What Is Your Beef With The Mac?
I think about Fleetwood Mac a lot. But over the last few weeks, events have conspired to make the soft-rock cocaine enthusiasts even more prominent in my nostalgia-addled, threshold-millennial mind than they usually are.
First came Paramore’s After Laughter tour, on which Hayley Williams and her band of pop-punks turned electro-hipsters were covering ‘Everywhere’, from Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album Tango In The Night. At The Royal Albert Hall, Williams introduced the track as “a song we listened to a lot while were recording the album”, a throwaway intro which explains more about After Laughter’s sonics than a hundred ‘emo-grew-up’ think-pieces.
A couple of weeks later, Williams’ pals in HAIM released their second album, Something To Tell You; an album on which the sibling trio pay homage to FM by writing choruses that in many cases sound like offcuts from the Tango sessions. (Actually, it’s largely far better than Tango, but more on that later). And lastly — prompted in part by the HAIM album — the following wry observation was retweeted into my timeline:
I grew up on Fleetwood Mac (and for the sake of this piece, I’m talking about the Buckingham-Nicks era, post-blues, world-conquering AOR juggernaut). I love them. I listen to Rumours on a near-weekly basis, and seeing their 2015 tour with Christine McVie back in the band was one of the most joyous things I’ve witnessed in 20 years of gig-going.
The first time the idea that they might be anything other than incredible came across my purview was ten years ago, via another Generation X take-down on an episode of The Mighty Boosh.
So anathema to me was this concept that I’ve spent a decade dismissing it as a gag. Sure, Tusk is borderline-unlistenable. (Extremely Wolfcastle voice) THAT’S THE JOKE.
Only… it wasn’t, was it? You guys, I think Richard Ayoade’s Saboo could be right. Fleetwood Mac might be… rubbish.
Let me qualify that: Fleetwood Mac are a fantastic live band, they have some incredible songs, and Lindsey Buckingham is a bona fide virtuoso. But let’s look at the evidence here.
Between 1975 and 1987, this iteration of the band released 5 albums. Of those, only one — Rumours, obviously — is considered a classic. And with good reason. In fact, it’s so good, its cultural echo has cleansed the dreck that followed.
1975’s self-titled record is pretty good — it undeniably contains some of their best songs — but as an album experience, it’s patchy. I still rep it, but it’s a dry-run for Rumours.
The latter album is, of course, flawless, and I will smack down anyone who says otherwise with a 2-by-4 made of solid cocaine. But then Buckingham was allowed to take almost full control of the band’s creative direction and production, and we got Tusk.
The experience of listening to Tusk after the fact is like listening to the favourite band of someone you’ve just started seeing and desperately want to impress. You approach with an open mind, your heart is Tusk’s to be lost. But my god, does it manage to lose you.
You’ll struggle to find anyone who wants to like Mirage as much as I do — the lead single, ‘Hold Me’, was co-written by my (first) cousin (once-removed). Tenuous? Absolutely. But it’s probably the best claim to fame I have, I love telling people about it (see: previous sentence) and even I’m not going to pretend this record is Properly Good.
And finally, Tango In The Night is riddled with great songs: ‘Big Love’, ‘Seven Wonders’, ‘Little Lies’ and the aforementioned ‘Everywhere’ are rightly hewn into millennial cultural fabric. But … it’s not a good album. The recent Pitchfork review of its remaster is pandering to a generation who’d long ago decided that ‘The Mac’ were sacred cows, and projects a consistency and artistry that simply isn’t there.
But I have a two-pronged theory as to why Fleetwood Mac are held in such esteem by millennials: Greatest Hits, and the vinyl revival.
There are four albums that I know better than any others in this world. Four albums branded into my memory by the advent of the car CD multi-changer, and their being the only 4 CDs that every member of my family could agree on. Those albums are Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles, Storm Front by Billy Joel, All By Myself and Fleetwood Mac: Greatest Hits.
I suspect I’m not alone. Even people who never knowingly or voluntarily listened to Fleetwood Mac know 50% — 80% of this album. And, of course they do! Just look at this track listing:
There are at most 3 songs on that list that aren’t world-beating, weapons-grade bangers. For many children of the 80s, this album is Fleetwood Mac.
So when we got older, and then got hipster, one of the first things we did was to raid our parents’ record collection — gathering dust in offices and attics across the world, and much to the bemusement of the baby boomers who’d just asked us to load the Elbow back catalogue onto their iPods — for their old Fleetwood Mac albums. And of course, we listened to them in their entirety (“With the pauses! As Lindsey Buckingham intended!”) because, like, that’s the experience, man.
As a result, we programmed ourselves to like these albums in much the same way as I forced myself to enjoy Oasis’ Be Here Now when it came out. Sonic Stockholm Syndrome.
Ok, that’s mean. The ’75 Self-Titled record is definitely better than Be Here Now.
But on behalf of 80s kids everywhere: Ian Williams, you’re right. As a generation, we are guilty of rewriting the history of what is, at heart, an inconsistent band with two good albums. Take solace in the fact that a couple of decades from now, we’ll be scratching our heads as our kids wax lyrical on the misunderstood musical genius of Coldplay.