|Fleetwood Mac during the Mirage era.|
A couple of years ago I had a short Twitter conversation with Ken Caillat, most famously the producer of the biggest Fleetwood Mac albums and also the father of singer Colbie Caillat. And then coincidentally the news came out a day or two later saying Fleetwood Mac would be returning to New Zealand for a run of Auckland Vector Arena concerts (they’d last played NZ in New Plymouth 2009).
But then disaster in the form of The Big ‘C’ struck: John McVie was to undergo chemotherapy for prostate cancer and the tour had to be cancelled. Though out of adversity – something Fleetwood Mac specialise in – comes triumph and in this band’s case, great music. John’s treatment proved successful and something I never thought would happen did indeed happen: the other McVie – Christine – rejoined the band for the first time since 1997.
In one month’s time the reformed, classic Fleetwood Mac lineup will play in Auckland and Dunedin for three sold out shows*. Reviews of the band since Christine’s return have been ecstatic, so to mark the occasion I thought it was time to delve deep into that incredible Mac catalogue.
Back to the Ken Caillat Twitter conversation, I took it upon myself to let him 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, 1973’s modest-selling Mystery To Me with Christine’s sad, gorgeous Why my all time favourite Fleetwood Mac song a case in point. 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, one that goes a little like this with barely any deviation: 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) being 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 multi-platinum studio albums like 1987’s Tango In The Night and the self-titled Fleetwood Mac from 1975), but when you listen to Mirage you get a much more complex story.
Of the singles, it is ironically** Lindsey’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. Christine’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 Christine hit Love In Store (US#22) I prefer, though without doubt it is Stevie’s 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 Stevie’s writing with expert production (the restrained guitar hook that runs throughout) and the added flourish of a Lindsey shared lead vocal – even if it is only on the “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” line.
Indeed Lindsey Buckingham singing lead on Stevie 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, Christine’s and Stevie’s other songs are also carefully crafted examples of first-rate, intelligent pop, including the country-tinged That’s Alright (Nicks) and the melancholy minor-epic Wish You Were Here (McVie). But any notion that Lindsey 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.
On Twitter Ken Caillat agreed the Buckingham songs were both excellent and strange, but pointed out that during the Rumours-era Buckingham 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 are three Mirage songs from each Fleetwood Mac writers, starting with Stevie, then Lindsey, then Christine.
Can’t Go Back:
Love In Store:
*Dunedin November 18 and Auckland November 21 and 22. Approximately 110,000 tickets sold.
**Ironic because Buckingham was the Fleetwood Mac songwriter most inclined to write the more unusual and eccentric songs.