[DISCUSSION] A Review and Discussion of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours
I’ve complained recently about the lack of quality content here, so instead of waiting for someone else to write something, I decided to write something myself. Except that I don’t understand music whatsoever, so I at least went with an album I know and love, and that’s Rumours, an album with one of the juciest backstories in the history of modern music. I’ve styled this after the For Your Consideration series on /r/indieheads. Feel free to listen through the album before you read, and then participate in the discussion afterwards!Artist – Fleetwood MacAlbum – Rumours (1977)Listen:YoutubeSpotifyBackground1976 was a pretty great year in American history. Viking 1 became the first spacecraft to land on Mars. The nation had a huge party for 200 years in existence. The first Rocky movie was released, and The Philadelphia Art Museum steps became a cultural icon. The Cowboys lost the Superbowl, something that we can all get behind. For Fleetwood Mac, a band that was now just as much American as it was British, 1976 left a lot to be desired, and that’s putting it lightly. The preceding year had seen the release of their self-titled album, which enjoyed a lot of critical and commercial success. The songs Rhiannon and Landslide are still popular today, which can be attributed to Nick’s flawless vocal delivery and great instrumentation and harmonies from the rest of the band.However, after extensive touring, tensions rose between each and every member of the band. Bassist John McVie and keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie, who had been married six years, divorced due to tensions directly from touring and Christine’s affair with the band’s sound engineer. Mick Fleetwood, the band’s drummer and along with John one of the two founding members left in the band, found out his wife had an affair with the band’s guitarist Bob Weston. Weston was fired shortly afterward. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had the most volatile situation of them all; their on/off relationship resulted in frequent shouting matches and was not the relationship you wanted for two of your principle songwriters. Nicks would reveal in an interview with Uncut in 2003 that they were already having troubles prior to joining the band in ’74.The band entered the recording studio with these conflicts weighing heavily on them, along with the press spreading rumors (heh) to the public: Buckingham and Nicks were photographed with their child (except that it was Fleetwood’s daughter they were with), Christine McVie was seriously ill in the hospital (untrue), there was a reunion coming up with former members (also untrue). The pressure got to the band members, and they attempted to fix them with an unending flow of alcohol, cocaine, and probably some other things. Since their recording studio was right outside San Francisco, the hippie movement had made sure these substances were readily available. As they began recording, Nicks and Buckingham’s shouting matches in between takes were contrasted by the McVie’s cold distance and refusal to communicate other than when necessary. Christine had started seeing the band’s lighting director, and John responded with an indulgence in drugs and groupies.Fleetwood took up a guiding role in the group, and was focused on keeping the band together and recording despite his own troubles. He removed the clocks from the studio so the band would keep recording through long hours. As Christ Stone, owner of the recording studio, recalled, “The band would come in at 7 at night, have a big feast, party till 1 or 2 in the morning, and then when they were so whacked-out they couldn’t do anything, they’d start recording.” Many of the band members would discuss their issues with Fleetwood, and he would provide friendly advice. Nicks and Christine found a close friendship, and confided in each other about their failing relationships. John and Buckingham had a much more confrontational relationship, and butted heads over their professional and personal lives, while holding a mutual respect for each others’ musicianship.Keeping these issues in mind, Rumours becomes a powerfully emotional record. One band member would write a song about another band member, which they both would have to sing on! Nicks, Buckingham, and the former Mrs. McVie would write songs for each other, while John would play bass in quiet frustration. Each song tackles the difficulties of relationships and breakups, something that the five members of Fleetwood Mac had more experience with than probably the combined rest of the world’s populace. This exposition is vital to understanding the turmoil presented in the album. With that, let’s take a look at the music in Rumours.ReviewThe lyrical and musical themes are fastballed to you with the opener, Second Hand News, and each is used to brilliant effect. Buckingham’s lyrics paint a picture of how jaded he is now that his lover (the girl he’s singing along with) has moved on. Rumours is an album of dichotomy; here the one presented is an upbeat, fun song, while the narrator wallows in self-pity and fails miserably at pretending he’s past his ex. At the same time, he wouldn’t sing the full lyrics in the early takes so as not to upset Nicks. “I ain’t gonna miss you when you go”? Yeah sure Lindsey.Dreams, the second song, has often been described as a look into Stevie Nicks’s diary, and there doesn’t seem to be a better way to talk about it. Written in an afternoon by Nicks when she wasn’t needed for rehearsal, the lyrics are brimming with cheesy first-take lyrics that for whatever reason sound perfect. “Thunder only happens when it’s raining”, she cries in the chorus despite that being obviously untrue. But, this is someone expressing their deepest emotions, so who are we to tell them it’s wrong? “Players only love you when they’re playing” reads bad, but it’s a double entendre; there’s the obvious meaning, but when you remember this song is about a guy who plays instruments for a living, it becomes a little clearer that Nicks feels seen as valuable for her abilities, but not for herself. Little touches in the production elevate this song to grander levels. When you notice things like the light mmmm that Nicks hums at the very beginning, along with the bass drum getting a little louder at the word “heartbeat” to emulate that sound, it’s clear that the band spent a lot of time making sure this song was perfect.We then transition to Never Going Back Again, which might be my favorite song on the album, despite it being sandwiched amongst much more ambitious music on the A-side. From a technical standpoint, the fingerpicked guitar is superb, and serves as the driving force for the track due to the lack of percussion. Luckily that and the electric guitar provide more than enough instrumentation to keep you hooked, while Buckingham’s frantic shouting in the chorus reveals a man who is hurt and angry. He resigns with “I’m never