Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No. 25: Rumours

Band: Fleetwood Mac
Album: Rumours
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: There is a large portion of music written and recorded in the '70s that gave birth to the '80s AAA/Adult Contemporary music. It's pleasant, mostly vanilla rock and roll that was mostly about love and has tinges of suburban desperation. Many times, these records were about Southern California. This subgenre was hugely popular. More importantly, though, "Rumours" is a beautifully-written cadre of songs devoted to breakups and tension. It makes the proverbial chicken salad out of chicken shit in that the husband/wife duos that made up the band broke up before the songs were written and the tension fills the record. It hits divisive lows ("Gold Dust Woman," "The Chain") and wonderful, optimistic highs ("Don't Stop," "Songbird").
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, re-read "Why Rolling Stone gets it right." "Rumours," as great as it is, paved the way for the success of a lot of artists that do not deserve to be on the radio.
Best song: I love every song on this album and I'm in the middle of listening to "Never Going Back Again" as I write this, so let's say that. As good as any sad love song, "Never Going Back Again" shows Lindsey Buckingham's best guitar work on the album.
Worst song: I'm not a big Stevie Nicks fan (I'm actually just not a "Landslide" or "Rhiannon" fan), so, "Dreams" is probably my least favorite song on the record. I still love it.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely. I love this album and place it near the top of any favorite album lists of mine.

It's easy to pile on "Rumours." The album comes from the same place as "Hotel California" (dreck), anything by Jackson Browne (sewage) and the first few James Taylor records (stinky). They're just boring, bland, rock records that take no real musical risks and are so lyrically self-absorbed and small-minded that only idiots love these records.

Except "Rumours."

"Rumours" certainly fits in those categories. It takes no particularly musical risks. The breakup song has been done a lot, so lyrically, it isn't groundbreaking. It's easy listening.

But, again, the whole album was written during a time when the two relationships that made up the group (Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks and John McVie/Christine McVie) had just dissolved. Imagine having to work, creatively, with someone you have no interest in seeing. Someone who gave you still-fresh scars. Someone to whom you were just explaining why it couldn't work out. Someone who you just wrote a song about with lyrics "I don't I've nothing to say/someone has taken my place."

Plus, this is 1977, the height of cocaine-fueled Los Angelian culture. In addition to the breakup, the whole band was high all the time. I'm not suggesting that drugs make for good music, but if the hat fits...


I didn't write this, but I figure it will work as a good thing for you, my loyal reader, to enjoy. It's Robert Christgau's review of "Rumours:"

Why is this easy-listening rock different from all other easy-listening rock, give or take an ancient harmony or two? Because myths of love lost and found are less invidious (at least in rock and roll) than myths of the road? Because the cute-voiced woman writes and sings the tough lyrics and the husky-voiced woman the vulnerable ones? Because they've got three melodist-vocalists on the job? Because Mick Fleetwood and John McVie learned their rhythm licks playing blues? Because they stuck to this beguiling formula when it barely broken even? Because this album is both more consistent and more eccentric than its blockbuster predecessor? Plus it jumps right out of the speakers at you? Because Otis Spann must be happy for them? Because Peter Green is in heaven? A"


When my knowledge of classic rock was entirely contained in the catalog of Zeppelin, the Who and Beatles, the local classic rock station in Chicago started playing more stuff from the mid- and late-'70s. I tended to turn off the radio before I could find out who played each song, so I had all these songs bouncing around in my head that I liked, but didn't stick around long enough to actually find out who did them.

When I first listened to "Rumours" (and the self-titled record) all the way through, I realized that Fleetwood Mac did every song I loved and didn't know the artist.

That's a huge compliment to them, I think.


bob_vinyl said...
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bob_vinyl said...

I spent years hating the Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac. A couple years ago, a friend challenged me to revisit these albums and forget that classic rock radio had jammed a handful of songs down my throat for years. The next day I ate perhaps the biggest plate of crow in my life. These are outstanding records and we can't blame Fleetwood Mac just because everyone who ever copied them sucked.