HIGH FIDELITY, October 1982

The current quintet's long-awaited fifth album may be its last with Ms. Nicks.
by Sam Sutherland

ON A JULY AFTERNOON, the atmosphere at Mick Fleetwood's Paradise Cove estate is one of relaxed chaos. In the kitchen, Fleetwood leans his long, lanky frame against a counter while Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie sit around the worktable that dominates the room. Technicians and friends drift through the hallways, past the living room where Fleetwood's drum kit and the rest of the band's instruments and amplifiers flank the fireplace. Their attorney drops in as phones make polite demands, announcing new arrivals at the front gate or incoming calls.

It's a fitting glimpse of Fleetwood Mac a multimillion-dollar commodity that stubbornly insists on creative gambles. Its drummer may be a shrewd manager, but he also yields to chance and inspiration as essential elements in the Mac equation. Today, that means both sticking to the scheduled rehearsal for an upcoming fall tour and coping with an unforeseen visit from a studio crew that has decided to film this interview.

Though the band dates back to 1967, drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie are the only remaining original members. Keyboardist/writer Christine McVie joined in 1970, when she was still married to John; Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, at one time a folk-rock duo, arrived in 1975.; Mirage; is the current lineup's fifth album together and, just weeks after its release, it is vaulting up the charts, rekindling the commercial momentum initiated by '75's; Fleetwood Mac spurred on by '77's Rumours; and slowed by '80's Tusk,; whose sprawling ambitions rendered it radio-resistant. Mirage isn't likely to suffer that same fate, though it taps the same playful adventurousness that made Tusk such a critical triumph.

One of the problems with 'Tusk', says Buckingham now, was that it was a lot like a one-man experience. It was just me doing overdubs and stuff.... It didn't include the band. As reflected in the current album's production credits, Buckingham remains a dominant creative force, but he, Fleetwood, and McVie assert several times during the course of our interview that Mirage is far more of a collaboration than its immediate predecessor.

Stevie Nicks, however, is conceded to have been involved tangentially at best, a factor that only added to the pressures of recording Mirage The Tusk tour had ended amid speculation of Fleetwood Mac demise at the close of 1980, speculation not entirely quieted by the subsequent release of a live album from that tour and by the arrival of solo LPs from Buckingham ( Law and Order ), Fleetwood (''The Visitor ), and Nicks ( Belle Donna ). In addition, both bassist John McVie and his ex-wife became involved in outside session and production chores.

We certainly waited before we started to cut, didn't we? cracks Buckingham to wry smiles from his cohorts. ''This album was supposed to have come out last Christmas!

Sessions began in April of 1981, when the band traveled to France to cut basic tracks in an intentionally isolated environment. But subsequent recording, mixing, and mastering dates in Los Angeles delayed completion until last June. Fleetwood's assertion that the project was recorded with Arrid extra dry is hardly an overstatement, given his own anxiety about its lateness and a certain amount of understandable pressure from Warner Bros.

Following basic tracking in France, Buckingham, Christine McVie, and engineers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat (studio allies since Rumours ) became the chief architects of Mirage. Fleetwood, says Lindsey, is more of an overseer. ... He has a real good sense of taste. If something starts to go even a little off, he'll recognize it quickly. Caillat estimates Nicks's contribution to be about ten percent of recording, most of it during the sessions in France. Stevie didn't come down a lot, admits Buckingham. She was in the studio, aside from France, maybe a total of ten or fifteen days.

That helps to explain the subtle shift in vocal chemistry on Mirage. Fleetwood Mac saw the introduction of an established, distinct vocal relationship in the Buckingham-Nicks duo, a sound that continued to dominate the band's vocal blend through Rumours. Stevie and I both had a nasal tendency that seemed to fall in the brass range, says Buckingham, and Christine added a woodwind sound to the whole thing. There are moments on Mirage that recall that mix, but in most instances the actual singers are Buckingham and McVie. We've learned to sing like each other, chimes in Christine, but that's come about over a period of eight years. When I first started to try and sing with these guys, they were so locked in to each other's sound, I really felt out of in Now we automatically fall into it.

How well they do that is exemplified by the rich voices that float through Mirage. A comment on a particularly effective descant, behind the chorus of Buckingham's Book of Love, elicits smiles from the author and his keyboard partner: It may sound like one of Nicks's better moments, but all the voices are Buckingham's. On some of the vocal parts, says Christine, Lindsey sort of slowed the track down and sang the part. When it was speeded up it sounded like Stevie. I listen to Book of Love and I think I'm on it as well.

