I should probably be clear up front that I am utterly biased for this album, and that my original thinking for this column was something along the lines of "The Soundtracks Of Our Lives: Fleetwood Mac Rumours." Before Kiss Alive! and Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything, there was Rumours. I listened to my parents vinyl LP endlessly; I thought it the lyrics were funny and cheerful, and I loved the way it sounded to the extent that it taught me how to sing in harmony with Lindsey Buckinham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie. Ten years later, the raw emotional impact registered, and what I thought was funny turned out to be the adults in Fleetwood Mac alternately talking dirty to each other or destroying each other. Every ten years it seems like I reconnect with Fleetwood Mac, like clockwork. I've seen them twice (once with Christine McVie and once without) and I'm bummed that their current tour isn't hitting Buffalo, and it's a record that I have deep attachment to, so I was totally compelled to pick up the new three disc edition, in part to keep the circle going, but also to check out the new remaster and the ample extra goodies. Was it worth the $20, and did it live up to a lifetime's expectations?
By the time Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours, the British blues outfit had gone through a variety of personnel changes, relocated to California, and drafted guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks into the band before finding actual success with their 1975 eponymous album Fleetwood Mac. A seamless blend of blues, California rock and gorgeous three part vocal harmonies, Fleetwood Mac had finally hit their stride... in time for everybody in the band to revel in the drug infused California lifestyle, shack up with each other, wreck marriages (John and Christine McVie) and relationships (Buckingham and Nicks), and lay the explosive groundwork for their next album. Rumours was an instant hit in record stores and on the radio, a quixotically commercial album suffused with raw emotion and adult grit that was simultaneously organic and real yet utterly sublime ear candy. It also catapulted the band into the stratosphere while becoming an unsurpassable albatross that would hang over the band for decades, a classic that became synonymous with the decade it came out in.
But it's also a timeless classic thanks to the exquisite production of Lindsey Buckingham, Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat, a quality definitely preserved and enhanced by the new digital remaster. While not as mind blowing as the recent Beatles and Pink Floyd remasters, there is definitely a heft and immediacy in the music not entirely found on the original cd release. Right from the off with the raucous and bitter stomp of "Second Hand News" there's an encircling warmth that immediately draws you into the album and doesn't let go until the tacked on lackluster b-side "Silver Springs" closes out the first disc. There's a genuine sense of space on the delicate and plaintive "Never Going Back Again" and "Songbird," while the Stevie Nicks numbers "Dreams" and "Gold Dust Woman" sound properly majestic and hauntingly church like. While nothing quite matches the warmth of vinyl, the new remaster of Rumours tries real hard.
As for the extra goodies, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The second disc features twelve remastered songs from Fleetwood Mac's 1977 Rumours World Tour, and like the studio album the digital dusting up creates space and a genuine "you are there" aural experience that highlights the band's sharp old school musicianship and ability to conjure those vocal harmonies in a live setting. The timing is a bit off as everything seems a little sped up (in particular a heavily caffeinated "Dreams"), but I chalked that up to the band's legendarily prodigious coke intake, and in any case you get used to it. Of particular note is Lindsey Buckingham's guitar, which is profound on "Never Going Back Again" and "Go Your Own Way," and the enigmatic vocals of Stevie Nicks. No offense to the clear and beautiful alto of Christine McVie, whose wonderful "Songbird" closes the disc, but listening to "Rhiannon" and "Dreams" live you can hear the Church of Stevie Nicks forming around her singular voice and magical stage presence. The third disc of demos and instrumentals offers a rare but largely unnecessary peak into the recording of the album that is really for the die-hards only, with a few non album cuts that didn't make it ("Planets of the Universe," "Doesn't Anything Last") included for the completists.
So, in the end, was it worth the $20 for a cd I already own? Of course. The substantial digital remaster sufficiently replaces the original cd release, and the pristine and coked up live version of Rumours is an insightful and somewhat hilarious snapshot of Fleetwood Mac in 1977, and a total must have for both fan and the casual bystander who will quickly understand why Rumours is still considered a legendary milestone. Lives were changed in it's making and by it's profound success, and it's all there, preserved in the songs like amber for old fans to study and new ones to discover.
Studio Album: A
Live disc: B+