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Boston Globe, August 8, 1982

Section: ARTS/ FILMS


The beat of the music industry used to slow down in the summer. Most major albums were released in the spring - when it was believed college students would spend money to celebrate the end of school - and in the fall, as a buying lure for the Christmas season.

But that psychology has changed. Many bands no longer want to get caught in the crunch of the spring and fall release periods, so with increasing frequency they're putting out records during the dog days of summer.

This has been the biggest summer of superstar albums in years. Some of them have been live albums - the Rolling Stones' lukewarm "Still Life" and Genesis' ambitious "Three Sides Live" - and some have been greatest hits packages with a few new songs thrown in, such as Stevie Wonder's exultant "Musiquarium."

Superstar solo artists have been busy: The Who's Pete Townshend has released his superb "All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes," Elvis Costello has shown a new, mature side in "Imperial Bedroom," and Robert Plant has creatively expanded upon his Led Zeppelin legacy in his fine "Pictures at Eleven" LP.

Much of the superstar focus has come from California. Two veterans of the 60s, Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills & Nash, who both have been based in Los Angeles, have led the way with long-awaited albums.

Since Fleetwood Mac dominated the pop charts during the late 70s, while Crosby, Stills & Nash were floundering, the natural assumption would be to think Fleetwood's album would be the more compelling of the two. Not true.

Fleetwood has retreated from the experimentalism of its monolithic "Tusk" album (made at a preposterously high cost of $1 million two years ago) and come back into a mainstream pop mold, but its new record, "Mirages," is lacking in energy and nerve. It is a pleasant, but slight work.

On the other hand, Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Daylight Again" is just that - a luminous breath of fresh air that restores the power of their fabled harmony singing and also has a depth of lyrical insight that leaves the often frothy doggerel of "Mirages" far behind.

First, the Mac album. It is not that "Mirages" is hideous. It just never rises above an uncourageous easy-listening level; virtually every song lopes at a mid-tempo pace and is saddled with a sappy, electronically processed production. Emotional highs are absent, and the listener is left mostly with nice, professional exercises in how to write and arrange mild pop songs.

There are no real rock tunes on the album - none of the punch of their 16- million-selling "Rumours" LP from 1977 - and the couple that pretend to be, "Empire State" (yet another unnecessary song about New York) and "Eyes of the World" are derivative. The former even cops a bad Cheap Trick imitation (singer Lindsey Buckingham trying to sound like Robin Zander and breathily curling his phrases, so the word "late" becomes lay-ee-yay-ee-ate"), while the latter is not only incoherent ("Monday's children are filled with face/ Tuesday's children are filled with grace . . . huh?) even finds Buckingham straining to cop Bruce Springsteen's raspy vocals on the verses.

"Eyes of the World," which also borrows some baroque Pachelbel canon riffs, finally has some electric guitar lines toward the end of it. They're the only electric guitar lines that penetrate on the album, since the few others (such as a lame, noodling solo on "Empire State") are brief and curiously undermiked.

The mystery is that during Fleetwood's last tour, Buckingham made a point of playing - overplaying, for that matter - electric guitar. He strove to give off a rock 'n' roll impression, and yet "Mirages" comes off as nothing so much as a parlor rock, or lounge rock, record.

The problem appears to be Buckingham. As the chief producer of the record, he makes it sound like one of his solo LPs - plenty of acoustic guitar fillips and catchy, cute touches, but no guts. With him at the helm, this just doesn't seem to be a band that cares about rock 'n' roll anymore. Even drummer Mick Fleetwood, who once propeled the Mac and wouldn't allow for the dissolution of energy seen here, is sedate and metronomic. One longs to at least hear some of the African influences he picked up during the making of his outstanding "The Visitor" LP (recorded in Ghana last year and inexcusably overlooked by radio programmers), but one hunts in vain.

Some high-minded critics are already saying that "Mirages" represents the best of "Rumours" and "Tusk," but I just don't see it. There are traces of the slow songs on "Rumours" (especially by the reliable Christine McVie, who again intones a pair of sincere, soft-candlelight love ballads), but otherwise it sounds much more contrived. And as for the experimentalism of "Tusk" (a remarkable tour de force, though it bombed by Mac standards - only 4 million sold), that LP contained more originality than anything on the safe "Mirages."

Thankfully, Stevie Nicks sounds lighter and less pompous than on her overrated solo LP, "Belladonna," but she's lost some of her old exotic witchiness and sounds like a striving English major singing Shelleyesque romantic lines like, "The dream is not over/The dream is just away/And you will fly like some little wing straight back to the sun . . . Ah, in the gleam of my shadow in a gleam/He remembers how good it can be."

Lovers of quiet, sentimental pop will likely enjoy this album, but its hushed, sugary textures makes it seem like the Mac has been leading an hermetically sealed existence. (Which in a sense is true, because the band recorded the album in the plush, rural Le Chateau in Herouville, France.)

The band must be getting lazy, because they've left too much to Buckingham, who outwits himself. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop (his "Book of Love" is an obvious lift from the same title of the 1958 Monotones hit) and his "Oh Diane" is a chortling rewrite of Frankie Lymon's "Teenager in Love," but these add up to mere pleasantries. And one expects more from the Mac than pleasantries.