Fleetwood Mac – [Album]

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

"Then there’s Pete
Didn’t want no fame
So he gave all his money away
There’s something wrong
He tried to be strong
So they certified him insane.”

– “Jail Guitar Doors” by The Clash

Oh, dear reader, the sacrifices I make for you. Lately, I've been subjecting myself to repeated listens of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, one of the least deserving mega-hit albums of all time, just so I can explain to you why it sucks so badly.

Seriously, when I was first offered this for review, I declined, stating, “Any time any song from that album comes on the radio, I change stations immediately.” After first declining the album though, I mulled it over and decided to tackle it. Maybe it deserved another listen, maybe I was wrong. Or, if I still hated it, maybe I could at least determine exactly what bothered me so much about it. The idea seemed sound enough, so I told my editor I'd take a run at the recently released reissue of Rumours and began the prospect of putting the record on trial, critically.

The verdict is in, and I still hate it.

Why do I hate this album? It’s not just that it's so overplayed, although that certainly doesn’t help. There’s something more about it which grates on me.

The first clue is contained in that snippet of Clash lyric listed above. In case you’re not familiar with Fleetwood Mac’s history, the “Pete” that The Clash reference is Peter Green, the founder and original guitarist for Fleetwood Mac, who was one of the great blues guitarists of the Sixties and who was, in fact, committed because he wanted to give all their profits to charity. My point here is less that they were a much better band when he was in them, though of course they were. But liking any earlier version of a band is not adequate reason to hate the latter-day group. And it’s not like I can blame this version of the band for firing Green either; there were several different line-ups before this one.

But there is a sense that this Fleetwood Mac pursued commercial success much more seriously than the earlier versions. What I hate about Rumours is that it is the epitome of slick, commercial rock. And I must pause in my tirade to give them credit for that. If that is your taste, you can’t go wrong with this album. If you want something bouncy and easy on the ears – something that’s pleasant and doesn’t challenge you in any way, here you go. But that’s not what I am looking for (I am The Aging Punk, after all).

It’s not just that the music has been polished so much it shines. It’s been polished so much that you can’t get a grip on it. Any but the most superficial connection with Rumours is impossible, because everything just slides off the music.

Part of the legend of this album is the emotional turmoil that went into its making. Everyone in the band was breaking up with and/or screwing everyone else while they were recording. I’ll admit this comes through occasionally in the lyrics, but you don’t feel it as you listen. No, as I said, it’s a pretty happy, bouncy album. If you want to listen to the emotional turmoil of divorce, pick up a copy of Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson. Every note of that album, every vocal quaver and guitar lick, screams pain. Listen to that, and then put on Rumours, and I dare you to tell me it contains a fraction of the same feelings – be they joy or emotional torment.

The bonus tracks on the reissue of Rumours really make my point. The Expanded Edition comes with two bonus CDs: a concert recording, and a disc of demos and outtakes. The live disc does have its moments. On songs like “The Chain”  and “World Turning, Fleetwood Mac actually jams a bit, and it sounds really good. There are moments when it's possible to feel something in the vocals as well.

Some of the live tunes are good, but the demos are really revelatory. Some of the raw tracks appeal to me much more than the finished ones ever have; there are at least hints of real feelings in them. This is especially true of a beautiful, haunted version of “Dreams,” with an echoey guitar shimmering in the background. Even “Silver Springs,” a B-side, expresses hurt and longing far better than anything on the actual album.

These tracks give a hint of what this album could have been, before the songs were wiped clean during the recording and post-production processes. Judging by the demos and outtakes on this deluxe reissue, Rumours could have been an album I'd enjoy listening to – at least a few times in a year.



The deluxe reissue of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.