Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Worthwhile (If Not Perfect) "Best Of" Album Comes From The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac!

The Good: Instrumentals, Lyrics, Vocals, Great mix
The Bad: One or two less rockin' tracks, some repetitive songs
The Basics: A coin toss and ridiculously high standards are all that keeps this anthology from being rated higher; a must for anyone who loves Fleetwood Mac!

I'm tough with my ratings here and I know that. I think with my philosophy that most experiences are average within any given medium serves my readers well, though; they know that something rated high or low is truly fabulous or truly terrible. The thing about having high standards, though, is that many people wait for you to fall off your righteous pedestal into more common methods of rating things. As a result, whenever I rate an album a 10/10 that I concede is not a perfect album, I often get an earful from one or two of my loyal readers.

This comes up as I prepare to review The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac, a two-disc extravaganza that encapsulates approximately thirty-five years of the career of one of the most popular bands in the world. This album represents the most commonly-recognized quintet version of Fleetwood Mac: Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Stevie Nicks. The thing about coming late to any party is that one often finds themselves wishing for more if the band has produced more. So, for example, when I listen to this two-disc set now, I keep finding myself waiting for "Say You Will," a track from the band off their subsequent album by the same title (and without Christine). Sigh. But for those of us who were not part of the scene when Fleetwood Mac was at its peak, this album might be the best investment.

With thirty-six tracks spread over two discs, clocking in at 66:09 and 75:09, respectively, this is a very solid anthology of rock and roll. Like The Bee-Gees Their Greatest Hits: The Record, The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac provides a pretty solid time capsule of an era in popular rock and roll from a time period the group dominated. Indeed, this two-disc set works quite well as a companion to the Bee Gees album as when the disco hits of the Bee Gees fade (they began writing hits for others primarily in the 1980s), groups like Fleetwood Mac that were lyric-driven and vocally mellow (as opposed to production-driven like most dance tracks) took over. This style served the group through the 1980s and into the early 1990s. And this anthology manages to encompass works that truly are indicative of this quintets vision of music making as each and every song was written or co-written by one of the five ("The Chain" was actually written by all five). As well, Fleetwood Mac (or member Buckingham) is given a production credit on all but one of the tracks. This, then, does seem to be the definitive vision of Fleetwood Mac.

And it's pretty incredible.

First, as writers, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are hard to trifle with. Christine McVie, for example, created one of the most soulful expressions of longing with "Songbird." It is a compellingly written and performed song that embeds itself in the mind of the listener with lines like, "For you, there'll be no more crying, / For you, the sun will be shining, / And I feel that when I'm with you, / It's all right, I know it's right / To you, I'll give the world / To you, I'll never be cold / 'cause I feel that when I'm with you, / It's all right, I know it's right. / And the songbirds are singing, / Like they know the score, / And I love you. . . Like never before." ("Songbird"). McVie has a strong ability to express emotions in words that are always articulate and hit the concept precisely. Her songs range from the soulfully loving ("Songbird") to poppy ("You Make Loving Fun") to hopeful ("Don't Stop"). She is also the one responsible for the haunting "Little Lies" and the underrated "Everywhere." Unfortunately, it seems whenever McVie gets trapped for time, she simply repeats her refrains endlessly, which is what happens on tracks like "Hold Me."

But, of course, Christine McVie is not alone as a talented writer for Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks holds her own with poetic love songs like "Seven Wonders." She also expresses a strong sense of isolation with "Gypsy," loneliness ("Rhiannon") and what it is to be isolated as a celebrity ("Storms"). But she might well have reached her lyrical pinnacle on "Silver Springs," one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac tracks of all time. Like "Landslide," "Silver Springs" is packed with imagery and creates a loving mood. Nicks sings her lines, "You could be my silver springs / Blue green colors flashing / I would be your only dream / Your shining autumn, ocean crashing / And did you say she was pretty / And did you say that she loves you / Baby, I don't wanna know / I'll begin not to love you / Turn around, see me running / I'll say I loved you years ago / Tell myself you never loved me, no" ("Silver Springs") in a way that stops the listener in their tracks (if they were doing something other than just listening to this album while it was playing).

