[Passsionate about something musical that you want to get off your chest? Got a great story to share? Fantastic! Guest posts are welcome at AJoMT. Submit away and we might find space for you. Today’s post comes from hardcore Fleetmac Mac, John Duffy. He has a real problem with Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie peeling away from the Mac to do their own thing, even if it’s temporary.- AC]
If a band can make it to their fifth decade, they have beaten the longest of odds. August 13 will mark the 50th anniversary of Fleetwood Mac’s its debut at the National Jazz and Blues Festival in Windsor, England. Back at the beginning, they were a loud, brash, ballsy British blues quartet, led by a messianic guitarist named Peter Green who sang songs about the indifference of God and the evils of money.
And in the long history of the band—seventeen studio albums, twenty Billboard Top 40 hits, 100 million records sold, addiction, madness, love, betrayal, breakups, religious cults, and numerous stylistic changes—there have certainly been stranger things than this year’s “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie” side project.
But if anything, this episode is another example of just how fragile the band’s political chemistry has always been.
Just two days before the 50th anniversary of the Windsor debut (neither of them was in Fleetwood Mac at that time) the two finish up a tour in support of what by all measures should have been a new Fleetwood Mac album. Many have asked, “Why wasn’t it?”
As the story goes Christine and Lindsey went into the studio to woodshed a backlog of songs back in 2015. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, the engine room of the band since the beginning, were there too. But they were stuck when Stevie Nicks made it clear that her solo career—these days splitting dates with the Pretenders—was more important.
Instead of proceeding as the “Mac,” or waiting for her contributions to be added later (a la “Tango in the Night”), someone thought it best to release the ten songs that had been worked up thus far as a full album.
Several songs, while well-crafted, are of the quality that wouldn’t have made the cut were there another world-class singer and writer present (one of the secrets to so many hits in their bag). More than one tune is embarrassingly trite.
And while it’s been billed as a duets album, there are almost none of the characteristic harmonies on Buckingham/McVie we have come to expect as a given on Mac songs over the last forty years.
So why isn’t this a Fleetwood Mac album? Are we to believe that minus Stevie Nicks it just doesn’t count? It clearly would’ve been a better album with her presence, but it’s been the rhythm section of the band that has been its core from day one, if not its sexy and sultry face.
But more unsettling than that question is the fact that Fleetwood Mac is running out of chances to make a final definitive musical statement. Since “reforming” in 1997—that’s twenty years, kids—the group has managed to put out one album of new material. One.
“Say You Will” (2003) was better than even the band’s most ardent champions had hoped. It had singable pop songs form Nicks, Lindsey’s deep and brooding studio explorations, and even without Christine, it was a hit. A successful tour followed, then a few others, at least one of them attempted to make the lack of new material to promote seem a virtue (they did pretty much the same set from the last tour anyway).
Then, in 2014, Christine was back, and what did we get? Extended Play, four undercooked songs. It sounded exactly like what it was, the beginnings of a new album that ran out of gas. Oh well, at least there was something to tour behind now.
The longer great bands last, the more difficult it becomes to make music that doesn’t suffer by comparison to their classic work. U2, Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Eagles, Prince, Pearl Jam, even Canada’s Blue Rodeo and Tragically Hip have all in a sense reached this point.
This means that the nearer an act comes to their final bow, the more difficult it is to sound like something other than a well-paid cover band of yourself.
And Fleetwood Mac is quite frankly running on borrowed time. Christine turns 73 this year. John, a lifelong smoker and one-time heavy boozer, had a serious cancer scare a few years ago. And there are only a limited number of times the band can lower the octave so Nicks can land the notes on “Rhiannon” or “Seven Wonders.”
A great band this far in gets increasingly fewer chances to prove its continued validity other than as a jukebox. “Say You Will” made a giant step toward late-career relevancy for Fleetwood Mac. I suppose we should be grateful for “Extended Play” and “Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie,” but given the quality we’ve come to expect, they fall well short.
At this rate, does the band have another half decade to burn before they can get their act together once more?