by Eleanor Juckes
Fleetwood Mac are described by many as the epitome of a ’70s band. They were cool, they were troubled, and they produced music that went straight to the soul. Fleetwood Mac developed very different musical feelings over time as their band changed its line-up multiple times. The way members would leave and return is certainly odd, but seems to work for them, as they have sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
‘The Mac’ are famous as much for their messy intra-band relationships and personal lives as for their music, but the band’s haunting lyrics and energetic rhythms have cemented them as a foundation of old-school rock ‘n’ roll. In some modern cases such as One Direction, band politics can sometimes take over the music. The band then finds it hard to get back to writing good stuff together, since all the rest of the world wants to see is public displays of love/anger. Fleetwood Mac fought off this temptation to just provide the public with scandal, and channeled all their energy into music. What emerged was Rumours. In my opinion it is the best of Fleetwood Mac, drawing on the tortured relationship between recently-joined lead singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and the heartbreaking divorce between two pillars of the band – John and Christine McVie.
Rumours takes you on a journey through the peaks and troughs of deteriorating relationships. When I asked my Dad for his thoughts on the album, he described it as the ultimate breakup album, which is a fair analysis. The outpouring of emotion from the three main songwriters is the soundtrack to their respective breakups. As a relationship breaks down, there are moments where you feel angry, but positive. Buckingham’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ captures the essence of wanting this person to get the hell away from you, but also having the lingering feeling of wanting them to be happy. There are moments of denial – trying to pretend that you both want the same things and that everything is ok. However, Nicks’s ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ tells us that pretending is useless – it is a façade. Then finally there are moments of nothingness. ‘Songbird’, Christine McVie’s piercing ballad, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The rising and falling piano melody accompanies McVie’s quiet and simple lyrics to serve as a lamenting ode to her crumbling band. I have listened to the song a ridiculous number of times, and yet it is still quite inexplicable to me how such simple repetition in the ending phrase, And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before manages to create quite the depth of emotion it does. It is hard not to feel a slight sense of voyeurism when listening to Rumours, with the songwriters’ honesty providing a scarily clear view into their innermost thoughts.
Another draw of Rumours is the sound of it. By 1977, Fleetwood Mac were known for their unconventional recording methods and their desire for the perfect sound. It is for this reason that Buckingham’s guitar was restrung every 20 minutes when recording ‘Never Going Back Again’, since one of the sound engineers noticed that they lost the brightness of their tone after that long. Other odd sounds include the use of a chair as a percussion instrument in ‘Second Hand News’, the song that is Buckingham’s harshest criticism of Nicks’s reaction to their break up. Whilst some may argue this perfectionism was unnecessary, it is undeniable that Fleetwood Mac had a guitar twang and off-beat rhythm that fitted their songs perfectly. For them, the album and the music had to be perfect – because everything else was falling apart. They wanted to create the best album they could, almost to prove to themselves that they were still functioning people.
Their personal lives may have been an absolute mess, but if they had their music, they had something. They understood that they needed to be at their lowest points personally to make their best music. As Stevie Nicks drawls in ‘Dreams’ – Thunder only happens when it’s raining.