Take away all the artifice and ephemera of the new deluxe edition of Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled album (Reprise R2 559454) and you're still left with an intriguing and endlessly challenging question: how? How did a British blues band with only fleeting chart success in their home country metamorphose into one of the greatest rock bands of the 20th century's back half, architects of 18 Top 40 hits and eight platinum or multiplatinum records? And how did they do so with their ninth lineup? As this package - the fifth and final in a series of exhaustive documents on Mac's "classic" five-piece lineup from 1975 to 1987 - proves, it was a mix of luck, skill and instinct.
Before starting to make Fleetwood Mac, the group found themselves in an incredible transition. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (members since the group's inception in 1967) and vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist Christine McVie (John's wife and a member since 1970) were the only band members left. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Bob Welch departed for power trio Paris at the end of 1974 after four years in the group.
But the key to Fleetwood Mac's future had already been found; while Fleetwood had scouted out Sound City Studios in California for the band's impending 10th album, engineer Keith Olsen enthusiastically played the drummer some tracks from a duo that had just recorded there. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, singers, songwriters and lovers (augmented by Buckingham's distinctive guitar theatrics) had caught the ear of Fleetwood, and while he initially sought to enlist Buckingham into the group, the intense musician made it clear he wasn't going anywhere without his partner, whose mysterious lyrics, yearning alto and arresting personality were due to make her a heroine of the genre.
Together with Christine McVie's already-established proficiency as a singer and songsmith - and thanks to the incredible fortune that Buckingham, Nicks and McVie's voices perfectly meshed together in electric harmonies - it's clear on Fleetwood Mac that, even without the benefit of seeing the incredible road they would embark on in the years to come on 1977's Rumours and beyond, magic was being made. Indeed, McVie and Nicks earned the quintet their first American hit singles: "Over My Head" (No. 20), "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me" (both No. 11). Within a year, the album topped the Billboard 200 and the five-piece lineup earned positive marks as a must-see live act.
Beyond the hits, there were so many highlights on the album itself: Buckingham's brilliant pop-rock endeavors and impending bouts of musical mania bookended the LP on "Monday Morning" and "I'm So Afraid"; the Buckingham Nicks track "Crystal," written by Stevie and sung by Lindsey, confirmed the kind of beauty this version of the group committed to for years; and Nicks' stellar "Landslide" remains a radio staple to this day (thanks to a bittersweet live version the group recorded more than two decades later). Even the sole tune not written by the band, a sprightly cover of The Curtis Brothers' "Blue Letter," sounds like a Fleetwood Mac original, bursting with all the trademarks that fans of the band still hold dear to this day.
Fleetwood Mac was lightly expanded alongside more packed double-disc editions of follow-ups Rumours and Tusk (1979) by Rhino Records in 2004; that presentation featured single mixes and edits of "Warm Ways," "Rhiannon," "Say You Love Me" and "Blue Letter" plus an unreleased band jam. With those albums plus Mirage (1982) and Tango in the Night (1987) having all been expanded as box sets by Rhino since 2013, it's long overdue that Fleetwood Mac get the deluxe treatment here. And what a presentation. As with the others, this 3CD/1DVD/1LP set is housed in a sturdy 12" x 12" clamshell box with an appropriately sized 16-page book of liner notes. The vinyl and each disc (in individual wallets) are packaged in a rigid gatefold. David Wild's notes feature excerpts of new interviews from Fleetwood and the McVies; they're printed alongside full lyrics, great rare photos of the band, outtakes from the album cover shoot and more. (A particular highlight is a trade ad for the album that mistakes Buckingham for Nicks and vice versa - with so many lineups over the years, you're bound to make a mistake once in awhile!)
The 34 bonus tracks across the three audio discs are a real rollercoaster of content. The single versions are subtle retouches of the album versions, likely more familiar to modern audiences thanks to what gets radio airplay today. An assembly of the album from early takes and versions is not as raw or experimental as one might expect for a band learning to come together in the studio, and the ultimate absence of the group's vocal harmonics and Buckingham's delectable guitar flourishes are a bit of a shame. More effective later into Disc 2 is a four-song set recorded live in a Burbank studio in 1976 (for either a live audience or augmented with one after the fact), a snapshot of the band at full power and confidence.
Those who find this live side of the band most appealing - and, one would imagine, there are many of you out there - will find the set's third disc most tantalizing. In 14 songs taken from three shows in October 1975, fans get a summary of what the band's accompanying tour sounded like. The diverse set list includes six songs from Fleetwood Mac and selections from across the group's history, including tracks by multiple versions of the band. To wit, there's the Bob Welch-era "Hypnotized," the Peter Green-led "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi," and "Spare Me a Little" and "Station Man," which featured former, post-Green-as-leader members Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer; there's even a Buckingham Nicks tune, "Don't Let Me Down Again," and the show opener, "Get Like You Used to Be," was by blues group Chicken Shack, which featured the former Christine Perfect alongside frontman/co-writer Stan Webb. It's a thrilling listen, even if the box notes curiously don't specify which show is which (the album metadata does, however, down to the dates and venues).
