Fleetwood Mac’s overlong Say You Will sorely missed Christine McVie

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Christine McVie’s absence on Say You Will, released this week in 2003, unbalanced Fleetwood Mac’s delicate dynamic. The album ends up feeling like a conversation between two people, namely Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, rather than a true band effort.

In truth, that’s what Say You Will was once supposed to be, a new duo recording. Place these same songs under the Fleetwood Mac banner, however, and you begin to miss McVie’s brief respites of pure, joyous pop. Her absence keeps this album from rising above the middle of the Fleetwood Mac pack.

That said, Stevie Nicks hadn’t sounded this engaged since she put out Bella Donna more than 20 years before. Post-rehab, she finally returned for a Fleetwood Mac album and tour as an important contributor. There’s a refreshing melancholy about “Goodbye Baby,” which showed Nicks could inhabit other personas besides that of the witchy woman. (Conversely, when she returns there for “Illume,” it feels a little rote.)

Lindsey Buckingham? Well, he’s still weird. It’s to his credit, of course, since Buckingham is principally responsible for moving Fleetwood Mac away from the sometimes-staid sensibility (either toward white blues or, later, toward soft rock) that the group always had. But, too often of late, it seemed Buckingham had hardened into a musical experimenter — one whose solo stuff could be unlistenably convoluted.

Say You Will gave Buckingham license for a return to more mainstream impulses, and we find him luxuriating in some gorgeous Beach Boy-ish harmonies and song structures (the terrific “Come”), even if he must indulge himself with one guitar meltdown tune. There are moments when the album almost finds greatness — particularly in moments like “What’s the World Coming To” and “Bleed to Love Her.”

All that was missing, alas, was Christine McVie — and a sharper eye for editing. At 18 songs, Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will is simply too long. A few tracks could have been left aside, and a few others should have been McVie songs.

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