Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Fleetwood Mac

Reviewed on this page:
Then Play On - The Early Years - Future Games - Bare Trees - Fleetwood Mac - Rumours - Tusk - Bella Donna - Mirage - Christine McVie - Street Angel - The Dance - Say You Will - Under The Skin

The ultimate material for a VH1 Behind The Music special: success, lean years, drugs, violence, breakups, personnel changes, tell-all bios, and, oh yeah, a bunch of fine albums. From electric blues to Bill Clinton's election jingle, Fleetwood Mac has covered a lot of ground during almost forty years of existence. The band was originally a collaboration between the McVie-Fleetwood rhythm section and guitarist/songwriter/singer Peter Green that originated in John Mayall's Blues Breakers; they picked up a master slide guitarist (Jeremy Spencer), and maintained a strong blues-rock orientation. But almost from the beginning they were flirting with more mainstream pop, bringing in Danny Kirwan's folky stylings. Then things started going out of control: Green quit; Spencer flipped out and joined a religious cult; his replacement was dismissed after an affair with Fleetwood's wife; etc. Meanwhile, McVie's wife, the former Christine Perfect, took on an increasingly prominent role in the band, when she wasn't engaging in soap operas of her own like an affair with the band's lighting director. After Green's departure the group moved further away from the blues, becoming a more generic rock/pop band.

During those years it's amazing that the band managed to continue recording and performing (indeed, at one point their manager was so tired of their personal problems that he sent a team of imposters out on the road in their place). One thing they didn't manage to do was sell a lot of records. All that changed when they accidentally bumped into two Americans, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who were eking out a meager existence while trying to record their second album. Almost overnight, there were three talented songwriters in the band, and the new five-piece unit - both McVies, Fleetwood, Buckingham and Nicks - became a chart-selling platinum act on both sides of the Atlantic. This lineup stayed together for over a decade, with breaks for solo projects, before the revolving door started again: first Buckingham left, then Nicks, though they briefly reunited for Clinton's 1993 inauguration. Then briefly sighted in the band were former Traffic member and longtime solo artist Dave Mason, and Bekka Bramlett, daughter of Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett. The early 90s lineup didn't have much commercial success, but a reunion by the five members of the late 70s lineup prompted a top-selling (mostly) live record.

I haven't made any attempt to list the dozens of solo albums put out by past and present band members, but I've commented on the few I know anything about. (DBW)

There's a big, flashy Fleetwood Mac site with all the usual info. (JA)

Mick Fleetwood, drums; John McVie, bass; Peter Green, guitar, vocals; Jeremy Spencer, guitar. Bob Brunning, bass, briefly replaced McVie in mid-1967. Danny Kirwan, guitar, added 1969. Green left after having a mental breakdown, 1970; Spencer left after joining a religious cult, later in 1970. Christine McVie, keyboards, vocals, joined 1970. Bob Welch, guitar, joined 1971, left 1974. Kirwan left 1972, replaced by Bob Weston, who also left 1972. Lindsey Buckingham, guitar, vocals, and Stevie Nicks, vocals, joined 1975. Buckingham left 1987, replaced by Rick Vito (guitar) and Billy Burnette (vocals). Nicks left 1990, replaced by Bekka Bramlett. Dave Mason joined, 1993. Nicks-Buckingham lineup reformed for a tour and live album, 1997.

Live At The Marquee (rec. 1967, rel. 1992)
A quarter-century later, Bob Brunning decided to cash in on his brief affiliation with the band by releasing a live tape from what was only his second gig as their new bassist. With Spencer not yet having turned into a part-time 50's rock 'n' roll parodist, most of the set list is dominated by classic blues tunes by artists like Elmore James. But there are also three Peter Green originals and one tune by Spencer. What you end up with is twelve really solid three-minute performances of blues standards, which is good, and the kind of sound quality you'd expect of a fifth-generation tape deriving from a hand-held recording, which is very, very bad. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this even to fanatics because the sound quality is barely a step up from the lousiest of lousy bootlegs. (JA)

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (1968)
This and the following three albums are almost impossible to get in the U.S. at a reasonable price, but believe me I'm looking. (JA)

Mr. Wonderful (1968)