The Surround Mix: Commentary by Joe
The infusion of Buckingham and Nicks fundamentally changed the dynamic of Fleetwood Mac, so it's appropriate that Buckingham's voice is the first you hear on "the white album." His accessible, upbeat song about a rocky relationship gains depth from the very first chords on Ken Caillat's dynamic, if not overly flashy, surround mix. There's presence and detail here that outshines even the 96/24 stereo presentation of the original album mix on the same DVD. (Alas, as this is a standard DVD-V and not a DVD-Audio disc, the surround mix isn't in true high-resolution. It's in Dolby Digital, though it's still hugely enjoyable.) Caillat has also reshaped the album in subtle ways in this new mix, and those familiar with the album will notice timing differences in various tracks.
The gentle guitars wash over the listener in the sensual, languid "Warm Ways," one of five songs on FM written, either completely or in part, by Christine McVie. The mix makes good use of the rear channels for the soft background vocals. Though the singer-songwriter- keyboardist had been a part of the Mac's recordings since her uncredited work on 1970's Kiln House, she, of course, came into her own in this era of the band. The many deft textures of Christine's shimmering "Over My Head" gain extra heft in surround, with clear separation as to each part. Like "Over My Head," her "Say You Love Me" remains one of the most beloved songs in the band's catalogue. The feel of the surround mix is closer to that of the single version than the original album track, bringing forward its punchiest qualities like Buckingham's crunchy guitar. The clarity of the band's climactic harmonies also impresses. Christine's easy melodicism distinguishes "Sugar Daddy," as does the band's already-strong rapport.
Stevie Nicks' three contributions are introduced by the timeless and mystical "Rhiannon," offering greater emphasis on both John McVie's forceful bass and Buckingham's taut guitars in 5.1 (even if the background vocals recede, well, into the background) as well as Mick Fleetwood's propulsive drums. The ruminative "Crystal," previously recorded by Lindsey and Stevie on Buckingham Nicks, was retooled as the hypnotic closing track on Side One of the original LP. The quieter moments on the LP, like the devastating and beautiful "Landslide," are subtly powerful, too, with the ballad benefiting from the channel separation from its opening strains.
Among the many notable traits about Fleetwood Mac is the inclusion of a song not written by any of the band members - The Curtis Brothers' "Blue Letter." The discrete instrument placement on this glistening power-pop track makes it easy to imagine the band is playing just for you in close quarters. FM also anticipated last year's successful album-length collaboration between Lindsey and Christine with their first co-credit, "World Turning." (The first album to be entitled Fleetwood Mac, the group's 1968 debut, featured a Peter Green song called "The World Keep on Turning." Full circle, indeed.) The urgency of the frenetic jam, harkening back to their blues days but with a modern sheen, is amped up in Caillat's mix, which is also greatly extended, by around two minutes, from the stereo version. Buckingham's angsty closer, "I'm So Afraid," likewise feels more powerful and more intimate with the immersive sonics.
Ken Caillat first prepared this mix years ago, when DVD-Audio was in fashion. Happily, it's finally seen the light of day (only "Monday Morning" had been released, on a DVD-A sampler disc for Acura automobiles) and sounds vital and fresh. In any format, though, Fleetwood Mac remains a prime fusion of pop and rock, with just a hint of the blues underneath that defined the first iterations of the band. While the vinyl LP offers analog warmth, and the CD and 24/96 high-resolution stereo mix are well-remastered, the surround mix offers new dimension and enough subtle "Easter eggs" throughout to make it the preferred way to rediscover this old friend of an album.
Set producers Bill Ingot and Steve Woodward and mastering engineer Dan Hersch, all familiar names to buyers of Fleetwood Mac reissues since the beginning of the century, have done it again, brilliantly offering a definitive take on one of the group's most beloved albums. With everything from the classic quintet properly expanded, one wonders what the next Mac set on the horizon is. Will they continue excavating Stevie Nicks' solo works? Solo endeavors by Buckingham or McVie? Will Buckingham Nicks ever come out on CD? There are no easy answers to these questions yet, but the story they've told of one of the unlikeliest successes in pop history is something to be proud of. Whatever comes next will hopefully be as enriching and rewarding as these sets have been.
Fleetwood Mac: Deluxe Edition is available from Amazon on CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada), 2CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada) and 3CD/DVD/LP (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)