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Boston Phoenix (04/23-30/1998), Legacy? Spreading Fleetwood Mac's Rumours < Fleetwood Mac < Main Page

Boston Phoenix (04/23-30/1998), Legacy? Spreading Fleetwood Mac's Rumours

Boston Phoenix, April 23-30, 1998

Legacy? Spreading Fleetwood Mac's Rumours

by Douglas Wolk

Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, to reverse Wordsworth's definition of poetry, takes its origin from tranquillity recollected in powerful emotion. It remembers being happy in love, from a perspective of misery and jealousy. It's guarded, self-aware, self-contradicting. Its bleakest songs are its peppiest; its sweetest songs are its saddest-sounding. It works not just as a collection of songs but as an entire piece. So having 11 contemporary artists perform it in sequence on Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours sounds promising. The reality, however, is not particularly appealing. Rumours defined the pop-radio sound of its time -- 1977 -- because it was so likable but cut so deeply. Legacy is defined by the pop-radio sound of its time: everything is translated into contemporary hit idioms and played on autopilot. The artists are a peculiar combination of great big names (Elton John, the Cranberries), flashes-in-the-pan (the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20), and nobodies (Sister Hazel? Tallulah?). Almost without exception, they pay too much attention to the letter of the songs -- Lindsay Buckingham's guitar solos get reproduced almost note-for-note -- and too little to their spirit.

Again and again the performances on Legacy miss the point. "Second Hand News" is a desperate song about using sex to pretend a relationship isn't collapsing; Tonic make it into just another piece of empty alternapiffle. "Songbird," in the hands of Duncan Sheik (with strings, God help us), turns from a sorrowful declaration of passion into pure corn syrup. Sir Elton John's take on "Don't Stop" is synthetic, overproduced (the background choir is particularly egregious), and rote, playing up its know-nothing optimism over its blues-shuffle propulsion. And "Go Your Own Way" is -- good morning? -- a duet; it is not meant to be sung by one person, and it certainly is not meant to have the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan dropping her yodely little vocal affectations all over it. Matchbox 20 treat "Never Going Back Again" as a slow, thudding minor-key number, which screws up its sardonic attitude; Shawn Colvin's trip-hop bounce through "The Chain" works as music better than anything else here, but her prissy, nonchalant singing doesn't quite get across lines like "damn your love, damn your lies."

It's not as if Fleetwood Mac were cover-proof, either -- from Santana's "Black Magic Woman" onward, people have been doing interesting things with their material. And the Rumours songs are particularly hard to mess up. Wild Colour's exquisite house transformation of "Dreams," a club hit overseas about a year ago, was recently released here as a single (and seems to have influenced the Corrs' version of the same song on Legacy more than a little). As it turns out, Stevie Nicks's melody works beautifully when sung by a dance diva, especially that little high curlicue halfway through the verse, and Wild Colour's anonymous vocalist spins the words with just the right erotic torment.

Heavier guitar-rock bands, though, seem to have the best grasp on what makes Fleetwood Mac songs run. Silkworm's take on "The Chain" (on last year's Even a Blind Chicken Finds a Kernel of Corn Now and Then) turned the music into molten metal while preserving its sense of backs-to-the-wall interreliance. Hole found in "Gold Dust Woman" (on the soundtrack to The Crow) their favorite themes of bitterly sorrowful feminism and barely controlled rage; Seaweed did a spectacular, cranked-up version of "Go Your Own Way" (on a promo-only single) with the Fastbacks' Kim Warnick chiming in on the Stevie Nicks parts. Even last year's more-misses-than-hits indie tribute Fleetwood Mac: Patron Saints of Pop (Undercover) managed a few thoughtful interpretations of this material (as well as some other neat stuff, especially Jumbo's circus-band mangling of "Tusk").

So where did Legacy go wrong? It seems that the contributors -- and maybe even Mick Fleetwood, who produced the compilation -- were seduced by Rumours' glossy, sexy surface and lost track of its deeper aesthetic and its emotional power. Rumours' long, arcing melodies are so graceful that it doesn't take much work to sing them; but simply to ride the tunes is to ignore the album's complexities -- its lyrics, its production, its musicianship. Fleetwood Mac's heads were in Bel Air but their feet were in the blues: they backed up Willie Dixon and Otis Spann in the early days, and Christine McVie made a great blues album (The Legendary Christine Perfect Album) before she joined the band. The gravitas beneath the gloss -- the album's sense of struggle, loss, and real, grown-up pain -- is what made Rumours more than just another coked-up West Coast pop album. Neglecting those emotions makes Legacy as ephemeral as the swirl of Stevie Nicks's cape in the air.

Thanks to Keith for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.

Date: 1998-04-23         Number of views: 1488

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