Over 40 years later: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is still fresh

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac came out 43 years ago on February 4. Usually when you do a retrospective on an album, it’s on a benchmark anniversary of the album’s release, but this is one of my favourite albums, so I get to make the rules.

The album was recorded during a time for Fleetwood Mac that was fraught with internal division and tensions. Frontwoman Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham had just separated, keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie were getting divorced, and drummer Mick Fleetwood and his wife (surprisingly not a member of the band) were splitting up as well.

These personal issues made recording together all but impossible, and yet, the album feels entirely cohesive. Most people say that artists create their best work when in turmoil and facing personal struggles. Rumours is a testament to that, as it is easily one of the greatest albums of the 20th century.

The album starts off with a bang, with “Second Hand News” written by Buckingham. Despite the song being about his recent breakup with Nicks, the song is really bouncy and bubbly, with great harmonies sung by his ex girlfriend. Buckingham’s acoustic rhythm guitar and the haphazard percussion, both keep the song chugging along, adding to its frantic, fast paced sound.

The album then slows right down with Nicks’ “Dreams” one of the groups most famous songs and one that has had a resurgence recently due to its incredibly contemporary sound, despite having been written in 10 minutes, according to Nicks, now five decades ago. The song kicks in with its cutting dance beat played by Fleetwood, which sounds very reminiscent of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. The rest of the song however is much more airy and loose, with McVie’s Rhodes electric piano, vibraphone accents in the background, and the wispy backing vocals. It all builds to the iconic chorus, complete with a gorgeous three part harmony between Nicks, Buckingham and McVie.

Buckingham follows up with another breakup song. “Never Going Back Again” strips it back to just his acoustic, though his guitar track is anything but simple. Buckingham actually plays three guitar parts: melody, rhythm and bass, all at once, an impressive feat that many guitarists are unable to replicate to this day. The song bounces along just fine, it’s relatively inoffensive and not particularly memorable, but it is a fun cleanser between “Dreams” and the next heavy hitter.

While “Don’t Stop”, the first duet of the album, was not the biggest hit at the time of its release, today it has become easily one of the band’s most recognizable and popular songs (particularly since it was used in Clinton’s presidential campaign in the 1990’s). It’s a fun and optimistic song about looking towards a brighter future instead of being stuck in the past, a refreshing angle to take given the album’s subject matter. At its core it’s a simple blues song, like others by McVie on the album, but still fun, with a full sound and is easily jammable. While more has been done with the song in covers and live performances since the original recording, this version still has plenty to offer, especially in the context of a breakup album.

Speaking of breakups, “Go Your Own Way” gets right back into the groups drama. The song by Buckingham is all about his split with Nicks, who provides some iconic backing harmonies in the chorus ironically enough. The song’s famous and infectious tom-heavy unconventional drum beat kicks in right after the first line, unlikely in such a popular song but it is refreshing; a perfect example of Fleetwood’s odd drumming style and great talent. The dynamic is then most effectively heightened in the choruses with the backing vocals and the ringing organ throughout, bringing it to a new height while still meshing with the rest of the song. It’s a great rocker, a fast paced, intricate song that doesn’t get too muddled or confusing.

The album then slows down again to close out side one (that’s a vinyl term). “Songbird” is a gorgeous piano ballad from McVie, ironically enough, having been written in an hour in the middle of the night during a cocaine bender. Listening to the song, you could never have imagined it came from such a heightened and frantic state, as the song really is in no rush, it takes its time and sits in emotional moments. It’s perfectly under produced and makes for a great end to the album’s a-side: an ambiguous love song.

After “Songbird”, the album’s b-side really opens with a bang. “The Chain” is a modern classic, especially since it was repopularized after being featured in the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite being a song birthed out of an old studio jam that words were thrown onto at the last minute, the song feels so complete, as if it were always meant to be presented this way. It features all three on lead vocals, showing off their Beach Boys, California-style pop harmonies, yet on a twangy, almost country rock track. All of these elements then culminate in the frantic crescendo with yelling vocals, a ringing lead guitar, a crash-heavy drum beat and the iconic bass line.

Track eight is the only song that comes off a bit dated, though the disco-inspired track is still a fun listen today. “You Make Loving Fun” was inspired by an affair McVie had with the band’s lighting director, while still married to the bassist. Ironically, his bass line is one of the best parts of the song, on top of the glossy backing vocals and harmonies. While it is another blues song at the end of the day, its slight variation in the chorus, coupled with the disco flavour makes it a quality track even today.

The second duet on the album “I Don’t Want to Know” was a throwaway song recorded in the last minute to fill out the album’s track listing, and while it’s still fun, it definitely feels like it. With its simplistic production, raw vocal sound and a general lack of the standard creativity we see throughout the album, it’s a bit underwhelming. It’s a fun song, with a slight country vibe, but it is nothing particularly memorable in the context of this killer album

McVie’s “Oh Daddy” is another low point for me on the album. While a hard hitting and powerful song, the sleepy production tends to lose me. I understand having it so late in the album, as it does reach an emotional low point that is powerful, especially lyrically, I just find that it doesn’t hit hard enough to justify being so late. It feels like something that should’ve been held over for a more experimental album, as it clashes with the cleaner pop sound of this record.

And lastly, a Stevie Nicks classic, “Gold Dust Woman” is easily one of, if not the greatest, songs on the album. It’s weird, even a bit creepy, but it keeps the pressure on and holds your attention the entire time. It’s iconic and memorable chorus ties the seemingly disparate verses together perfectly, as it provides an outlet for the built up tension in the song without feeling out of place. By the end it finally reaches its well earned crescendo, filled with screaming, snarling guitars and its thumping, hypnotic bass drum beat.

All in all, if you couldn’t tell by my unending praise and gushing over this album, Rumours is a must listen all the way through if you haven’t already (and even if you have and it’s been a while). Songs like “Dreams” and “Don’t Stop” are simple and generally clean cut at first listen. But paying attention to the lyrics, the spacey soundscapes and oftentimes intricate instrumentation backing the songs makes even the most simple songs, like “Never Going Back Again”, all the more enjoyable. Not to mention some of the more obvious curve balls thrown in like “Second Hand News”, “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman” that all come together to help the album stand the test of time. I can’t recommend it enough, it’s a modern classic in the truest sense of the term.

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