Then Play On
Reprise Records, 1969
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/06/2001
Any music fan worth their weight in salt knows that Fleetwood Mac did not start in 1975 with their self-titled album. Long before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks walked through the revolving doors of the group, they were known as one of the proponents of the British blues movement, thanks to the guitar stylings of Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green.
1969's Then Play On, which I believe was their American debut, will undoubtedly spook some people expecting to hear chart-toppers from the band's early days. Sorry, Sparky, ain't gonna happen; this disc is hardcore blues, just as Fleetwood Mac was about to experience the first in a series of stylistic (and line-up) shifts.
The problem with this album isn't that it's lacking hits; Mick Fleetwood and crew do impress on tracks like "Showbiz Blues" and "Rattlesnake Shake," whipping themselves (and the listener) up into a lathered frenzy. The problem is that this disc lacks cohesiveness and a fixed musical path. If you're not paying attention, the songs tend to interweave in a way that makes them difficult to appreciate on their own merits.
There also is a little too much musical showboating -- and, surprisingly, this comes on possibly the best-known track from Then Play On, "Oh Well." The first two minutes of this number are absolutely perfect, working up an impassioned blues statement that would warm anyone's heart. Then, they go into a more melodic jam... and they totally undermine the song. After seven minutes of this, I actually found myself screaming at the record, "Isn't it over yet?!?" Just more proof that too much of anything is bad for you. (There's a reason this one got whittled down on Fleetwood Mac Live.)
A good portion of Then Play On is similarly made up of blues numbers which just don't seem like they know what they want to accomplish. Tracks like "Coming Your Way," "Fighting For Madge" and "Before The Beginning" fall into this trap -- and it's a pretty steep one to try and get out of.
Yet I don't want to make the statement that Then Play On is a bad effort; if anything, it's just misguided and muddied by musical indecision. The band could have done a whole lot worse... but Fleetwood Mac was capable of so much better. This is definitely a "for the diehard fans" disc these days.