FLEETWOOD MAC’S Mirage (Warner Bros.) has already climbed to the top of the album best-seller charts, just a few weeks after its release. It sounds as if it could repeat the phenomenal commercial success of Rumours, which made the present Fleetwood Mac lineup into a supergroup several years ago and went on to become one of the best-selling pop-rock albums of all time.
It also sounds a lot like a tinkly, trebly musical wind-up toy. The group’s experienced rhythm section and founders, Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), lock into step so perfectly that they seem to go puttering along on their own momentum. And the dabs of glockenspiel, vibraphone and chiming guitars and stacks of sighing vocal harmonies float so ethereally that one has to remind oneself that there originally was a human agency behind them.
Yet human agencies are precisely what separates Fleetwood Mac from its competition. Lindsey Buckingham, one of the group’s three singer-songwriters and the album’s chief producer, has always had a quirky voice (high-pitched, like so much of the rest of Mirage), and a quirkier knack for worshiping and subverting pop conventions at the same time. Stevie Nicks, whose voice is so trebly it can sound positively adenoidal, has a penchant for soft-focus, quasi-mystical hippie-airhead imagery that’s certainly individual, if not very deep, and Christine McVie, the most mature and consistently satisfying of the band’s frontpersons, brings a simple, bluesy elegance to everything she writes and sings.
That puttering rhythm section has personality, too; closer listening reveals its tick-tock patterns to be the fruits of a seasoned, tersely eloquent ensemble style that recalls, if only distantly, Fleetwood Mac’s roots in the British blues revival of the 1960’s.
Couple of Former Couples
The ostensible subject of most Fleetwood Mac songs is the romantic entanglements and disentanglements of the group’s five members. The bassist John and singer-keyboard player Christine McVie used to be married but aren’t anymore, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were a couple whose romance hit the skids after they joined Fleetwood Mac and hit the big-time. Most of the 12 new songs on Mirage relate to these romantic ups and downs in one way or another, but increasingly the band’s real subject seems to be pop music itself, and particularly the way pop music sounds.
Mr. Buckingham’s corny lyrics for his “Book of Love” take a back seat to his ravishing vocal harmonies, which constitute an overt homage to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. There are so many Stevie Nicks vocals overdubbed on her “That’s Alright” that the somewhat unfocused words seem to evaporate like smoke; the song’s feeling of loss is communicated more by the singer’s inflections than by anything she says. Only in Christine McVie’s “Love in Store” and “Hold Me” do the simple emotions expressed in the words and the artful arching simplicity of the melodies and arrangements successfully complement each other.
But these are quibbles. The wind-up-toy sound of Mirage clearly has seduced the nation’s pop listeners. Like this summer’s most successful movies, the album is pure escapist entertainment. But the music has been so cleverly crafted, and polished to such a mesmerizing high-gloss sheen, that by the time one notices that nothing much is being said, it’s too late.
Robert Palmer / New York Times (Late Edition) / August 11, 1982