The Boston Globe; Living | Arts; August 8, 1997

The Mac is back

Fleetwood Mac's classic lineup returns after 14 years with verve and a new CD

By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 08/08/97

From the first rehearsal in April, the signs were positive. The revived Fleetwood Mac - sporting the classic lineup with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham that hadn't been together in 14 years - relearned 11 songs in three hours with none of the arguments that had characterized this former soap opera of a band.

"I thought, `This is great. This is how it's supposed to be,"' says Nicks. "It's supposed to not be a job. It's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be this incredible thing that you got lucky enough to get into."

Luck is one thing, but talent is another - and this particular Fleetwood Mac still has it. The proof is on a new "plugged-in" concert for MTV, airing Tuesday at 10 p.m., followed by an album, "The Dance," culled from the show and due Aug. 19. It contains reworked hits - many from the 25 million-selling "Rumours" album of 1977 (the third-best-selling album in rock history), but also four new tracks with a fresh vibrancy.

"There's still gas in the tank," says drummer Mick Fleetwood, whose group is expected to perform at Great Woods on Sept. 14. "The amount of care still taken by this crazy bunch is inspiring. ... Everyone is more of a craftsman and a craftslady."

It's hard to disagree with that. The new songs fit nicely with the old. Buckingham's new "Bleed to Love Her" and "My Little Demon" rock with flair (and with wolflike howls on the latter track). Christine McVie's "Temporary One" is a piano-based love song with her characteristic, strength-under-fire vocals. Nicks's ambitious "Sweet Girl" is nothing less than a mini-history of this tumultuous band.

"It's about what we gave up to be rock stars. I was thinking about everyone in Fleetwood Mac when I wrote that," says Nicks. "I didn't get married or have children. And Christine didn't have children, either. We did this instead. That's what the song is about. I look back on my life and there are men who said, `I waited all my life for you, sweet girl. But you're not going to stay. You're on your way out as we speak.' That's the way it's always been and that's why I wanted the band to do this song. It really is our story."

The Fleetwood Mac story is a long one. It dates back to the late '60s in England, where Fleetwood and bassist John McVie played with guitar phenoms Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer in a hard-edged, acid-blues incarnation. The group turned poppier when Christine McVie joined, then poppier still when Buckingham and Nicks came aboard in 1974. And not to forget the soap opera breakups of the romances of John and Christine McVie, and of Nicks and Buckingham, chronicled so expressively on "Rumours."

The blockbuster success of "Rumours," which was No. 1 on the US charts for 33 straight weeks, came out of a cocaine-crazed studio stay that was light-years from where the revived Fleetwood Mac is today.

"I'm in the gym four days a week now. I'm not drinking and snorting my brains out," says Fleetwood. "I hadn't played sober in 20 years. I always at least had a pint before doing a gig. But I've been sober for six years."

Asked to describe Fleetwood Mac then and now, Nicks says, "We're way better singers now. We're singing on key a whole lot better, and our harmonies are better. Even though this lineup stopped in 1983, we had our own careers after that, so we should be better now. And I think we are."

Fleetwood says with a chuckle that the band is "40 percent better." Either way, the reunion is "a celebration of who we are and what we are. As for the future, I have no idea. That's in the lap of the gods ... I look at this as the band version of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. It's one month at a time."

Most Mac watchers probably consider it a miracle that this band is back together at all. Its members reunited briefly five years ago to sing the "Rumours" song "Don't Stop" (with its optimistic line, "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow") for Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1992. But the timing wasn't right to continue.

"After the inauguration, there was an upsurge of people waving huge carrots in our faces and saying, `For sure, you're getting back together, right?,' recalls Fleetwood. "But we were doing different things, so we went our merry ways."

The turnabout came when Buckingham, a shy, private type who had made complex, guitar-orchestra music on his last album, opted to make a new solo disc and invited Fleetwood in as drummer. "A lot of healing took place," says Fleetwood, who has owned up to previous tensions with Buckingham, partly stemming from Fleetwood having become Nicks's lover at one time.

"We went beyond a lot of the hurt that happened," Fleetwood says. The hurt must have been remedied, because Fleetwood spent nearly a year working on Buckingham's latest solo disc (which has been shelved until the 40-city Fleetwood Mac tour ends). The two new Buckingham songs on the Fleetwood record come from those sessions, which also featured the Mac's John McVie on bass.

Fleetwood and McVie, who had broken up the last Fleetwood incarnation in 1995 (the lineup with Bekka Bramlett and Billy Burnette), helped persuade Buckingham to give the classic lineup another try. That was further fueled by a Valentine's Day dinner with Nicks, who joked, " OK, when are we going on the road?"

Enter MTV, which offered a concert special on the station. "Maybe MTV is psychic," says Nicks. "We were all completely knocked out that they cared enough to offer it to us. We wanted it to be great because we felt they were taking a chance."

MTV had taken a similar chance a few years ago on the Eagles, whose "Hell Freezes Over" concert special became a station favorite and sparked an overwhelmingly successful comeback tour.

"I must have watched `Hell Freezes Over' 25 times on TV. I loved it," says Nicks. And Fleetwood admits the Eagles show was "a blueprint" for what Fleetwood Mac would do. (A longer-form version of Fleetwood's concert, taped on May 23 and 24, will appear on VH1 in the future.)

Don't look, however, for Eagles-level ticket prices when Fleetwood Mac does its 40-city concert tour. The Eagles charged up to $115 for top tickets in some markets. "Ours is not going to be as expensive as the Eagles. That was a little naughty," says Fleetwood. "I think this is going to be a quite respectable thing all the way around."

Nicks says it's "like a youth potion" to again be singing the "Rumours"-era hits with her old bandmates. She's also singing the historic "Silver Springs," which was left off of "Rumours" at the last minute and only appeared as the B side to the single, "Go Your Own Way." Its verse "time puts a spell on you" is vintage Nicks.

As for why the band only put four new songs on the CD, Nicks says that "doing more could have killed the reunion right there." This lineup broke up in 1983 because "we were exhausted and burned out." She didn't want to see that happen again by immediately trying to make a 15-song, new album.

Maybe next time, but don't hold your breath.

"I would advise that you come to the concert in case we don't play again," Nicks says. "But, really, I have a good humor about all of this. It's an incredible opportunity to tour again, and I'm looking forward to it."

Thanks to Emily Andler for the submission.