|Fleetwood Mac during the Mirage era.|
The last couple of days I’ve had a couple of Twitter conversations with Ken Caillat, most famously the producer of the biggest Fleetwood Mac albums and the father of singer Colbie Caillat.
I took it upon myself to let Ken know that amongst my fellow Fleetwood Mac buddies, the 1982 album Mirage seems to be the forgotten one of the Lindsey Buckingham / Stevie Nicks era. There are plenty of underrated Fleetwood Mac albums pre Buckingham / Nicks (like Mystery To Me with Christine McVie’s quite astounding Why – my all time favourite Fleetwood Mac song), but for their most famous lineup Mirage is the one that slips a little through the cracks.
Which is odd considering it produced four US or UK top 30 hits (Gypsy, Hold Me, Oh Diane and Love In Store) and stayed at US #1 on the album charts for six weeks. Which makes me think Mirage is the victim of a slightly lazy rock historian narrative, that of the brilliant and accessible Rumours (1977) selling through the roof, the brilliant but experimental Tusk (1979) not selling through the roof and therefore Mirage (1982) must be the straight-forward pop album to win back the fans and keep the record company happy.
And maybe that works as part of a retrospective summary of the band (and not forgetting further albums like 1987’s Tango In The Night and earlier ones like the self-titled Fleetwood Mac from 1975), but when you listen to Mirage you get a different story.
Of the singles, it is ironically* Buckingham’s UK top 10 Oh Diane that is the closest to the so-called “throwaway” pop song, but that is more because it is a homage to simple 50s rock ‘n’ roll than anything else. McVie’s Hold Me was the biggest hit (US#4) from the album and while it hasn’t doesn’t have the timelessness of other hits of hers like You Make Loving Fun or Say You Love Me, it’s still a strong song. The smaller McVie hit Love In Store (US#22) I prefer, though without doubt it is Nicks’ Gypsy (US#11) which is the album’s best known (and arguably best) song.
There is nothing about Gypsy which sounds like a casually tossed together pop song to appease unsophisticated listeners and money-focused record execs. It has the intrigue and wistfulness of much of Nicks’ writing with expert production (the restrained guitar hook that runs throughout a case in point) and the added flourish of a Buckingham shared lead vocal – even if it is only on the “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” line.
Indeed Buckingham singing lead on Nicks’ songs (and vice-versa) is one of the most underused ace cards in the Fleetwood Mac hand. It all ties into the reality that many of their songs are written about each other, or at least informed by the history they have together. To this day – and this is why they are still so compelling in concert – there is something so arresting about hearing two people sing songs written about each other, for each other, to each other, back at each other.
As for the rest of Mirage, McVie’s and Nicks’ other songs are also carefully crafted examples of first-rate, intelligent pop, including the country-tinged That’s Alright (Nicks) and the sad minor-epic Wish You Were Here (McVie). But any notion that Buckingham had abandoned his love of quirky – and indeed, sometimes fully-fledged eccentric – pop is dismissed with one listen to his other Mirage songs Can’t Go Back, Book Of Love, Empire State and Eyes Of The World.
Back to Twitter and Ken Caillat agreed that the Buckingham songs were both excellent and strange, but pointed out that during the Rumours-era he had more support from his bandmates for his direction than he did during the Mirage era.
Ultimately Mirage works for much the same reason Tusk works: both contain outstanding songs from three quite different songwriters but with a coherent production and an overlap of skills. Taken as a package, Mirage is weird, wonderful, accessible and far stronger than maybe the band themselves even realise. Below is the video for Gypsy: