Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunshine, Lollipops, and Backstabbing: "Rumours" Album Review

Album: Rumours
Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Genre: Classic Rock
Length: 40:03
Release Date: February 4, 1977
Label: Warner Bros.
Producer: Fleetwood Mac, Ken Caillat & Richard Dashut

Perhaps you haven’t yet heard the little fable that goes along with Rumours, an album that ranks among one of the best-selling and most critically-acclaimed of all time. As the story goes, every one of the band’s five members was going through a romantic issue of some kind during the song writing process, prominently involving break-ups between the band members themselves (Lord only knows why any of them thought that an inter-career love interest would be a good idea). Subsequently, as each one started independently crafting lyrics for the next album it became apparent that they were all writing about each other, hence the album’s name. In the end, the realization that their deep, burning hatred for one another had resulted in what they considered a good piece of music somehow alleviated the tension, and everybody was happy. Rainbows were painted into the sky by magic purple unicorns while Stevie Nicks and the gang soared into the glorious sunset on their fantastical enchanted sailboat to buy delicious ice cream. THE END.

Now, all of that makes for a decent marketing blurb or at least a notable Wikipedia factoid, but it doesn’t confirm or deny the presence of actually decent song-writing on here. As it turns out, one of the features of this album that seems to stem from that little feud is neither a strength nor a weakness, and that’s in how divisive the songs are from one another. With all but a scant few tracks being almost entirely associated to a single individual, most of them tend to exert a slightly different feel from the rest, usually by highlighting certain elements while removing others. Compare the bouncy acoustic-driven tune Second-Hand News to the slow piano-laden ballad Songbird, for instance, and you’d hardly think there was any relation. The since-beaten-to-death prospect of having two vocalists of varying Y-chromosome levels furthers the idea by rarely having the two work in tandem, either by awkwardly switching between them or by omitting one or the other from a track altogether. Granted, you can interpret the frantic switches of style as either a lack of balance or an abundance of variety, so for the most part it won’t detract from the experience if you listen to the album on a song-by-song basis.

What does detract from the experience are some rather boneheaded and suitably predictable song-structures that prevent it from being elevated to the highest levels of the art form. Most tracks have respectable core ideas but attract clich├ęs like bears to honey-covered babies, namely in the basic verse-chorus architecture that occupies the majority of the album. And if the aforementioned back-story implied to you that the lyrics, fueled by friction and hostility, would be very intricate or unique, then you may want to get your head re-examined. The mainstream music industry’s attempts to flirt with truly deep reflections on love-once-lost are almost always utterly horrific, and a quick flip to your local radio station is usually enough to prove it. And while the Fleetwood gang’s assortment of poems are hardly as bad as the modern dribble that passes for music, it’s hardly art, which is something you might expect from the sort of Shakespearian-tragedy the band members went through. There are exceptions, but perhaps not enough to list “lyrical and structural ineptitiude” as some of the album’s flaws.

So yes, Rumours does suffer a bit for being the product of a band under duress and, more importantly, for being draped in the clothing of commercialism despite the cries of its subject matter to represent quite the contrary. Yet despite all the hateful things I’ve managed to point out so far about it, there is a certain aura around Rumours that is – dare I say it? – oddly compelling.

For all the angst and bitterness you might expect to come from such a strained group of individuals, Rumours has to be one of the most overtly optimistic albums I’ve ever heard. Songs like Dreams and Gold Dust Woman provide a bright outlook for dreary events through their lyrics, which are just as linear as aforementioned, but the music itself is what makes the album such a shining beacon of hope. Whether it’s the jazzy bass-lines of You Make Loving Fun (just ignore the cheese-flavored title, please) or the deliciously folksy Never Going Back Again, the actual music is genuinely good at generating happiness, which is something I thought I’d never say about any piece of music, ever. If you can ignore the majority of what comes out of their mouths, the two singers reflect this good-spirit just as well, and ignoring what I said about the awkward transitions between them, both Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks have phenomenal voices. It’s when things start to get a bit more layered, when the talents of all the band members are proficiently and simultaneously shown such as in The Chain, that the album’s coherent weaknesses can be overshadowed by these strengths…which is kind of ironic, if you think about it.

All in all though, my reaction is mixed. It’s no doubt an album that treads the fine line between accessibility and complexity, and while it leans into both categories at some point or another there’s a lot about the album that feels rather indecisive and conflicting, fittingly enough. Altogether the songs sound a lot better when less focus is put into analyzing them as a musical depiction of themes and worse when framed into the context of being technical and elaborate, as I have the rather obsessive habit of doing. That being the case, you get out of Rumours what you put into it. Walk in expecting a casual, colorful romp into floaty and loose song-writing and you’ll walk out believing that this really was worthy of all its fame; listen to it expecting brilliance and you get a kick in the face. If the former is what you expect, or in fact need, from your music, then you could certainly do a lot worse than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.


Gina the Space Hyena said...

You always review music that I've never heard.
Mostly your reviews make me wanna stick all copies of said music in question into a hole and never pull them back out. Except for this one.
This one actually left me with a feeling of curiosity.
Especially since I've never heard it before.

Nathaniel Haller said...

i was a little surprised at your response to this one but when i listened to this stuff agian, i noticed they had an appeal i hadnt really noticed, good review