When Fleetwood Mac entered the Château d’Hérouville studio outside Paris at the dawn of the 1980s, the band had one goal in mind: to create a commercial pop success in the mold of their record-breaking Rumours. Not everyone in the quintet was sold on this goal, necessarily, especially after the quantum leap forward from Rumours into the beautiful madness that was Tusk. But while Tusk sold four million copies, it couldn’t help but be viewed as a disappointment after the world domination of its ten million-selling predecessor. Mirage, released in June 1982, was intended to restore Fleetwood Mac to the top of the charts (Tusk had peaked at No. 4). It succeeded, but over the years has taken a backseat in critical appraisal to 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk for a seeming lack of ambition. While Mirage indeed lacks the fresh sense of a band coming together on FM, the tense underpinning of deep emotion on Rumours and the wild adventurous spirit on Tusk, it remains an overlooked, sparkling gem of a record ripe for rediscovery. That opportunity is now here with Rhino’s multi-format reissues of Mirage including a 3-CD/1-DVD/1-LP Deluxe Edition.
In 1981, the year prior to the release of Mirage, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood had all recorded solo albums, but the group came back together in seamless fashion. The clean, glossy production credited to Lindsey Buckingham, Richard Dashut, Ken Caillat and Fleetwood Mac emphasized the back-to-basics approach of this bright, largely uptempo album. Lyrically and melodically, the group looked back to channel Fleetwood Mac and Rumours while nodding to the new decade.
Christine McVie, always musically conversant in matters of the heart, contributed four songs including the effervescent, shimmering opener “Love in Store” (co-written with Jim Recor) and dreamy “Only Over You,” dedicated “with inspiration to Dennis Wilson,” McVie’s then-flame. The Beach Boys’ wild-child drummer inspired this beautiful, frank declaration of love: “People think I’m crazy/But they don’t know/Thought love had failed me/But now, they’re watching it grow…Angel, please don’t go…” The cascading, wordless background vocals recall the waves on the ocean; Fleetwood varies his drums from steady to martial as if to comment on the ups and downs of the surprising relationship chronicled in the lyric. McVie and Robbie Patton penned the album’s leadoff hit single, “Hold Me,” another clear-eyed look at love on which she shares lead vocals with Buckingham.
Lindsey didn’t quite mask his ambivalence toward the creation of Mirage. “Standin’ in the shadows/The man I used to be/I wanna go back,” he sings in the taut little rocker “Can’t Go Back,” only to be answered with “Can’t go back, can’t go back…” by a chorus of multi-tracked voices. But Buckingham gave his all, deploying his seemingly effortless gift at pop-rock songcraft on his five tracks on Mirage including the driving “Book of Love” (anchored by Fleetwood’s propulsive drumming and the anthemic “Oh-oh-oh-ohhhh” vocal refrain), the steely, electronically-infused ode to the “Empire State,” and the textured “Eyes of the World” which manages to be both pretty and gritty as Buckingham confesses that “back and forth lies unfurl/In the eyes of the world.” Most atypical is his comparatively sweet and simple fifties rock-and-roll throwback “Oh, Diane,” which has a bit of the feel of The Mystics’ “Hushabye.” (“Book of Love,” “Empire State” and “Oh, Diane” were all co-written with Richard Dashut.)
There’s a lilting country twang to the guitars on Stevie Nicks’ first of three songs on Mirage, the reflective, accepting “That’s Alright.” She also looks back – and forward on – the rocking “Straight Back,” which like Buckingham’s “Can’t Go Back,” seems to address Nicks’ return to the band for Mirage. Nicks’ semi-autobiographical “Gypsy” is the standout track and second most successful single on Mirage, a nostalgic journey (“So I’m back, to the velvet underground/Back to the floor, that I love/To a room with some lace and paper flowers/Back to the gypsy that I was…”) with the vividly unforgettable imagery that’s long been Nicks’ stock in trade as a songwriter. As on their best work, Fleetwood Mac is one unit here, with every one of the five band members adding to the tight arrangement. (Indeed, in David Wild’s always-astute liner notes, he quotes Buckingham: “‘Gypsy’ is and always has been one of my favorite things ever from Stevie. And for me, it is also the best thing I ever did for Stevie all in all in terms of helping her create the right musical landscape to frame a song.”)
As it turned out, McVie and Colin Allen’s vulnerable, longing “Wish You Were Here,” the closing track on the original album, would turn out to be the final word in the studio from Fleetwood Mac until 1987’s Tango in the Night, but Mirage couldn’t have had a better closer than this lovely remembrance. Of course, it’s not the last word on Mirage thanks to the additional material on offer here.
