Sunday, September 18, 2011

Finishing Off Fleetwood Mac With Say You Will, A Fairly Average Pop-Rock Album.

The Good: Some good vocals, Some decent lyrics, Sounds good overall.
The Bad: Nothing extraordinary or truly new for the band.
The Basics: A good, but not fabulous, album, Say You Will has a vibrancy and sound similar to other Fleetwood mac albums with Buckingham producing.

When one has an extensive body of work, the way Fleetwood Mac does, it becomes difficult to create something that is so new and different that fans sit up and say "wow!" Fleetwood Mac, as my monthlong exploration of their work has pretty well proven to me, has undergone several incarnations and have produced in a number of musical styles. In the 1980s and 1990s, before they broke up, there was a fairly stable version of the band, which included Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and John and Christine McVie. They reconvened for a post-break-up concert performance which was enshrined as The Dance and they began to produce together again, welcoming back writer/performer/producer Buckingham, who had sat out one of the 1990s albums.

The result was Say You Will, an album that saw the departure of Christine McVie (she went off to do solo work) and brought me to my most recent reviewing conundrum. Buckingham, who produced a high number of the band's prominent pop-rock singles, returns and as a result, the band seems to tack toward the pop-rock arena and while it is good, Say You Will has a pretty standard pop-rock sound, which is pretty much exactly what one would expect from this iteration of Fleetwood Mac.

With eighteen songs, clocking out at 76:06, Say You Will certainly packs the value into the compact disc by using the medium extraordinarily well. There is a web connection bonus feature that connects fans to information about the band on-line, but outside that having so much music is a great value in and of itself. Say You Will is a pretty fair presentation of Fleetwood Mac's musical vision, at least as it was in 2003 with this quartet. Fourteen of the songs are written entirely by Nicks or Buckingham and the remaining four, co-written by either of them, have some - like Nicks' "Running Through The Garden" - where the Fleetwood Mac member wrote the lyrics and used music from another person. Oddly, there is an uncredited creative lift for "Peacekeeper," which Lindsey Buckingham wrote, but clearly borrows its tune - or developed it from - the Paul Simon tune "Kodachrome." This does not make it bad, but it does seem somewhat less original than some of the group's other works.

Still, this is mostly Fleetwood Mac's musical vision and their intent is pretty solidly realized through the on-album and behind-the-scenes credits. Buckingham produced or co-produced all of the tracks and Buckingham and Nicks provide all of the primary vocals. As well, all of the main instrumentals are performed by members of the quartet, with Nicks even picking up the keyboards for this album!

The result is a pretty solid pop-rock album with little that truly distinguishes it as great. There are more political songs on this album, mostly written by Buckingham - "What's The World Coming To," "Murrow Turning Over In His Grave," "Peacemaker" - with little musical variation. The songs are driven more by keyboards, bass and drums than guitar and the vocals are always put forward, so they dominate the sound of the album. The instrumentals are not bad, but most of the songs are up tempo numbers like "Everybody Finds Out" or "Destiny Rules." There are few songs that are mellow and subtle, like "Illume (9-11)." But even the ones that sound upbeat, like Say You Will often have more complicated or moody lyrics to them.

The lyrics are presented alternately by the haunting vocals of Stevie Nicks - she is frighteningly mournful on "Illume (9-11)" - and the energetic, declarative vocals of Buckingham. Both artists perform well within their established ranges, so fans will not be at all surprised by the range of either vocalist. Those coming only to this album, though, are likely to appreciate both artists' range. Nicks has the ability to go from soprano down into a more dusty range and Buckingham has a complimentary voice that does from mid-range up to tenor, so the two voices actually have a strange overlap that plays out beautifully on songs like "Say Goodbye." The songs where the two harmonize, they illustrate a magic between them that has been absent for albums where either was not participating in the process.

Lyrically, Say You Will (the album) is a decent mix of the political and the personal, with a few overlaps like the Stevie Nicks track "Illume (9-11)." Far from being a 9/11 pandering song, the tribute - which Nicks dedicated to the former mayor of New York City and several institutions in New York City - is a genuine, thoughtful tribute with lines like "I'm alone now / With my thoughts / Of how we could make it / Of how we could get out / What we've been through / All of the trauma / The smell of Nag Champra / Shadow of a stranger / I will not take you for granted / I wouldn't trade you for jade / Or for diamonds / Not for one minute / Not for anything / I need you to be there / Just remember when I am haunted / That I was just so scared" ("Illume (9-11)"). Nicks makes a song about tragedy that works well for both the specific incident as well as personal tragedies.

Songs like Buckingham's "Peacekeeper" have a way of doing the opposite, though. Opening as a song that sounds vaguely personal, Buckingham's lyrics soon become sharply critical of warfare and warmongering. He invokes images not of personal horror, but of the results of the collective apathy to pacifism when he wrote "When the night is cold and still / When you thought you'd had your fill / Take all the time you will / This is not a test, it's not a drill / Take no prisoners, break their will . . . You know all of our friends are gods / And they all tell us how to paint our face / But there's only one brush we need / It's the one that never leaves a trace" ("Peacekeeper"). It is songs like that that make it hard to deny that there were some people - even at the time - who were not looking at the consequences of U.S. invasions and the potential disaster it would be. Buckingham paints an ugly, but accurate, portrait of warfare and its consequences, something that has not been done nearly often enough in post-Vietnam popular music.

But the whole album is not political or a blend of the personal and political. Nicks wrote a perfect anthem for the desperately in love when she penned the lines and presented the refrain "Say you will, say you will give me one more chance / At least give me time to change your mind / That always seems to heal the wounds, if I can / Get you to dance" ("Say You Will"). Arguably the album's most recognizable song, this creates a vibrant pop-rock number out of desperation. The creativity here is lyrical, not instrumental or even thematic (though the essential begging love song has not done this well arguably since "Ain't Too Proud To Beg") and that is enough to make the album enthusiastically worth recommending, even if it is not objectively the most original album in the world.

The best track is "Say You Will," the low point is the unmemorable "Throw Down."

For other Fleetwood Mac albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Mr. Wonderful
Kiln House
Future Games
Bare Trees
Tango In The Night
Behind The Mask
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.

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