English Rose (1969)
Features their first important compositions, the instrumental "Albatross," which topped the British charts, and "Black Magic Woman," which Santana turned into a major US hit in 1970. (JA)

Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)
I believe that both of the key tracks from the last album were recycled on this one. Considering the rate at which they were recording, this isn't too much of a surprise - their next album came out just a month later. (JA)

Then Play On (1969)
The band's original lineup was still more or less together by the time they recorded their fifth album. This time the songwriting is split between Green's bluesy, occasionally loud rockers and new member Danny Kirwan's folky pop dribblings - Spencer didn't even show for the sessions. The teenage Kirwan was a mediocre singer and an uninspired songwriter, worse than Green in all respects; he's got such a chilling effect that the band ends up sounding deathly quiet even on some of Green's songs. His only really good try is the intro track "Coming Your Way"; his instrumental "My Dream" sounds like a TV show theme song. But there is a big number here, namely Green's "Oh Well," an opus that starts out as a frenetic boogie-woogie rock/blues shouter and trails off as a creepy acoustic folk/classical guitar showcase. The first, vocalized segment got turned into a Top 40 hit ten years later by an obscure American rock band called the Rockets. Green's low-key slide-guitar spotlight "Show-Biz Blues" (a CD bonus track) is also memorable, and his talent is obvious whenever he rouses the band from its slumber. There's a lot of other weak stuff including a long, pointless jam mixed up with orchestral randomness, but it's rarely offensive and occasionally entertaining. Christine Perfect, who later married McVie and joined the band, plays some keyboards here as on their eponymous debut record. (JA)

The Early Years (rec. 1969, rel. 1988)
One of several cut-rate cash-in releases all based on the same live recording of a 1969 concert in Boston. The full track listing is available on Oh Well; another disk called Blues Collection has most, but not all of the ones that are missing from Early Years. It's a nightmare, but the recordings as a whole are of great interest to fans of Fleetwood Mac's original lineup. This compilation consists of eight tracks split between the type of earnest Chicago blues numbers that were the band's original signature, and a bunch of revived 50's tunes they played as a tongue-in-cheek sendup at some live shows, with Spencer relishing the role of parodist ("Great Balls Of Fire"; "Tutti Frutti"). Instead of being cutesy, the band usually emphasizes the rockabilly/primitive R & B element on those tunes, making them entertaining if pedestrian. It's downright impressive on the exciting, economical raveup "Sandy Mary"; they only really embarass themselves with an intentionally bathetic rendering of "Teenage Darling," and a dull blues jam on "Jenny Jenny." Elsewhere Green's heartfelt, ragged vocals and blaring, hard-edged, facile guitar work lend the record plenty of personality - the lineup's twin lead guitar attack gave their sound a little more depth than that of the usual British blues band. The live recordings may have been a tossoff, but British blues-rock fans won't regret having them around. p.s., thanks Jeff. (JA)

Kiln House (1970)
The one and only record with Green out of the band but Kirwan and Spencer both still in it. (JA)

Future Games (1971)
The first of two records by the Kirwan-Welch-Christine McVie lineup. It's often deadly dull, mostly super-mellow pop music with listless vocals and restrained, tasteful guitar playing. It's also skeletally recorded - they use sax on an instrumental ("What A Shame"), and Christine McVie mixes up acoustic piano, electric piano, and organ, but that's about it. The only standout track is her dreamy ballad "Show Me A Smile," whose dramatic refrain and accessible melody hint at her singing and songwriting talent. And the only energy is supplied by Welch's "Lay It All Down," a pretty basic mid-60s Mod-rock tune (although there's also Christine's chugging mid-tempo rocker "Morning Rain"). Those aren't the only encouraging signs; Kirwan has worked out a mellow, Fairport Convention-like formula, with a decent British folk song ("Woman Of 1000 Years") and an ambitious pop suite ("Sands Of Time"), and on the easy-going country-western tune "Sometimes" he almost edges toward the Band or the Grateful Dead. Meanwhile, Welch's druggy eight-minute title track has some nice harmonies and even a couple decent hooks. Pretty and inoffensive, the record may grow on you if its relentless tedium doesn't turn you off first. (JA)