Disc Two of the deluxe box set (and the 2-CD edition) offers Outtakes and Sessions. All but three of the twenty tracks on this disc are previously unreleased, and all offer an illuminating look into the creative process behind the album that took the band from France back to California, where Mirage was completed at a variety of studios. The initial tracks on the disc are sequenced as close to the original album as possible, making for an alternate listening experience.
“Love in Store,” even in raw, not-fully-produced form, has the hallmarks of a powerful opening statement – an invitation for what will follow. “Gypsy,” likewise, is presented in a more skeletal, less fleshed-out alternate of the familiar version, highlighting the crucial instrumental and vocal flourishes that Buckingham and co. brought to the soundscape. (The extended video version of “Gypsy” is also reprised here.) The highlights on this disc are many. “That’s Alright” boasts a different, grittier lead vocal from Nicks, and lacks the strong group harmonies that are so prominent on the finished version. “Wish You Were Here” has a more majestic, grandiose arrangement.
There are hints throughout on Buckingham’s tracks of the modular, piece-by-piece style with which he crafted Tusk. “Suma’s Walk” is the instrumental track that would morph into “Can’t Go Back” while his early stab at “Empire State” is tougher, more metallic and abrasive than the finished recording. “Book of Love” lacks the soaring harmonies and group vocal hooks, and has Buckingham trading off lines with Nicks, but the kernel of the song and core arrangement are already present. “Oh Diane” is just as enjoyable in its unvarnished form.
Nicks’ early cuts are among the most fascinating. The yearning, tortured “If You Were My Love” takes the place of “Straight Back” in the alternate album sequence. (“Straight Back” is here, too, however – in the version included on the first pressings of Mirage but subsequently replaced by one with guitar and vocal overdubs.) “If You Were My Love” originated during sessions for Stevie’s solo album Bella Donna and was reportedly inspired by Tom Petty; she revisited the song once more for her Street Angel album and finally gave a new recording commercial release on 2014’s 24 Karat Gold. Nicks’ impassioned “Smile at You,” said to have been scrapped from Mirage for being “too angry,” also resurfaced years later on Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 LP Say You Will – to date, the final Fleetwood Mac LP and the only one since 1970 not to feature any tracks written by Christine McVie, who left the lineup in 1998. Buckingham has an outtake, too. Versions of his “Goodbye Angel” and “Teen Beat” appeared on the box set 25 Years – The Chain, but these takes are previously unissued.
McVie is heard pounding the piano on an enjoyably loose run-through of “Put a Candle in the Window,” and a brief, Buckingham-led jam of Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday” is another rough-hewn treat. The released “Gypsy” B-side “Cool Water,” written in 1936 by Bob Nolan, appears on this disc, as well. The Mac’s acoustic version of this country-and-western chestnut was initially released as the B-side of “Gypsy,” and this appearance marks its official CD debut. John McVie contributes a rare vocal, while Buckingham brings a touch of The Beach Boys (who recorded their own song entitled “Cool, Cool Water”) to his beguiling, typically layered arrangement.
Disc Three (only available in the Deluxe box set) premieres a new Fleetwood Mac live album. Live at the Forum, Los Angeles, CA (October 21-22, 1982) has thirteen tracks from that stand including vivid performances of “Gypsy,” “Love in Store,” and “Eyes of the World,” as well as past favorites like “The Chain,” “Rhiannon,” “Tusk,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun.” Disc Four, a DVD, includes the original album in high resolution stereo and DTS 5.1 surround. The surround option is definitely the preferred way to experience Mirage; while the mix by Ken Caillat and Marc Daniel Nelson is more tasteful than fully enveloping, it’s nonetheless a more immersive way to enjoy Mirage and hear new elements which might have been previously overlooked.
The Deluxe Edition produced by Bill Inglot and Steve Woolard is lavishly packaged in a style similar to that of 2013’s Rumours and last year’s Tusk. The set is housed in a sturdy slipcase containing a 12-page LP-sized paperback booklet with full lyrics, credits and a typically incisive and entertaining essay from longtime Mac fan and music historian David Wild. The four discs (three CDs and one DVD) are stored in individual picture sleeves within the album jacket, and the jacket also contains the original album on one vinyl LP. The original period Warner Bros. disc labels are, of course, a nice touch. Once again, the fine remastering has been adeptly handled by Dan Hersch.
Perhaps Mirage didn’t begin with the same artistic inspiration as Rumours or Tusk, but whatever the reason behind its creation, it remains a potent work by a band still at the peak of its powers. This set is no mere Mirage; it’s a deep-dig into the vaults that’s come up with a pop treasure chest. Bring on Tango in the Night!
Mirage is available as follows:
3-CD/1-DVD/1-LP Deluxe Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2-CD Expanded Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Remastered Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada