Rumours (Deluxe Edition)
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
To be a fan of tuneful, tastefully literate rock in the mid- to late- 1970s was to walk among giants. The better the albums were, the more sophisticated and polished the songs and arrangements, the better they sold and the bigger their cultural impact – Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, Steely Dan’s Aja, the Eagles’ Hotel California, Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees, Joni Mitchell’s Court And Spark, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years.
Yet the biggest and most enduring of all those “sophisticated rock” albums came from the unlikeliest of sources – Fleetwood Mac, which had started in late-1960s Britain as a psychedelicized blues-rock outfit and, through a long and complex evolution of personnel and direction, became L.A.-based purveyors of plangent confessional pop-rock. To accomplish that, three of the band’s core members – drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and pianist/composer Christine McVie (John’s wife) had moved to L.A. and hired a California singer-songwriter pair, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. Magic resulted. Not only did that give Fleetwood Mac three strong voices, but two were female – rare at the time.
Their finest album, 1977’s Rumours, addresses with heart and sharp insight the romantic disengagements and re-entanglements of the members in the free-spirited, free-love 1970s. It has just been reissued by Rhino Records in a four-disc edition that includes “Silver Springs” (originally left off the album), studio outtakes, live recordings from a 1977 tour, a vintage film about the making of Rumours, and a vinyl platter. (A smaller but “expanded” Rumours also is available.)
Fleetwood Mac at this point was a sum of some very strong parts. Christine McVie was a tunesmith worthy of the Brill Building’s heyday – Goffin and McVie? – yet had also been touched by Joni Mitchell. She also had perfect pitch – the outtakes and live cuts show she could find the right key, the perfect melodiousness, for her vocals right from the get-go. She has four songs on Rumours – the jaunty “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun,” and the introspective “Songbird” and “Oh Daddy,” a tribute to Fleetwood.
Nicks was at her vocal peak here. The huskiness, which she still could control, gave “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman” and “Silver Springs” a moody, bluesy sensuality that suited the subject matter and provided a touch of the mystic.
Buckingham’s three solo songs are a cornucopia of influences – Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers on “Second Hand News,” Americana and Appalachian folk on “Never Going Back Again,” and folk-rock/garage-rock on “Go Your Own Way.” The latter continues to amaze for the way the opening acoustic strumming – it slams like punk – fights with Fleetwood’s drumming. When it comes together, its raw driving urgency and the desperation of Buckingham’s thin, stretched voice keep you riveted.
The discipline that Buckingham the guitarist showed in service of these songs is particularly notable – he is a virtuoso guitarist whose finger-picking style and confident soloing could have led him to really show off. His restraint is one of his greatest contributions.