Fleetwood Mac might also represent one of the most successful bands utilizing both men and women and that carries through to the writing. Lindsey Buckingham represents the masculine writing power in this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and he delivers (as writer) ten tracks on his own (one additional one with McVie). Buckingham may well have the most versatile lyrical voice writing rebellious breakup tunes ("Go Your Own Way," "Never Going Back Again") to obscure, surreal tracks ("Tusk"). Indeed, Buckingham may be responsible for some of the more angry Fleetwood Mac songs, like "Second Hand News" and "Go Insane." But he does also contribute "Family Man," with its emblematic lines like "Walk down this road / In the cool of the night / Don't know what's wrong / But I do know what's right / I am what I am ... / A family man." Unfortunately, some of his songs, like that one, are also the more repetitive ones on the album.

Fleetwood Mac's celebration of the talents of each gender are not limited to the writing. McVie provides the group with incredible soprano performances. "Songbird" is not to be missed - outside the lyrics - because the vocals are so solid, beautiful and perfectly executed. If McVie did not win awards for that vocal performance, she was probably robbed; it is a truly soulful performance.

The band is similarly graced by the sultry and soulful vocals of Stevie Nicks. Nicks seems to have greater range on some of her tracks (like "Seven Wonders"), but largely she takes the more alto range and dominates on songs like "Landslide" and "Gypsy." It is easy to see why she is considered to have one of the defining voices in pop-rock the way she belts out so many of her songs. And her vocals on "Dreams" rival McVie's tracks with her ethereal, smoky vocals.

The men are mostly represented by Buckingham again vocally and he delivers from the opening wailings of "Monday Morning." He has mid-range vocals that seem most resolved to telling musical stories and he does that with articulation and an unfortunate amount of repetition (like on "Second Hand News"). Buckingham seems to rely on the supporting vocals for a lot of his songs and that works, making many of the tracks he fronts seem much more collaborative than the others.

The thing about The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac that one who did not live through the eras represented might not be able to appreciate is how popular some of the songs truly were. The liner notes to this album notes that "Hold Me" reached #4 on the Pop charts as a single. Instrumentally, this is one of the most intriguing tracks on the two-discs with its refrain that includes what sounds like a mandolin being plucked. It is melodic, hypnotic and downright different from anything else they have produced and that it was also popular (flying in the face of the repetitive classic rock and lite music stations play of Fleetwood Mac these days) is astonishing to those of us just now catching the Fleetwood Mac train.

This effect is not unique to the one track. The instrumentals on The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac are all over the pop-rock spectrum. They go slow ("Landslide"), they go fast ("Don't Stop"), they mix it up within a song ("Dreams"). And for thirty-six tracks, it is remarkable how no two sound alike. They range from rocking electric tracks driven by guitars ("Go Your Own Way") to acoustic, mellow tracks that almost seem a cappella ("Storms").

Throughout the album, though, there is the percussion of Mick Fleetwood, who might be one of the hardest working drummers in the business. Fleetwood reminds the listener just how important percussion is with his adept beats right out of the gate. Indeed, the listener is well-prepared by "Monday Morning" with its opening drums, the way "You Make Loving Fun" starts with the snare establishing time, and the banging on "Go Your Own Way," which supports the lyrical force of the musical protagonist.

In its last few songs, the album gets a little shakier with "Sisters Of The Moon," "Family Man," "As Long As You Follow," "No Questions Asked," "Skies The Limit" and "Paper Doll" all crapping out on the charts and making for dubious examples of the "Very best" of the band. The thing is, they generally sound good and they improve the appreciation for Fleetwood Mac by people who might not have any of their other albums and, at their worst, those tracks illustrate well some of the latter works when Fleetwood Mac slipped from the mainstream.

Even with its (minor) flaws, The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac largely lives up to its title and as a result, this is easily the best anthology album for Fleetwood Mac. If one needs a Fleetwood Mac album in their collection (and, honestly, who doesn't?!) this is a great choice for that niche. This gives a great sense of where the band has been and as such provides another wonderful opportunity for listeners who did not live through those years (or who were not into popular rock and roll music) to experience the wide range of music produced in the mid-1970s through the early 1990s.

The best tracks are "Silver Springs" (Disc 1) and "Hold Me" (Disc 2); the weakest links are "Love In Store" (Disc 1) and "Sisters Of The Moon" (Disc 2), though there are no bad tracks on this album.

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


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

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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