Bare Trees (1972)
A transitional album. By this time Green was history, and Kirwan wrote half the tracks. He's not much of a folkie at this point, mostly cranking out characterless rockers (title track) with extended, directionless solos ("Danny's Chant"). He does come up with one fine tune, the thumping uptempo "Child Of Mine," and his range of guitar effects is occasionally amusing. New member Bob Welch's two contributions are faceless and forgettable (the supermellow "Sentimental Lady"); I don't know what they thought this guy was going to bring to the band. That leaves Christine McVie, whose two numbers hint at her solid pop-rock instincts but are rather undistinguished. The arrangements are all stripped-down, with almost no overdubs or studio trickery, though they do throw in an artsy spoken word track featuring bizarre poetry read by a New England matron ("Thoughts On A Grey Day"). Nothing unpleasant or offensive here, but I can't imagine anyone burning with desire to hear this. Kirwan was fired shortly after this release for erratic behavior. (DBW)

Penguin (1973)

Buckingham-Nicks (Buckingham-Nicks: 1973)
The two future Fleetwoods cut this album to little notice. (DBW)

Mystery To Me (1973)

Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)
The band's first Top 40 record. (DBW)

Fleetwood Mac (1975)
The first record with Buckingham and Nicks, and the band is transformed into a trans-Atlantic pop rock unit with no less than three accomplished songwriters. The album went to #1 and stayed on the charts over a year, propelled by the eerie Nicks song "Rhiannon." It's perhaps her best single work, and Buckingham and McVie are also close to their peaks: he contributes the bracing AM rocker "Monday Morning," she adds the catchy, easygoing "Say You Love Me" and "Over My Head," and they collaborate on "World Turning," a moody piece with hypnotic rhythm guitar. Not as consistent or carefully produced as the followup, but a surprisingly good first outing for this lineup. "Waddy" (presumably Wachtel) adds guitar on "Sugar Daddy," otherwise everything's still performed by the band members. (DBW)

Rumours (1977)
Crisp, professional soft-rock - like a depoliticized Crosby, Stills & Nash. Largely chronicling the breakups of Buckingham-Nicks and the McVies, it's not terribly profound but every song is catchy and clever, and this stayed at #1 for an amazing 31 weeks. All three of the group's songwriters were at their best here: Buckingham wrote the hit "Go Your Own Way"; Nicks wrote the #1 "Dreams," which I used to really enjoy before the endlessly repeating bassline began to impinge on my consciousness, and the catchy "I Don't Want To Know"; and the album's real star is Christine McVie, who is guilty of the presidential theme "Don't Stop," but redeems herself with the grooving "You Make Loving Fun" and the lovely ballads "Songbird" (recorded live) and "Oh Daddy." None of the musicians are brilliant, but Buckingham makes the most of his ability with tight, clever guitar parts (the best is on "You Make Loving Fun"). McVie and Lindsey contribute rather low-key vocals, leaving plenty of room for Nicks to get weird ("Gold Dust Woman"). (DBW)

Tusk (1979)
An eagerly-awaited but famously disappointing followup: critics hated it, and peaking at #4 it wasn't up to scratch commercially either. A double album, it's actually not a retread of Rumours: instead, it's filled with experiments that mostly fail. Buckingham seems to have decided that he wanted to be a garage rocker all of a sudden, and he includes a pile of revved-up loud numbers ("The Ledge," "That's Enough For Me," "I Know I'm Not Wrong"). Though they're not very interesting, they show he was at least paying attention to punk and New Wave. He also came up with an amusing sonic collage, and even made it a Top Ten single (title track). Meanwhile, Nicks was getting deeply mellow, and her contributions mostly repeat a minimal groove endlessly (including the album's other hit single, "Sara"). The rest of the tunes are by Christine McVie, who hadn't changed, bringing her usual mix of introspective ballads ("Never Forget," "Never Make Me Cry") and blissful pop ("Brown Eyes"). Since Buckingham and Nicks don't have a lot of ideas or melodies, this is an exhausting listen, but not nearly as bad as you might think from the reviews it got at the time. As usual, no guests except a brief appearance by a marching band on "Tusk." After this Nicks spent several years focusing on solo projects. I've seen a one-CD version that inexplicably abbreviates "Sara," while leaving lesser tracks intact. (DBW)

