Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fleetwood Mac Goes Generically Bluesy With Mr. Wonderful!

The Good: Generally interesting instrumentals, Good overall sound.
The Bad: Monotonous sound for the overall album, Nothing leaps out lyrically or vocally, Short.
The Basics: Average-at-best, Mr. Wonderful opens my Fleetwood Mac study with a very different blues album which is repetitive and unremarkable.

There is a pretty easy standard to hold oneself to when reviewing classic rock artists like Fleetwood Mac, which is to come to every album independent of the hype or later accomplishments. When one is able to divorce themselves from what they do know of an artist or their work, it becomes fairly easy to listen to older works one has not heard before and listen objectively. In my case, for my August Artist Of The Month - Fleetwood Mac -, their era was largely before I was truly musically aware, though they did have several hits while I was growing up. So, while I have enjoyed a few of their albums and virtually all of their radio hits, having Fleetwood Mac as my August Artist Of The Month seemed like a good idea to me.

But being largely ignorant to the works of Fleetwood Mac outside a few of their universally acknowledged great albums or classics, I was able to pick up Mr. Wonderful for my first new Fleetwood Mac experience and come to it with a sense of enthusiasm that made me excited to begin this month of reviews. The thing is, Mr. Wonderful was a purely new album to me; none of the songs from it made it onto any of my compilation albums I already had or have heard. In fact, for those who grew up in the 1980s, this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac is virtually unrecognizable as the only enduring members of the later band are John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The thing is, more than just the change in line-up evident from the liner notes, Fleetwood Mac's sound is almost entirely different on Mr. Wonderful such that most listeners would never peg this as a Fleetwood Mac album. This does not mean it is bad, but it certainly is different!

With only a dozen tracks clocking out at 41:21, Mr. Wonderful is a blues-based guitar, bass and piano-driven album by the men of Fleetwood Mac. In this incarnation, the band was Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood, though a few guest artists popped up, including Christine Perfect (who would later marry and divorce John McVie and be one of the core members of the later band). This is, however, a much more masculine and blues-driven band for Mr. Wonderful and it is much more of a studio creation than later works. Failing to chart in the U.S., Mr. Wonderful is only marginally created by the quartet of Fleetwood Mac. Members of the band only wrote three songs and co-wrote six others. Three of the songs were written by people who were not members of the group and the album was produced by Mike Vernon, with none of the band being involved in the engineering end of the album. As a result, it is a tough call as to how much creative control the quartet had over the resulting work.

It should be noted, though, that Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer provided the lead vocals and all four men play their own instruments. In this fashion, at least the band becomes reasonable performers and for a sophomore album, there are worse outings for sure. That said, that the most Fleetwood Mac does is sing and play three songs unique to the members with a pretty tight combo of guitars, bass and drums is pretty mediocre.

The sound on Mr. Wonderful is different from other Fleetwood Mac albums, but is remarkably pedestrian and obvious blues. Far from being innovative rock and roll, Mr. Wonderful has fairly average blues riffs on guitar and bass for virtually all of the songs. More troubling - one assumes - than on the original record is that on the compact disc form, songs like "Doctor Brown" and "Need Your Love Tonight" are adjacent to one another now. This is problematic because the two songs sound virtually identical with almost the exact same guitar and bass parts and little differentiation in the vocals. The fact that many of the songs use the same rambling guitarwork interrupted by a few good pickings makes the album ridiculously monotonous when replayed over and over again (believe me, I'm on my twentieth listen now!). Still, the blues sound of this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac makes for something different for those who might tire of rock and roll. Or, you know, songs that sound good.

This is not to say that blues aren't good music, but as with all genres, there are good and bad blues. I do not profess to be an expert on blues at all. But as a common listener, I want to hear some variety on the albums I listen to and on Mr. Wonderful, the best one can hope for is the slightly slower tempo to "If You Be My Baby" or the slightly more rapid strummings on "Stop Messin' Round."

Arguably as mediocre as the repetitive guitar/bass instrumentals are the vocals. While Christine Perfect is credited with some backing vocals, I can't hear them. Instead, this album is dominated by the strained mid-to-low range vocals of Green and Spencer wailing out their lines. They are generally audible and articulate enough to be heard or understood, but because all of the songs have the same slightly drawn-out, plaintive sound to them, it is easy to get tired of the singing quickly. Unlike the instrumentals, which have some tempo changes, Mr. Wonderful's vocals are all the same, tired, faux-soulful and limited in their range.

This brings us to the lyrics. Like a lot of blues, Mr. Wonderful is dominated by repetitive lyrics, most of which tell musical storysongs. Take, for example, Spencer's "I've Lost My Baby." The song has a pretty obvious blues theme and sensibility to it with lines like "I'm waiting this mornin' / I'm waiting for my baby to come back home / I'm waiting this mornin' / I'm waiting for my baby to come back home / You know she left me this mornin' / And I don't know where she gone" ("I've Lost My Baby"). Here we see the repetitive style in full bloom and the nature of the lines. The woman is "baby" in all of the songs and there is more an observational quality than any form of action throughout the album.

Similarly, "Love That Burns" - one of the songs co-written by Green - becomes monotonous with its repetition. More than actually exploring love through the lyrics, the song hopes the emotion of the vocals will carry it. Unfortunately, the strained verses of "Would you love me, would you love me tomorrow / Like you say you love me now / When the flames of our flesh have stopped burning / And the fire of our love has cooled down" ("Love That Burns") are met with few answers and the overall feel is less passionate and more dulled by repetition. We get from the title of the song that this is a burning love, but the song does not illustrate how or why, merely "this is a love that burns, will it keep burning?" Ultimately, it makes for a remarkably unsatisfying musical experience to listen to this over and over again.

It is this same quality that closes the album with the limited catharsis of "Trying So Hard To Forget." On that song, the listener is finally treated to some sense of resolution with the lines "I would spend most of my days / Running and hiding from the world outside / If I ever get to heaven / You know, that sure would ease my worried mind / Yes, if I ever get to heaven / That sure would ease my worried life / You know when I find that place in the sky / People I'm gonna leave this old world behind" ("Trying So Hard To Forget"). The song at least has some sense of definition to it, but it is not even a terribly complete storysong. In fact, none of the songs make their points so much as repeat the emotion over and over again ad nauseam.

The resulting album is easy to pass by and I let it come down to a cointoss for the rating as it was a remarkably average experience. At best, Fleetwood Mac fans who fell in love with the works in the '80s and beyond ought to listen to Mr. Wonderful once to appreciate how far the band came, but beyond that, they can save their money for better albums.

The best track is "Stop Messin' Round," the low point is the unmemorable "Lazy Poker Blues."

For other Fleetwood Mac albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Dance
The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment