Reprise Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/03/1998
There's no such thing as a virgin birth in the music world. Even Mozart spent a long time practicing up before composing his first concerto at age nine. For every exceptional piece of work, some kind of prototype can be found lying around the artist's portfolio. Many are mere sketches, only hinting at future greatness. Others are virtual dress rehearsals.
The latter is the case with Fleetwood Mac. When it came out in '75, debuting a brand-new line-up for what had formerly been a slightly obscure British blues outfit, my basic reaction was "nice sound" (not to mention "who's this Nicks chick?"... I was thirteen, okay?). Then it was back to the Eagles and the Beatles and the rest. Today, I can't listen to it without picking through all the various tea leaves pointing directly forward to the monster album that followed it -- the immortal Rumours.
The instant Lindsey Buckingham's propulsive "Monday Morning" hook kicks in, you know there's a new breed of player on board, someone who isn't the least bit bashful about matching an energetic rock beat up with a distinctly bittersweet lyric. Next in line is a melt-in-your-mouth smooth taste of Christine McVie's sweet pop harmonies on "Warm Ways" -- which, along with "Over My Head" and "Sugar Daddy," serves as an appetizer for Rumours' "Songbird," "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving Fun." And rounding out the launch of the new line-up's triple-threat songwriting is Stevie Nicks' "Rhiannon," a song that would become something of a trademark both for her and for the band.
Here, as elsewhere, the biggest clues for the future aren't necessarily the most obvious ones. The most remarkable thing about "Rhiannon" twenty years later isn't Nicks' smoky voice and witchy-woman persona, but rather the unobtrusive way the precision rhythm section work turned in by John McVie and Mick Fleetwood holds the entire song together (underestimate their contribution to this band at your peril.) Two decades after the fact the striking thing about "Say You Love Me" isn't necessarily Christine McVie's irresistible piano melody and warm vocal delivery -- it might just be the way soon-to-be-ex-husband John's dynamic bass line spices up the melody and keeps things moving ahead. "Landslide" still stands as a showcase for the sensuously rough edges on Nicks' voice -- but don't miss out on Buckingham's exquisite acoustic picking in support.
The band's biggest asset, though, is the very element all three of the group's singers seemed to pay tribute to when they re-teamed recently for The Dance, though -- the sinuous intertwining of Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie's voices on songs like "Blue Letter" and "World Turning." None of these three singers on their own approaches the magic they are capable of generating together, their voices calling, answering, shadowing and melding with one another as they first did here, anchored by big Fleetwood and little Mac.
Sure, sitting here on the cusp of 1998, it's easy to say that Buckingham's visceral "I'm So Afraid" clearly foreshadows the classic "Go Your Own Way;" easy to say that the addition of a little emotional gasoline to this fire could produce an explosion like Rumours; easy to say that we should have seen it all coming. But it's also true.