GOSSIP IS the favorite American pastime, and Rolling Stone magazine is its chief practitioner in the rock music galaxy. Rolling Stone charts the position of the stars, focusing its telescope on the brightest novas and supernovas. One of its prime luminaries this year is Fleetwood Mac, a group characterized by professional success and personal distress. Since their 1975 bombshell Fleetwood Mac, Warner Brothers' all-time bestseller, three marriages inside the group have crumbled. Despite these marital problems, the beat goes on, as Fleetwood Mac has released a worthy follow-up album, appropriately entitled Rumours.
Although Fleetwood Mac has a troubled history, in the past its difficulties have all been occupational. Starting as a British blues band, its only claim to notoriety was guitarist Peter Green's authorship of Santana's hit "Black Magic Woman." Even an intimacy with witchcraft failed to spirit them to the top of Billboard, so they initiated a personnel change. Upon Green's departure, keyboard player Christine McVie joined the group, but while her marriage to bassist John McVie sailed smoothly, her betrothal to Fleetwood Mac did little to improve their fortunes. Once again the group shifted its roots, this time by recruiting a Southern California couple, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. With this duo's song writing, the group recorded its four-million copy seller.
Just as the group's music started to coalesce, the marriages started to fall apart. The album reflects their personal anguish; its lyrics read like a copy of "True Confessions." Yet Rumours exhibits a pied beauty in its revelations, as it combines rock with pop, acoustic with electric, and solo with harmony. Listening to Fleetwood Mac is like attending an outdoor carnival; with such a variety of attractions there is something appealing for everyone.
Because of their mystical quality, Stevie Nicks' songs are particularly captivating. Although Nicks sounds like a warbler with a head cold, she still projects an ethereal poignancy in her voice. She specializes in macabre suggestiveness, as in "Dreams," a song pointed at her ex-husband Lindsey Buckingham:
Dreams of loneliness
Like a heartbeat drive you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost.
Complementing the eerie lyrics, the feline guitar purrs in the background; this perfect integration of music and vocals makes Fleetwood Mac exceptional.
Less resentful than Nicks, perhaps because she held the upper hand in the divorce proceedings, Christine McVie counters past traumas with an overriding hope for the future. Harmonizing with Buckingham on "Don't Stop," her crystalline voice insists, "Yesterday's gone; don't stop thinking about tomorrow." Buckingham's "surf's up" Los Angeles enthusiasm, along with a crisp guitar solo, steams the song to a tempestuous finale. But he spins a still more intricate pattern in "Go Your Own Way," as he weaves his voice with McVie's and Nicks' in rounds. Both the percussion and guitar begin softly, bowing to the lyrics, but a soaring acidic guitar eventually captures the bitter spirit of the song ("You can go your own way; you can call it another lonely day").
This album's only major problem is its occasional stumble into banality, which arises out of the repetition of the theme of "paradise lost." While Nicks should be lauded for her imagistic lyrics, Fleetwood Mac's strength does not lie in its verse. Rather, the band's perfect timing and harmony establishes its professionalism. Luckily, only McVie's disco "You Make Loving Fun" curtseys to commercialism.
Rumours proves that personal tragedy need not restrict artistic achievement--maybe it even encourages it. On "Gold Dust Woman," Stevie Nicks questions whether the group can "pick up the pieces and go home." Not only picking up the pieces, Fleetwood Mac has fit them together into a neat jigsaw puzzle. Nicks may believe that "rulers make bad lovers," but Rumours shows that bad lovers are capable sovereigns in the realm of music.
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