going back again”, followed by an ooooohh that is sublime. Clocking in at only two minutes, I can’t tell if the song is too short, or the perfect length to be played over and over again.Don’t Stop is the album’s most explosive track; its chorus begs you to scream the words at the slow cars in the right lane as you pass by in your friend’s ’98 Toyota that you two thought would be a good idea to take a cross-country trip in until it breaks down about 7 hours in. The piano is the centerpiece of the song, as McVie furiously pounds the keys and harmonizes with Buckingham. The two are so in sync that you didn’t even notice that Buckingham sings the first verse and Christine sings the second until you sat down to write this review. Following this is Go Your Own Way, which with its predecessor provide one of the gnarliest 1-2 punches of the 70’s. Every band member, every instrument, gets a spotlight on this song. John McVie’s bass is subtle but integral for the chorus to be funky. The acoustic guitar plays the same chords for three and a half minutes, establishing a baseline that allows the electric guitar to morph and evolve as the song moves along, culminating into one of the only guitar solos on the album and a grand crescendo, assisted by shouts of “You can go your own way!”. My favorite aspect is Fleetwood’s drumming, which gets a little bit more intricate for some incredible results, especially in the verses. And we haven’t even talked about the lyrics, which are standard affair for this album by now but, once again, superbly delivered by Buckingham, who at this point has established his vocal style as a force to be reckoned with. Notice small things, like the second verse getting an extension to build tension before the chorus; there’s good reason this song is still a hit almost four decades later.At the conclusion of the first half, Christine McVie slows things in what is by far the most ballady song. That’s probably because Songbird directed at someone who isn’t her ex-husband. Instead, she now looks forward to the new love she has found. This might be the one misstep of the album; the song itself is fine, but its placement is a huge comedown after the excitement of the first five songs. Luckily, The Chain picks things right back up. The bass kicks in and you feel like you’re in an episode of ice road truckers, with the elements being your greatest enemy. Nicks and Buckingham continue to be perfectly in sync, ironically due to their mutual feelings of frustration and anger. This is the only song written by all five members of the band, and it’s clear that all of them feel this way about someone. The song eventually turns into a loud jam sesh, as Fleetwood Mac’s members are more than happy to let their instruments express what they can’t, don’t want to, or what won’t be understood in their words. Members of the group have been quoted as not realizing when they were being talked about in another member’s lyrics until after the album was released – sometimes it comes down to the music itself to do the talking.Christine is clearly happy with her new partner, as we’ve seen both optimistic songs on the album from her. Obviously You Make Loving Fun is a shot at her former spouse, as this new relationship is a direct contrast to the feelings of imprisonment that come with being married to an angry drunk. The two relationships stand in stark contrast, and are thrown in John’s face, who of course has a spotlight role in the song with his great bass lines. Keep an ear out for subtle wind chimes in the chorus, just another little detail that shows how meticulously crafted this album is.I Don’t Want to Know is my personal favorite track on the B-side. It’s the only song on the album that was written prior to Buckingham and Nicks joining the band, and because of that, it’s a lot more upbeat and flat-out fun. The repetition of the verse and chorus, with the bridge occasionally thrown in, lets the words of the two former lovers change with each echo. It’s one of the band’s most danceable songs; the handclaps and acoustic guitar take you to a backyard on a warm summer night, as you and your friends groove and fail miserably to sing along to a song you all only kind of know. Maybe he’ll play Wonderwall next.We’re coming in towards the end, and to celebrate we get Oh Daddy, another ballad from Christine. This might be the only song that isn’t directed at a romantic partner! Instead, it’s directed at Fleetwood, who was often called the dad of the group due to his leadership and mature presence. Lyrically, however, the titular words are awkward to sing (though in 2016 I guess this counts as a meme), making this potentially the only non-hit of the album. Musically, it’s great, and the backing vocals that repeat Christine’s choruses are wonderful.The thrilling conclusion to this seminal album starts as anything but a thrill, preferring to take its time and feel out exactly what it wants to be. Here, in Gold Dust Woman, we end with Nicks battling over not only her love life, but her addiction to drugs, something that has clearly characterized her until this point. “Rock on, gold dust woman” definitely has some entendre behind it. The production, however, is the star of the show, creating a sense of foreboding and anxiety in the hollowness of the hushed instrumentation. The reverb on Nick’s voice makes it sound like she’s in a room alone, singing as her voice echoes back to her. Funny enough, she was, as in order for her to make it through the recording without crying it took dimming the lights and leaving her in the studio to sing until she nailed it. In a similar vein to The Chain, the track then turns into an all out jam, this one angrier and more abrasive. Nicks wants her audience to feel her pain, and if we can’t through her words, we’ll feel it through guitars.Favorite LyricsBut listen carefully to the soundOf your loneliness like a heartbeat drives you madDreamsYou don’t know what it means to winNever Going Back AgainLoving you isn’t the right thing to doHow can I ever change the way that I feel?Go Your Own WayAnd if you don’t love me now, you will never love me againI can still hear you saying you would never break the chainThe ChainI dont wanna stand between you and love honey, I just want you to feel fineI Don’t Wanna KnowIs it over now? Do you know how to pick up the pieces and go home?Gold Dust WomanTalking PointsCan you relate to the lyrics of the album? If not, do you still enjoy them?Would you have been able to finish recording the album if you were in the position of any of the band members?What is the ideal setting for listening to this album?Do any of Fleetwood Mac’s other lineups or albums compare to this one?Songs from this album typically receive play on “adult contemporary” stations. What sets this album apart from typical pop-rock and mom pop? Is it better than other acts in the genre?
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[DISCUSSION] A Review and Discussion of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours