Fleetwood Mac Tango in the Night 1987

Classic Album Review: Fleetwood Mac Tango in the Night

The Classic Album Review is back after a two week hiatus. Maybe it was the trip across the pond that did it, and got me thinking of the best cross-Atlantic musical collaborations to date. Fleetwood Mac naturally came to mind first, and seeing as it’s suddenly become cool within the past few years to celebrate them (Radiohead and Deerhunter have openly professed their love), I figured it was their turn.

When people think of Fleetwood Mac, they undoubtedly think of Rumours, copious amounts of cocaine consumption, incestuous affairs where every band member sleeps with every band member, and Steve Nicks.

I’ll be the first to admit that Tango in the Night is not some kind of  rarity, with critics dismissing it as the final demise of the band into a mushy-adult-contempo-soft-boiled-soft-rock -commercial-radio-mess. As the second bestselling FM album, a heavy rotation on CHFI to this day, and the last release from the legendary McVie-McVie-Buckingham-Nicks-Fleetwood line-up, there doesn’t seem to be anything remotely indie about it. But who cares? What it is, is a damned good recording with some of the best guitar, drum, and bass lines known to man. Besides, that’s not what this series is about anyway.

Here’s the long and short of it: Tango in the Night has some of the happiest songs that take me to the crux of musical glee. There’s something about upbeat Christine McVie songs that puts me into a temporary, lulled yet elated state of mind, and there’s no funk too deep that it won’t drag me out of.

In its heart of hearts, Tango in the Night is a Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham (who I still have a crush on, despite his increasing resemblance of a deep fried Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future) show. They both produce all of the best tracks (“Everywhere,” “Big Love”) on the album, along with some of its guiltiest rockin’ 80’s pleasures (“Isn’t It Midnight,” “You and I Part 2”).

Let’s go through a play-by-play:

Big Love – The original is still by far, my favorite Buckingham penned and voiced FM tune. It’s very synth, slick, and is simply an odd little ditty that works, even with the weird “uh-ah” wheezes that serve as some kind of back-up vocal substitute.

Seven Wonders – This is Stevie Nicks’s greatest contribution to Tango in the Night. I’m not sure if this is because this was the time period where she was addicted to tranquilizers that her doctor at the time had prescribed to help defeat her cocaine addiction, or if she was doing this as a favor in-between her solo career. Either way, it’s one of the few Stevie songs that’s not a downer, and though I love her more melancholy songs, I’m happy this one came along as it serves her nomadic spiritual crystal-collecting image well.

Everywhere – This might as well be the only song on the album, because it would single-handedly make Tango in the Night one of the best albums of the 80’s . I listen to this song an average of three times a day, everyday, and there’s nothing in my life that it can’t seem to solve. Last.fm indicates that I have listened to it around 200 times since January 15, 2010, and if you hear it for yourself, you may understand why. There’s something about it that is akin to magic…it’s got that fairy-dustsish feeling that pacifies me to the point of stupid grin for no apparent reason. Maybe because I would imagine this is what it feels like to be dumb and happy all the time must feel like (or young love, as this was co-written by McVie’s new and second husband, which must have been more than awkward for alcoholic ex-husband John).

Caroline – Kind of what Peter Gabriel was doing at the time with all of his tribal-beat-new-age-sex-sounding songs, only with an anthem-ish edge.

Tango in the Night – I can imagine how this might be the type of song I will be playing around the house a decade from now, much to my childrens’ mortification at their uncool mom. OK, so it’s got a bunch of terrible cliched 80’s mood guitars churning away unnecessarily to fill the oddly high number of dramatic pauses. But how can you resist that opera-like chorus, or that ridiculously over-the-top guitar solo towards the end??

Mystified – A surprising Buckingham/McVie collaboration that isn’t what you might expect from them. Slow, methodical, and longing. One of those long-forgotten adult-contemporary FM songs you dust off that makes you remember how good it was.

Little Lies – The other huge McVie standout that still reminds me of riding in the back of my parents’ car in the late 80’s / early 90’s, where I would always downplay my joy at hearing something my parents might have liked, too. I’m still riding in the back of their car, but no one plays this song nearly as often as they ought to.

Family Man – This one just puzzles me, as does its placement in their Greatest Hits collection. Well, maybe Buckingham just had a kid or something.

Welcome to the Room Sara – The first of Nicks’s two slow numbers, and neither of them are very memorable. Her voice is sounding increasingly goat-bleatish at this point.

Isn’t It Midnight – Completely shameless 80’s rock-out that I hate to admit I love in a nostalgic Ray Ban, caped neon cap kind of way.

When I See You Again – See above.

You and I Part 2 – A slightly higher class rendition of “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time,” demonstrating Buckingham’s irrepressible ability to make even the tackiest beat sound catchy.

Now that I have the opportunity to, I want to talk a bit more about Christine McVie. Tango in the Night demonstrates that she had become a songwriting force and performer in her own right. I always felt she deserved more attention as an equal force to be reckoned with along with Nicks, but that she wasn’t really recognized publicly as one-half of the female talent of the band. Maybe that’s my false perception coming into play, but I thought her equally tawdry but comparatively unglamorous personal life contributed to some of her being downplayed in the group. Buckingham, too I felt carried much of the band in its heyday both as a songwriter, vocalist, and plucky guitarist. He added a distinctive flair to everything he wrote, usually with some sort of staccato accent.

Allison / Panic Manual / August 4, 2010

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