Philadelphia Inquirer (04/15/2003), Singing a Different Tune
Philadelphia Inquirer, Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Singing a Different Tune
Fleetwood Mac releases "Say You Will" today, the first album in six years for a band exploring new landscapes without Christine McVie.
By Tom Moon
Inquirer Music Critic
The reality of Fleetwood Mac's latest evolutionary stage finally hit Stevie Nicks last week.
Even though she and the others in the storied soft-rock band - Lindsay Buckingham, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood - had been recording new music intermittently for a year without longtime keyboardist and singer Christine McVie, it wasn't until they reached a soundstage, with cameras tracking their every move, that the mystic diva realized just how different things would be this time around.
"I was, like, flattened," Nicks recalled by phone. The four-song taping was part of the promotional push for the group's first album in six years, Say You Will, which arrives in stores today. A tour will bring the group to the First Union Center on May 19.
The four "were all really 'singing' songs, and a couple of times I looked around for Christine," Nicks says of McVie, who had shared vocal duties with Buckingham and Nicks, and who left because she could no longer handle traveling and live performance. "It was eye-opening, to say the least. Sometimes with three people singing you can slide a little bit, fade into the back. But with two, there's no hiding. You're forced to be a really good singer all the time."
When she got over the initial shock, Nicks says, she discovered she liked what she heard.
"To be honest, I felt that Lindsay and I were stunning... . It was a rush, like we were being thrown back into a style of singing that was so great, that we loved, from long ago."
Indeed, you have to go back decades to locate that intertwined, often unconventional two-part singing, to the time before she and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac. They were a duo called Buckingham Nicks, specializing in meditative California pop-rock. They recorded one eponymous album in 1973 - despite Internet petitions, it's never been issued on CD in the United States - and for a brief time were critics' darlings. On the strength of the album's ethereal odes, the duo was invited in 1974 to join drummer Fleetwood and bassist McVie in the Mac, one of rock's revolving-door ensembles that had already been through several stylistic evolutions.
What happened next became history: Propelled by the Nicks-penned single "Rhiannon," 1975's Fleetwood Mac became the band's first platinum-selling effort, and its follow-up, 1977's Rumours, ballooned into one of the most successful albums of all time. U.S. sales to date: 15 million.
"We stopped being a duo the day we joined Fleetwood Mac," says Nicks, 54. "And that was great, but it was different. In the end, Christine even knew it... . We always wanted to sing by ourselves, and in some ways this album is very reminiscent of that time."
Though Say You Will includes several songs Nicks offered the group for Rumours, it isn't merely some crafty throwback. Its 18 songs include characteristic pop gems, snarling guitar freakouts, incense-burning Nicks reveries, and odd electronic percussion textures, each suggesting a hue slightly different from those explored by the band in the past. The songwriting is split between Buckingham and Nicks, and while they take turns singing lead, what unifies the songs are the choralelike backing vocals, which veer from supple softness to jagged-glass strident.
Buckingham, who left the group after 1987's Tango in the Night, says that his participation in the new work happened almost by accident.
"I'd been recording stuff for a solo album, and at one point asked Mick and John to help me by cutting some tracks. The material wasn't to me very Fleetwood Mac-y, but their input sort of made it that way. That was the catalyst - when they heard it, people started asking me to consider doing some more, and that's where The Dance [the 1997 "unplugged" album of old Mac tunes plus several new tracks] came from. It got to intervention proportions, and eventually I put the solo thing on hold."
After The Dance, the group began talking about making new music. Buckingham went back and listened to his solo project, and discovered that if he and Nicks reworked the vocals, the songs couldn't help but sound like Fleetwood Mac.
"It's almost a mind trick - with Fleetwood Mac, whatever you're prepared for it to be, it sort of just becomes," explains Buckingham, 55. "There definitely is a kind of song that works for this band, but at the same time, in a post-Christine environment, you're going to do things differently."
Nicks had a similar experience. She'd written several songs for her most recent solo project, 2001's Trouble in Shangri-La, that didn't quite work out.
"I knew from the day I wrote them that they were going to be Fleetwood Mac songs. I tried really hard to make them Stevie Nicks songs, but there was still something missing. So I waited."
She offered the group those songs and others, and when she heard the productions Buckingham worked up, she was blown away.
"He's just a master producer," she says of her longtime singing partner who was, for a time in the '70s, her lover. "A couple of times I heard little vocal 'oohhs' that sounded just like Christine. I had to ask him, 'Is that Chris? Or you being Chris?'... He makes an incredible wall of little vocal parts, and when you really listen, every one is important somehow."
While Say You Will offers plush, relentlessly pretty pop songs that echo those of Rumours, the romantic relationships discussed are no longer drawn from the group's entangled love stories. It also contains topical work - Nicks' haunting sound painting "Illume (9/11)," about being in New York at the time of the attacks; Buckingham's commentary on TV as mindless narcotic, "Murrow Turning Over in His Grave"; and the opening track, a thumping anthem that wonders "What's the World Coming To." (Sample lyric: "You can't plant no seed, where there's only greed.")
There's also the first single, "Peace Keeper," which turns on the phrase "take no prisoners only kill." Buckingham says it was written well before the Iraq conflict, and he's adamant that it isn't a commentary.
"There are a few songs of mine on the record that imagine if there were gods, in the Greek sense, looking down on the human race, wondering when to pull the plug. 'Peace Keeper' is one of those, and 'Murrow' is another. To me it's strange because 'Peace Keeper' is a very ironic song, but I guess it's one of those songs where [because] you hit the right reference points, it seems to get attached to very specific events. In my mind, it could be applied to a nation and also a love relationship."
Though Buckingham and Nicks have had a stormy relationship at times in the past, both say they're having fun rehearsing for the tour. Buckingham says that he's proud of the way Say You Will turned out, and hopes the band continues, so he and Nicks can see where the dual-voices thing goes.
"We were joking that we had to hold out 25 years to do what we really wanted to do," he says, explaining that his one regret is they didn't collaborate in the writing. "I want to hear what would happen if we were to go in and start working from the ground up."
Nicks does too, but given the turbulence that has surrounded Fleetwood Mac, she's enjoying this moment for what it is. "We didn't have somebody else join the band, because we had to make the foursome a valid entity first," she explains. "And look what happened: We're in our 50s and we did a studio record that's as real and full-on heavy as any record we made since the day we started."
Thanks to MacFan03 for posting this to the Ledge.
2003-04-15 Number of views: