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The Best Album Ever Made
on 7 March 2008
Reviewing a best-selling, immensely popular album over 30 years after it was released is a bit like trying to evaluate Marmite. It's been around for ages, you know that people will always buy it, but everyone either loves it or hates it already, and there's little point trying to change their minds.
For me, Rumours is just about the best album ever made, and 'Go Your Own Way' is my favourite song, my desert island disc, the one that still sends a shiver up my spine and makes me smile and / or cry (or both) every time I hear it. Part of that is down to memories of earlier times evoked by the music (it just sounds like it came from better days, whether it really did or not); part of it is down to a knowledge of the intricate human relationships within the band and the messages these songs were sending from one member to another; but largely it's just down to the sheer quality of the music. The 'classic' Fleetwood Mac line-up really was just that - Mick Fleetwood the 'Daddy'; John McVie the quiet, morose, no-nonsense bass player, together forming a tight, world-class, instantly recognisable rhythm section; Christine McVie the stalwart keyboardist; Lindsey Buckingham the brash, neurotic Californian with a talent for guitar-playing that is sorely underrated, an ego the size of the Hollywood hills and a perfectionist's drive to push the musical envelope; and Stevie Nicks, slim and fair, every 70s schoolboy's fantasy star-child, all black lace, high boots and flounces, with a voice that rasps and soothes in equal measure.
If you doubt the quality of the music, and the work that went into it, spare a hour or so to watch the Classic Albums DVD that is devoted to Rumours, in which studio techies Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat deconstruct and rebuild the tracks, fading in and out individual elements of sound to illustrate the craftsmanship involved. At the end of the day, if you've been around since 1977 you'll know most of the songs already. If you haven't, you might be put off by labels like Californian AOR, soft rock, country rock, MOR. Rumours is probably all of that, with a few elements of folk thrown in for good measure. What makes it stand out in its entirety is the songwriting, the attention to musical detail, the wonderful harmonies and musicianship that is tight as a drum. Dross often sells by the bucketload, but Rumours is that rare artefact: something with sound artistic merit AND populist appeal. For the committed post-hippy late seventies sensitive teen with West Coast aspirations, Rumours was THE album to be seen with. For those teens, now in their 40's and 50's, it still is.
So, to the music. The quality of the remastering is first class, delivering a ringing clarity and separation that was missing from the original version. The second CD in this expanded package is an irrelevance really, demonstrating no more than work in progress. Of the songs, 'Dreams', 'The Chain', 'Don't Stop', 'Never Going Back Again', 'Go Your Own Way' and others need no introduction. Omitted from the original album for reasons of length and limitations of the LP capacity, 'Silver Springs' is a superb Stevie Nicks song that regains its rightful place. Nicks was blossoming as a songwriter, never better than on the trilogy of Fleetwood Mac albums beginning with Fleetwood Mac in 1975 and ending with Tusk in 1979. Her voice has dropped an octave or two since then; here she still sounds fresh and focused. 'Oh Daddy' and 'Songbird' represent two of Christine McVie's finest moments. Lindsey Buckingham's songs have indications of the greater experimentation he would go on to develop on Tusk, and later on his solo albums. But in 'Go Your Own Way', he wrote a lament to his ex-lover, Nicks, their relationship crashing around them during the making of the album. On the surface it's the classic top-down, sunny summer Californian driving rock song, all ringing guitars and shining harmonies. But it's much more than that too; it's full of sadness and longing, loneliness and regret, bitterness and anger. The fact that Buckingham addressed it to the person who stood only feet away from him singing harmonies on it, gives it an extra twist of irony, just like life itself. You either love it or you hate it. You either get it or you don't.