When looking for entries by Fleetwood Mac in Something Else! Reviews’ regular Sucks Series, there was plenty of blame to go around. After all, more than dozen different songwriters have moved through the band’s ranks.
It’s interesting to note, however, that as the band gets set to reform in 2013 with Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Stevie Nicks, you’ll find three of the four represented in the list we ultimately compiled — and the maddeningly inconsistent Buckingham shows up twice.
Throw in a bizarre offering from Danny Kirwan, and you’ve got a stunning list of misfires from a band that nevertheless reeled off an unbroken string of albums which earned at least gold status between 1973 and 1990.
If you were like us, you bought these records for the lacey mysteries of “Gypsy,” the pop perfection that is “Spare Me A Little of Your Love,” or the dark sexual danger of “Big Love.” But then … you found tucked away inside … songs like these …
“DANNY’S CHANT,” BARE TREES (1972): Dig that crazy wah-wah! Dude, no. Seriously. Filled with directionless, noodle-y solos and — though I guess this is no surprise — an oceanic, echo-filled group of … chants. Also of little surprise: This would be the final Fleetwood Mac project for composer Danny Kirwan, who was starting to act increasingly erratic.
What’s with early Fleetwood Mac and flameouts? It had only been a months since both Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer had vanished from the band. The word was, upon running into his replacement Bob Weston, Kirwan said: “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
Bare Trees eventually went platinum anyway, but that was on the strength of a pair of songs that came from elsewhere: Bob Welch’s original version of “Sentimental Lady,” later a solo hit, and Christine McVie’s “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” — which became a concert staple in the mid-1970s. Weston, it’s worth noting, eventually ended up getting fired after sleeping with drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife, starting a string of inter-band affairs, counter-affairs and counter-counter-affairs that would ultimately spark a creative zenith with 1977’s Rumours.
“SILVER GIRL,” SAY YOU WILL (2003): Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were apparently at work on a side project when their songs suddenly morphed into the newest Fleetwood Mac album — and this is an example of that process failing to produce something measurably different from the worst of their solo work.
“Silver Girl” is a pastiche of Nicks’ worst tics: She’s coquettish when she means to be lonesome, whiny when she’s trying to be winsome. Also, at more than four minutes, this string of narcissistic, witchy-woman cliches just goes on and on — as does this endless fill-the-CD project, which could have been cut in half and been a better effort.
It didn’t help that Say You Will was the first Fleetwood Mac recording not to feature songs from Christine McVie since 1970’s Kiln House. She only appears as a backup singer on three tracks, all of which were originally done for the Buckingham solo project. Her absence brings into high relief the templated feel of moments like “Silver Girl,” something that makes the album seem longer than Tusk — and a whole lot less interesting.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Stevie Nicks is one of those ingredients that only tastes completely right in concert with other things – like Fleetwood Mac in general and, more specifically, Lindsey Buckingham.]
“EMPIRE STATE,” MIRAGE (1982): After indulging in the sprawling, wildly expensive, weirdly effective double-album experiment called Tusk, Fleetwood Mac back slid into a comfy retro vibe for Mirage — and that’s no where better illustrated than this song.
Just what the world needed: Another paean to New York City. Check that — another paean to New York City with a disco beat. Sorry, check that again — another paean to New York City with a disco beat … several years after the disco fad had become passe. It bears mentioning, too, that this is coming from one of the bands that absolutely personified the California sound, the California lifestyle, the California look … the California ethos. They are about as New York as a screw-top bottle of Napa chardonnay.
Some of the blame for this particular mess can be laid at the feet of co-writer Richard Dashut, who apparently had a better touch on the other side of the glass — having co-produced every Fleetwood Mac studio album from 1977-87, not to mention a pair of Buckingham’s more highly regarded solo efforts. Spoiler alert: This isn’t Dashut’s only appearance on our list.
“THESE STRANGE TIMES,” TIME (1995): Let’s just say expectations had to be lowered for Fleetwood Mac’s 16th release. The record — produced by (whoops) Dashut — features neither Stevie Nicks nor Lindsey Buckingham, for the first time since 1974’s Heroes Are Hard To Find. Boy, were they ever: Replacements Dave Mason (Traffic) and Bekka Bramlett (Delaney and Bonnie’s daughter) would be gone within a year, but not before seeing Time fail to chart in the U.S., something that hadn’t happened to Fleetwood Mac since 1968’s Mr. Wonderful.
To be fair, however, this album-closing dirge wasn’t their fault. Lead vocalist (?) Mick Fleetwood, who provides the expected jungle rhythms over a vacuous, snoozy spoken-word oration, is credited as the co-composer here: “I look into my heart and see the light and not the dark, and how I am sad and wished I was in love … and this is hell, being caught between the dark and light.”
Oh, this is hell, alright. And it goes on for seven excruciating minutes — like listening to a particularly poor sermon given over the soundtrack from soft-core motel porn. To no one’s surprise, Buckingham and Nicks were back for the next Fleetwood Mac project.
“FAMILY MAN,” TANGO IN THE NIGHT (1987): Some mildly interesting guitar from Buckingham is embedded in the middle of this off-kilter, calorie-free throwaway, but that’s not enough — not nearly enough — to distract from every other awful thing going on here.
Replacing narrative and musical content with studio trickery, Buckingham — and Dashut, who receives both co-writing and -producing (dis)credit — throws everything up against the wall: Vocals that bounce from one side of your skull to the other, bizarre echo effects, a plinky synth, slowed tapes, sped-up tapes, those now now-patented banjo-y chicken-plucking asides. For all of their savvy, writing a good song might have been less work. Instead, they can’t come up with a lyric that doesn’t do much more than repeat “mother,” “father” and “I am what I am.” (Maybe Popeye can discern what any of this means.) Buckingham’s already used this beat, too — and to far better effect — elsewhere on “Big Love.”
It’s unclear if dread over having to recreate this dolled-up tripe on stage spurred him toward the decision, but Buckingham would vanish before the tour in support of Tango in the Night got underway — and the band, which continued forward with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito, didn’t bother playing it, either.
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