(Apologies if this is on the short side today; I have entertainment commitments later today that involve baking banana bread, and other such alliterative delights.)
Fleetwood Mac is another of those bands who I seem to have only been drawn to as I’ve got older. Likewise, Rumours is an album that has been floating on the edge of my awareness as a classic, but I didn’t pick it up until I spotted it in my partner’s CD collection. Since then, it’s been a regular staple in the car playlist, and for good reason- there’s not a dud song on the whole album.
The theme is well-known by now: Abba-style, the band members were undergoing a flurry of divorces, peppered with then-unknown affairs for good measure. And much like the Swedish quartet, they chose to publically deal with this via the medium of song. This really is a marvellously voyeuristic glimpse into a band in turmoil, taking lyrical pot shots at each other; but it’s also done with the tightest of harmonies and the highest calibre of musical craftsmanship.
We kick off with Second Hand News, all bright zinging guitar, Celtic folksy percussion and 50s-style ‘ba-ba-ba’ backing vocals; it’s almost a country record, if country revolved around asking your lover to have one final fling before you bugger off:
Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass
And let me do my stuff
One thing I think you should know
I ain’t gonna miss you when you go
Harsh. Dreams is a slightly gentler rebuke, being as it was penned by Stevie Nicks; predictably, then, it’s a floaty ethereal being like Nicks herself. (She doesn’t really dispel the image by appearing on the album cover as her Rhiannon persona, now does she?) The harmonies are absolutely sublime, with the simplest of acoustic and slide guitar accompaniments. It’s a joy to listen to, but remember, we don’t like to talk about that Corrs cover version round these parts.
Never Going Back Again, written by Lindsey Buckingham about a one night stand in New England, resounds with multiple layers of acoustic guitar and warm folky goodness. For all that, though, it almost sounds like it would be tailor-made for a gentle, pastoral 70s art show in the manner of Tony Hart. Come on, those ‘gallery’ moments with the terrible scrawly portraits by Bob Smith aged 5, they surely used to have this sort of soothing guitar odes to infidelity alongside them? (Exit, pursued by a Lindsey Buckingham)
We now come to the punchy centre of the album, with one single after another. It’s like the zingy tastebud-tickling centre of the Rumours chocolate. First up is Don’t Stop, a stompy, rocky, anthemic piece with Christine McVie’s optimistic lyrics over punchy tack piano, followed by Buckingham’s more downbeat outlook on Go Your Own Way:
Tell me why
Everything turned around
Shacking up is all you wanna do
A pot shot at Ms Nicks there. Nevertheless, it’s poppy, toe-tapping cattiness, rousing with its insistent drums and sweet harmonies on the chorus. One to have on when you’re driving along a quiet open road, perhaps. Songbird brings thoughtful respite to all that excitement. McVie’s lyrics cut to the quick over simple piano backing; it’s heartbreakingly plaintive, crisply melodic and just plain wonderful.
Resplendent in all the glory than now surrounds it decades later, The Chain struts in with quietly confident banjos and a folky attitude. Like others of its type (Wings’ Band On The Run and so on), this is multiple songs in one. It kicks off with twangy bluesy guitar and the most honey-sweet harmonies on the record, hands down, then builds to the chorus, now the anthem most associated with the Mac:
And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain
The mournful guitar finishes, and then without warning the piece reaches 3:04, when the most famous couple of bars in rock history appear:
Coincidentally, it’s the first riff I learned to play on the bass, and it’s still as powerful and earworming as it was many decades ago. The combination of this legendary bassline and the screaming lead guitar drives The Chain to a powerful end. No Formula One pun intended there.
You Make Loving Fun, dealing with McVie’s new boyfriend, is a suddenly R&B-tinged addition, all fat clavinet and soaring chorus with 10cc-ish harmonies waxing lyrical on that elated feeling of new love. Retro Buddy Holly creeps in with I Don’t Want To Know; it’s playful, carefree and good old straightforward rock and roll.
A cryptic reference to a certain ‘big daddy’ in the group, Oh Daddy is a dark and brooding piece almost sounding like it could come from the slower Jeff Wayne pieces, with keyboard noodlings and improvised bass in an ode to falling for someone hard:
Everything you do is just alright,
And I can’t walk away from you, baby
If I tried
Falling for other vices is the topic of Gold Dust Woman, the final track on Rumours. Stevie Nicks tackles her drug addictions head-on in her trademark airy image-laden style. Harpsichord and dobro (resonating guitar) twang and chime their way through this quasi-tribal tribute to excess, almost sounding like sitars at some points but ensuring that the album draws to a close on a thoughtful note.
Rumours earns a well-deserved place among the canon of classic albums for good reason. It shows off to great effect the flawless craftsmanship of Buckingham and McVie, the wistful hippy vision of Nicks, and the musical genius of Fleetwood. It’s like being slapped in the face with a precocious hand of a prodigy. And it sure feels good.