Fleetwood Mac Live (1981)
Another double album, with overextended versions of the current lineup's big hits ("Rhiannon," "I'm So Afraid") plus a few new tunes, including Nicks' formulaic "Fireflies." As a change of pace, they throw in a reasonably tasteful cover of the Beach Boys' "The Farmer's Daughter." I'm missing one disc of this set, so I can't review it yet. (DBW)

Bella Donna (Nicks: 1981)
A #1 hit album that's solidly enjoyable for Nicks fans, and could even convince some skeptics: she goes easy on the weird mysticism and heavy on the compelling songwriting. The disc is split between pleasant country rock ("After the Glitter Fades") and harder rock than the Fleetwoods were dishing out (the hits "Leather And Lace" and the incomprehensible "Edge Of Seventeen"). But that's not all: you also get her smash duet with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" (the only tune on the record she didn't write). On most of the disc, the band is LA regulars Russ Kunkel, Rob Glaub and Bobbye Hall, plus Waddy Wachtel and Davey Johnstone on guitars, and Don Henley also drops by. (DBW)

Law And Order (Buckingham: 1981)
Contains the New Wave-ish single "Trouble." After the disappointing chart performance of this release, Buckingham figured he'd better get the band back together. (DBW)

Mirage (1982)
Another #1 album, carefully produced and professional as usual. This time Buckingham's on a nostalgia kick: "Oh Diane" recalls the Beatles circa 1963, and "Book Of Love" is a I-vi-IV-V 50's ballad. He also includes a minimal number with an industrial beat, "Eyes Of The World," that sounds a lot like Elvis Costello. Nicks is unusually focused, and her single "Gypsy" is loping fun. Ol' Reliable Christine McVie comes through again, penning the record's biggest hit, "Hold Me," and her other three tunes are all solid, even though her Carole King influence is more obvious than ever. By this point Buckingham was calling the shots in the studio, and his producer's credit is listed above the rest of the band's. (DBW)

The Wild Heart (Nicks: 1983)
Another successful solo album for Nicks; this time she went with a more dance-oriented synth sound, and came up with another Top Five hit, "Stand Back" (allegedly cowritten with Prince). (DBW)

Go Insane (Buckingham: 1984)
A flop; the title track was a single. The next year, Buckingham contributed vocals to "We Are The World." (DBW)

Christine McVie (McVie: 1984)
Her first solo album since the early 70s, but she doesn't seem to have many tunes saved up - three tracks are contributed by her guitarist, Todd Sharp, and he cowrites nearly everything else. This would be okay if he had anything to say, but his efforts are mechanical, instantly forgettable romantic soft-rock sludge. His influence carries over onto his collaborations with McVie - the Top Ten hit "Get A Hold On Me" is a collection of the most hackneyed clichés in the music business. She does come up with several soothing tunes ("Love Will Show Us How," "The Challenge" with a mellow solo from Eric Clapton) but nothing first-rate, and it's disappointing - she's my favorite songwriter in the band, and I was hoping for a lot more. Buckingham and Fleetwood guest here, and Steve Winwood appears on a few tracks, duetting on the standard-issue "One In A Million" and cowriting the instantly forgettable "Ask Anybody." (DBW)

Rock A Little (Nicks: 1985)
Nicks' commercial star was fading a bit here; "Talk To Me" was the hit single. (DBW)

Tango In The Night (1987)
Produced by Buckingham and Rick Dashut. This was another smash success; the first single was Buckingham's "Big Love," and McVie's "Little Lies" was also a big hit. Buckingham took a break from the band just afterwards, after an altercation in which Nicks attacked him, and then he chased her down a street and threw her against a car (according to Nicks). Forget Limp Bizkit: this is the band that should have an Anger Management Tour. (DBW)

Behind The Mask (1990)
Vito and Burnette's first album with the band, and Nicks' last for a while... apparently she was less than pleased by revelations in Fleetwood's tell-all bio. This went to #1 in the UK, though it didn't do much in the States. (DBW)

