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Tango til You're Sore...
on 9 April 2007
Fleetwood Mac are a group frequently associated with great stylistic leaps, but a close analysis of their work does not strictly bear this theory out. Sure, the early blues material is a world away from Stevie Nicks, but there is a path that one can use to connect the dots. Moving from the blues influences, taking them into an American soft-rock style, they arguably never changed over the course of the 70s, just got better at what they did.
By the 80s, personnel problems had slowed the band's out-put significantly (and for a band with a history of personnel problems like Fleetwood Mac, that's really saying something!) and they only released two albums during the decade; 'Mirage' and 'Tango in the Night'. Strangely, both of these albums are compromised, but in very different ways. 'Mirage' can easily be viewed as an attempt by the band to claw back some of the ground they lost commercially after 'Tusk', smoothing out the edges to such a point where several tracks verge on sounding bland. 'Tango', however, is a compromise in that it was not even meant to be a Fleetwood Mac album...
Lindsey Buckingham revealed a strong appreciation for new wave music in some of 'Tusk's' more idiosynchratic moments, and those experiments come to fruition on 'Tango in the Night'. Even though the sound has dated considerably, it is still possible to appreciate that 'Tango' is a thouroughly "modern" album. There is a sheen to the sound that keeps it fresh and crisp, synthesisers are used through-out the album, but are never too prominent, and many of the melodies have a distinctly new wave feel to them, and are far removed from the 'Californian' tendencies of the earlier Bukingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac. This is a modern 80s album, and is everything that implies.
Songwise, Buckingham and Christine McVie emerge with the strongest contributions, both penning songs and arrangements that are ideally suited to this new, modern Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham's songs are by turns dark and whimsical, retaining a melodic playfulness, as well as a harder edged sense of melodrama, several songs building to quite a dramatic climax (the title track being a prime example of this). McVie occupies the role of the pop writer on the album, providing material like 'Everywhere' and the timeless 'Little Lies'. However, she also gives us 'Isn't it Midnight', which really is the closest Fleetwood Mac ever came to possessing a new wave sound, with some scorching guitar work at the end from Buckingham.
Stevie Nicks, being largely absent from the recording due to personal problems and solo commitments, contributes a mixed bag of songs. Whilst 'Seven Wonders' is one of the best singles she ever wrote for the band, 'Welcome to the Room, Sara' is a bit too whimsical to be entirely successful, and probably would have been more at home on a Stevie Nicks solo album. 'When I See You Again', a slow ballad, is one of the worst things the Nicks/Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac ever recorded. Stevie's voice struggles the whole way through it, attempting to convey emotional intesity, but sounding like a cheese-grater has been rubbed accross her vocal chords, whilst the song takes a long time to make it's point, leaving not much of an impression by either melody or lyrics.
Given the time of it's recording, and the production techniques used, this is probably one of the albums where Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are least prominent. McVie's bass in particular is pulled way back in the mix and possesses none of the 'fatness' on display in songs like 'Dreams' or 'The Chain'. However, his sense of melodic invention is still apparent, greatly enhancing tunes like 'Everywhere'. Fleetwood's drums are also a little less unbridled than the used to be, gaining a tight, metronomic power that is appropriate for the songs. Although he does still get the chance to go a bit mad on 'Caroline'.
This is an underatted album, primarily because it doesen't fit into any easily accepted notion of what Fleetwood Mac are about. It is not a rock album, and it is not a singer-songwriter album. It is a pop album, but - perhaps crucially - it is a Lindsey Buckingham album, played by Fleetwood Mac. Which probably explains why so few of his 'actual' solo albums have been as artistically satisfying.