1977 Rerun: Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
So it seems that this is the season for break-ups among my friends, and having written on the more recent For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver, I’ve decided to stick with the theme for one more post, and stray from my original order for the reruns. Break-up albums have been doing alright lately, either by allowing an artist to reinvent their sound, like …Little Broken Hearts did for Norah Jones, or bringing album sales on the map, not to mention help an artist shovel in the Grammys, like 21 did for Adele. Forget lemonade, when life gives you a bad break-up, make some freaking good music.
So that brings me to 1977, the year of my all-time favourite break-up album: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Although a 5-piece band, each member of Fleetwood Mac was in the midst of struggling with personal failed relationship. John and Christine McVie (the bassist and keyboardist respectively) were in the midst of divorce from 8 years of marriage; Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were in an off period of their “on-again-off-again” relationship; and drummer Mick Fleetwood was reeling from discovering his wife cheating on him. On top of all this, since the release of their 1975 self-titled album, the band was regularly shooting down dramatic rumours being circulated by the press; everything from deathly illnesses and love-children to a massive member change. They were falling apart, and few of them could communicate with one another regarding anything other than the music they were working on. The fact that Rumours was even created in the midst of all that relational stress is nothing but a miracle.
Even more miraculous is how Fleetwood Mac is able to maintain their poppy sound while so miserable. The album appropriately begins Second Hand News, but instead of being used as a synonym for rumours, it is how the left lover feels after he’s been replaced. Still, there is almost happiness in the midst of frustration – as though he’s trying to laugh off what has happened in order to deal with the grief. The subtle yet clear Dreams plays next, and I can almost smell the tension that must have been in the studio as Stevie sings her own words about begrudgingly letting someone go, aching for her ex to be aware of “what (they) had, and what (they) lost”.
Lindsey Buckingham gets the next word on Never Going Back Again, but although the title suggests he won’t return to the relationship, this lyrically sparse track seems too relaxed and not angry enough to be a break-up song. There is something else he won’t return to, maybe because of what he learned in his now failed relationship with Nicks, or maybe not. It’s rather vague, but it seems to be more about coming to terms with himself than it does an angry break-up song. Besides, soon enough we get something much closer to that in Go Your Own Way, also penned by Lindsey. (For some unknown reason, I am on a first-name basis with these band members). Don’t Stop finds itself wedged between Lindsey’s songs, with an incredibly bright take on moving on from a break-up, wanting both parties to just be happier with whatever comes next.
Nearing the end of a relatively happy side A, Rumours takes a turn with Songbird, one of the most beautiful and timeless love songs ever. What makes it a break-up song more than anything else is the sadness in the tone of the singers voice, and this is something that necessarily is replicated when Songbird is covered by Eva Cassidy, Willie Nelson, or whoever might do it next.
It’s always a stretch for me to flip the record over to The Chain, Rumour’s most bitter song so far, and yet ironically, it also boasts some of the tightest harmonies between Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine. The tightness of the entire band is made clear in the sexy You Make Loving Fun. The bass line is sick, and the harmonies that echo Christine are perfect. I am beginning to believe that Christine McVie might have been one of the best songwriters of the 70’s (along with Stevie, of course).
I Don’t Want To Know returns to the bitter playfulness that is in Second Hand News. Similarly, the singer doesn’t want to hold the other back, or “stand between (him) and love”, but just wants everyone to get along and “feel fine”. But perhaps appropriately after this attempt at confidence, Oh Daddy is a somewhat pathetic attempt to recognize what mistakes the singer has made. To be honest, I find this one to be a dud. Anything with “daddy” as a repeated lyric is doomed.
Rumours, along with some of the relationships it wrestles with, come to a close with Gold Dust Woman, where the fictional woman is told to “pick up the pieces and go home”, and the song ends with an extended instrumental outro seeming to noisily hold on and avoid an actual finish. The only appropriate sound to immediately follow Gold Dust Woman is silence, during which I imagine all the band members quietly pack up their instruments and leave separately. I’m sure it never actually happened that way, but even though the band hung together for a while longer in this formation, they were never able to make another album match the honesty, beauty, and frustration that this one did.