Street Angel (Nicks: 1994)
With the band in shambles, Nicks made herself into a one-woman Fleetwood Mac, writing uptempo rock songs ("Blue Denim") and feel-good pop anthems ("Unconditional Love"), in addition to her usual confusing musings (title track). The rockers are surprisingly punchy and even ragged, thanks to prominent fretwork by Waddy Wachtel and Andy Fairweather Low; the production (by Thom Panunzio and Nicks) is reassuringly retro; and Stevie's voice sounds great. There's only one problem, but it's a big one: every track on the record sounds like filler, with no melodies that stick in your mind, no lyrical images that grab your attention, nothing that makes you think "that one's going to be all over the radio." Just a couple of quality A-sides would have made this record a positive pleasure to listen to; as it is, it's pleasant but a bit wearing. Least interesting of all is the by-the-book cover of Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," reinforcing the idea that Nicks was short on material. No Fleetwoods guest, but there are a few familiar names like Benmont Tench. (DBW)

Time (1995)
Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett came on board briefly. (DBW)

The Dance (1997)
The five members of the hit years came back to do this live album with four new tunes, and it debuted at the top of the charts. Buckingham gets six songs while Christine McVie and Nicks each get five; no one's solo hits are included. As you'd expect, Rumours is well represented, and there's nothing from the early days or the "who are these guys?" 90s. The arrangements are faithfully recreated, though "I'm So Afraid" ends in an epic guitar solo and John McVie sings some vocals on "Say You Love Me." Also par for the course for an aging supergroup, there are a ton of supplementary musicians: Bret Tuggle (keyboards, guitar), Neale Heywood (guitar), Lenny Castro (percussion), plus Sharon Celani and Mindy Stein (vocals), not to mention the USC Trojan Marching Band on "Tusk" and "Don't Stop." So it's listenable but trivial, except for the new material: Christine's "Temporary One" is typically catchy, Nicks's "Sweet Girl" is typically unsettling, and though Buckingham's "My Little Demon" is a tossoff, the nearly acoustic "Bleed To Love Her" is odd and affecting. Produced by Buckingham and engineer Elliot Scheiner. (DBW)

Say You Will (2003)
Christine was out of the band again (though she does appear as a guest), so everything's by either Lindsey or Stevie. The patented sweet vocal harmonies and catchy pop craftmanship are in evidence, starting from the opening "What's The World Coming To" and including other A-side material like the studio version of The Dance's "Bleed To Love Her." Buckingham's still experimenting, though, so there's a raucous hard rock epic ("Come"), the bizarre media rant "Murrow Turning Over In His Grave," with an acoustic verse and a robotic spoken-word chorus, and some folkie guitar showpieces that sound like unfinished demos ("Red Rover"; "Miranda"). Gee-whiz production sometimes detracts from the material, as with the electronic percussion on Nicks's musing "Illume (9-11)," but it's a minor annoyance. Nicks isn't at the top of her game - "Thrown Down" is a rewrite of "Gypsy"; the title track is smooth but instantly forgettable - but she does come up with two winners: the punchy "Destiny Rules," and the downbeat closer "Goodbye Baby." Sheryl Crow guests, though I can't tell where; produced by Buckingham, with Rob Cavallo and John Shanks also on some tracks. (DBW)

Fleetwood Mac: Live In Boston (2004)
Two DVDs, one CD. (DBW)

Under The Skin (Lindsey Buckingham: 2006)
Buckingham's first solo album in approximately forever sees him continuing to experiment with traditional pop and folk forms. There's almost nothing here but Lindsey's acoustic guitar and voice, but don't think you're in for a mellow time: the tunes are acerbic despite their melodicism ("Cast Away Dreams"), and when the music is more gentle, the lyrics are anything but ("Not Too Late"). But the flip side of Buckingham's adventurousness is the occasional gross miscalculation, and there's a doozy here: every lead vocal is treated with an fuzzy echo effect that makes him sound like a creepy guy whispering to himself ("Shut Us Down"). A cover of the Stones' "I Am Waiting" (Donovan's "To Try For The Sun" is the only other non-original) exemplifies the good and the bad, with impeccably intricate fretwork, a quietly desperate mood, and those distractingly treated vocals messing it all up. Fortunately, the backing vocals are mostly left alone, and the Mac-recalling harmonies lift cuts like "Down On Rodeo" and "Show You How." (DBW)

Gift Of Screws (Lindsey Buckingham: 2008)

The Soundstage Sessions (Stevie Nicks: 2009)
A live-in-the-studio album. (DBW)

That's enough for me....

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