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REVIEW: Fleetwood Mac, The Dance (Reprise)

-Eric Hsu

Well, the hype machine is up and running. Between MTV, Newsweek, every music magazine, the return of Fleetwood Mac is inescapable. The seeds of this latest media blitz were planted when Smashing Pumpkins covered “Landslide” and Courtney Love covered “Gold Dust Woman” and somehow Fleetwood Mac became marketable to the modern rock generation, despite the horribly uncool identification of “Don’t Stop” with Bill Clinton Term One. And now The Dance actually made #1. And despite all that, I must say I really am enjoying this disc. A couple of the new songs are striking and the playing is quite good!

What separates Fleetwood Mac from the Eagles or ABBA or Air Supply for me is their eccentricity and personality. They are really a bunch of very weird people and are pretty honest about it. Stevie Nicks is a serious Welsh witch mystic or space cadet, depending on your point of view and Lindsey Buckingham is an obsessive egomaniac music geek in the Brian Wilson mode. Christine !McVie seems pretty normal at first, but her plain songs have the cheerfulness of a forced smile and the positivity of denial or grasping to find silver linings. The band and its music actually has a great deal of personality and serious fans find it hard not to refer to the members by their first names (myself included).

In the 70’s, Lindsey Buckingham became fascinated with the punk and new-wave movements and he was impressed by their vitality and openness to fresh ideas. The rest of the band wasn’t impressed and this rift never really healed. The results of that tension was the record Tusk, a weird disjoint affair, but Buckingham’s songs were just amazing and fresh, and, taken as a whole, form one of the classic new-wave records. Is there another rock group that relased a song as weird as “Tusk” at the height of their popularity?

The tension between Buckingham’s solo ideas and the band eventually caused his departure from the band in 1987. He had used a number of his solo album tracks to finsh and rescue the sinking band album Tango In the Night and then he left because the rest of the band was pressuring him to tour instead of finishing his solo album. Now time has passed, and he’s had a pretty good solo album Out of the Cradle sink commercially, and he says he’s gotten over the romantic tensions he’d had with Stevie Nicks and that ten years has given him more appreciation of the talents of the other members.

The consensus seems to be that the band has never played better live, and comparisons to the “Tusk” tour bootlegs and the “Fleetwood Mac Live” record bear that out. They have taken care to work within their limitations: singers have transposed songs, they have wisely offloaded some parts to backup players and singers and god knows what other studio mixing is happening. All the members seem to finally be clear of substance abuse problems, and the performances are recorded with clarity and precision.

And some of the performances are dynamite. Stevie Nicks is actually singing pretty well, and she gives an emotional performance of “Landslide” with just Lindsey backing her. They wrote the song together before they joined Fleetwood Mac, and it seems to be about her getting the courage to leave Lindsey. But while a song about fearing age seemed precious when sung by a twenty-something, it actually takes on some weight when sung with thirty years of hindsight. In the video performance they look like they’re nearly in tears and they embrace at the end. It’s actually a pretty genuinely moving moment in an event whose financial import casts doubt on the honesty of all emotions and motivations.

Lindsey Buckingham has been in the studio and on the road and his skills are quite intact. He fingerpicks a startling solo version of “Big Love” (the same one from his solo tour), and he contributes two new songs: “Bleed to Love Her” which is a pretty song which is a rewrite of his older song “You Do or You Don’t”, and the awesome “My Little Demon”, which is the highlight of the whole disc. It’s a real rocker with a great strange whirring theremin sound (reminicent of the odd toylike noises from his Go Insane period) that hopefully will be a track on his solo record.

The other new songs, “Temporary One” by Christine and “Sweet Girl” by Stevie are honest but average songs that are not really stretches for these two songwriters. And “Silver Springs” is practically a new song by Stevie, since it’s been nearly unknown since it was dropped from Rumours due to length, but this old favorite has been resurrected and it’s a memorable love song that deserves some kind of easy access, maybe even Stevie Nicks’ best song.

The disc ends disappointingly with versions of “Tusk” and “Don’t Stop” with the USC Marching Band, who make a lot of noise and fuss and play rather poorly. “Don’t Stop” is at heart a pretty charming shuffle with snarling guitar which is a desparate plea from Christine to the depressive John to snap out of his alcoholic depression. But constant FM airplay has stripped it of meaning, not to mention campaign stumping, and here all the extra brass and fuss crush the life out of this song. And “Tusk”, which was once a kind of declaration of creative independence, is similarly steamrolled. Lindsey is yelping and yelling and moaning in his strange and individual way, but he’s buried by waves and waves of spectacle. Which is quite a good metaphor for this whole Fleetwood Mac reunion phenomenon. Honesty and passion that, at its best, rises above and out of a drowning sea of hype and spectacle.