coke-fuelled genesis, a back story that chimes with our wrong-headed but classic perception of a cooler, libertarian age of rock. But, more tellingly, its smartest trick isn’t even the way in which it tricked the world into splashing out for a peep into a cursory and candid documenting of relationships devastated by riches and fame. (Its gazillion sales are from another age and, like so many of the big hitters from the 70s and 80s, unlikely to ever be repeated.) No, the real eyebrow raiser is how it clawed at popular culture to such an unholy degree and refused to let go. Everyone loves Rumours. It demolishes notions of cred, dismisses artistic divides, stomps on compartmentalisation. 35 years on, it sounds like, feels like, an oddity, somehow out there and ineffably challenging, yet with the broadest popular appeal.
The clipped funk clatter of ‘Second Hand News’ is an unexpected opening, a disorienting departure. Stevie Nicks, furthering her noir visions, developing her white witch persona with ‘Dreams’ and the epic cod-psychedelia of ‘Gold Dust Woman’. Lindsey Buckingham, on the searing ‘Go Your Own Way’ and the sparse, acoustic ‘Never Going Back Again’ is forever in two minds for all his bile (recurring theme: I hate you, get out of my life...but if you, you know, ever change your mind...) In contrast to the bitterness of the source material, Christine McVie was always one step ahead, matching her band mates for candour but ditching recrimination in favour of wide-eyed and love-struck. (Dismissing the likes of ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun’ for their frothiness misses the point. An album of a mere eleven songs can only handle so much heartache.)
The songs, then. Rumours is an almost embarrassing display of song craft. McVie’s contributions are classically cut and timeless. When you hear her swoon all over a line like “And I love you, I love you, I love you…like never before”, you simply want to toss it at the feet of the current crop. There you go. Got one of them in you? Nah? Didn’t think so. Of course, it’s Nicks and Buckingham who lower the lights and mix the magic hour ingredients. Nicks would match and even top her contribution here on later records (‘Sara’, ‘Sisters of the Moon’) but ‘Dreams’, a radio staple to this day, is shattering. Buckingham gives notice of the madness to come with a methodology that seems to embrace the tenets of the popular song while simultaneously dismantling them. ‘The Chain’ – what the hell is it? What were they on? And then there are the vocals: rich, three part harmonies that manage to mesh three distinctly different singers into one unique, brittle whole. On both ‘The Chain’ and ‘Gold Dust Woman’, and their dizzying, monstrous hooks (“And did she make you cry, make you break down / Did she shatter your illusions of love?”), Fleetwood Mac achieve a special and rare alchemy.
If you (foolishly) wanted to attempt a Rumours for the new century, you could get so far with the key ingredients. And when you switch listening mode from the accumulated comfort of letting the whole damn thing almost wash over you for decades to re-connecting on an un-blinkered ‘critical’ level, the key componentry is clear enough. Three lead singers. (Two girls, three guys? Perfect.) Decidedly above average (but non-virtuoso) musicianship. Solid legacy (with a dash of sexy line-up re-arrangement). A sackful of big, big tunes (rockers and ballads both.) Easy? Right? Bollocks. Hey, even the band recognised the futility of a repeat and followed up with the ambitious and sprawling Tusk, a schizoid double that rewards effort but confused the masses.
The history since is complicated and beautifully messy. After the relative failure of both Tusk and the easier to digest Mirage, 1987’s Tango in the Night embraced modern production values and gave them an unexpected hit. Since then a slew of session musicians have messed with the formation. Sadly, Christine McVie appears to have made her exit permanent. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, needless to say, are the indefatigable spine forever. Solo albums have been hit and miss but, crucially, Nicks’ and Buckingham’s most recent work was their best for a couple of decades. Which bodes well for the inevitable forthcoming tour but also makes the prospect of a new Fleetwood Mac album (hinted at by Fleetwood) something to welcome rather than fear.
This re-issue sidesteps the usual lazy anniversary grabbing. Don’t forget the packaging, that semi-legendary artwork. In the digital age, holding Rumours in your hand remains a joy. Those of us who still marvel at the original vinyl with its four page lyric/photo book get to drool again. There are additional photos from the era and comments from the band, looking back. (Nicks illuminates: “Somehow it doesn’t sound old. It’s almost creepy how it doesn’t get old.”) Most, of course, continue to have a fondness for its fanciful, wonderfully ludicrous cover but its (original) back cover tells the best story: John McVie in shades and caught mid-clap (?), Buckingham sporting the kinkiest afro, Nicks the epitome of Orange Country blonde, Fleetwood aping á la Marty Feldman at the back and Christine McVie hidden beneath fringe and scarf, her Roman profile turned away from her band-mates, distracted, not quite there. A pose that looks further into the future than surely she could ever have known at the time.
A wealth of previously unreleased material shines bright. Material from the ’77 tour confirms what a sharp live proposition they were but the real treasure comes in the form of a selection of outtakes from the original sessions. Remember that Spitting Image sketch that featured an ad for a Stevie Nicks ‘Best of’ – the one where her flat, growling monotone meant you couldn’t actually distinguish the words? A live acoustic ‘Dreams’ and ‘Gold Dust Woman’ with just Nicks on vocals buries that one. An alternate ‘Go Your Own Way’ misses backing vocals but a shed-load of guitar up-front sells it as a genuinely worthy addition. Elsewhere, Buckingham ballses up ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and says “verse” before singing the verse. ‘Silver Springs’, ‘Planets of the Universe’ and ‘Doesn’t Anything Last’ make claims for inclusion on the original release. Best of all is McVie’s ‘Keep Me There’, the architecture of which was eventually stripped for ‘The Chain’ and which still stands alone as something magical. Conversely, a demo of ‘The Chain’ makes clear what was chopped and what was kept.
Shortly after REM broke big with Green, Peter Buck said his secret ambition was to write a song that sat square in the canon as an unquestionable pop classic, a tune that everyone, as soon as it came on the radio, would know and (hopefully) love. He eventually came up with just one, which, by anyone’s standards, is good going. On Rumours alone, with ‘Dreams’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘The Chain’ and ‘Songbird’, Fleetwood Mac managed four. As Christine McVie says on a live demo of the latter here, “Just roll the tapes, let’s just see what happens.” Yeah. Let’s see.