Buckingham notes that a layered recording scheme has long been an integral part of their albums: As far back as 'Rumours,' we were really cutting for a good drum track and maybe a good bass track, and that was about it. On Love in Store [which opens the new album], we probably kept everything from the basic track, but as a rule, we change the parts constantly.

John [McVie] inevitably does his bass again, interjects Christine, who goes on to see this meticulous shuffling of parts as governed as much by feel as technical precision. It's a fine line: Is it a little out of tune, or does it just feel good? Is that brilliant or terrible?

Buckingham and engineers Dashut and Caillat add to these priorities the importance of subtlety, an issue that helps explain Christine's admission that she has yet to really explore synthesizers. She says she prefers the more traditional voicings of acoustic piano, Hammond organ, and electric pianos and clavinets. I shouldn't say we hate synthesizers, says Buckingham, but I think a lot of it is in the way you use them. For instance, remember Syndrums when they first came out? Everyone used them in the most obvious way-'bim-bwa-dim-bwim'. It was tasteless, when you think that they could have been used in interesting ways that were unidentifiable as Syndrums. That holds true for all synthesizers.

Mirage also marks the band's decision to shelve digital techniques, after having recorded Tusk on Soundstream equipment. That experiment, asserts Buckingham, was a complete waste of time was just something we thought would make a difference, and it didn't, really, when it came down to what got onto the finished disc.

Though Fleetwood concedes that there were audible gains in the studio, Buckingham qualifies those carefully. You make a two-track copy of the mix and a digital copy, A/B them, and, in really sterile, controlled circumstances, hear quite a difference, says Lindsey. But the question is, is that difference really aesthetics preferable? I don't think it is. I think almost need a little of the softening you on a two-track analog master, as a buffer between the two-inch master tape and disc.

That's not to suggest the band is relaxing its reputed care in every stage of recording, mixing, and mastering. Caillat and Dashut note that they act as scouts prior to each new project, checking available studios for both room acoustics and available equipment. Right now, notes Caillat, the band prefers using Studer tape machines or the latest generation of Ampex recorders, although the basic tracks for Mirage began with tapes recorded on MCI machines at Le Studio in Herouville, France, which we'd generally never use, but was just fine, according to Caillat.

The relative importance of such specifics is also limited by the degree of so experimentation that follows basic tracking. Mac albums may not boast dramatic panning effects or obvious applications heavy echo and distortion, but Buckingham is quick to support claims by Dashut and Caillat that a good deal of tinkering goes into the finished mix: I think you'd be surprised at how much playing around we with stuff afterwards.

Caillat also confirms that the band continues to pay close attention after the completion of mixing. Since Rumours, the band has invested its own money insuring the highest possible quality standard for each step from disc mastering to actual pressing. They also specify which facilities handle master plating and work closely with Vytec, a U.S. vinyl supplier whose premium Quiex compound has be refined in part from feedback from the band and its producers.

Yet, with all those technical considerations, Dashut and Caillat consistently echo Buckingham's credo, which holds that equipment is less important than the songs and their performance. Dashut, for example, dismisses the need for spectacular sonic effects by saying, If you have Nieman-Marcus songs, there's no point in putting dimestore effects on them. Especially one might add, when panning for platinum. HF

Fleetwood Mac: Mirage
Lindsey Buckingham, Richard Dashut, Ken Caillat, & Fleetwood Mac, producers
Warner Bros. 23607-1

After the bold experimentation of Tusk, the seamless pop flow of the new Fleetwood Mac album sounds initially like a studied attempt to recycle the formula that kept Rumours at the top of the charts for an entire year. But listen again: If anything, the music here suggests a valid synthesis of Mac's trimmer pop/rock songwriting with the innovative arrangements that gave Tusk its quirky, controversial identity. Yet where Lindsey Buckingham's work on Tusk boldly diverged from the band's earlier hits, here he integrates his ambitions into the styles of the band's other writers, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks.

If Buckingham's own songs-particularly Book of Love, Empire State, and Eyes of the World-are the most distinctive, keyboardist McVie's are the warmest. On the opening Love in Store and the initial single, Hold Me, she offers simple, hookladen pop chestnuts as unassuming and attractive as the similarly uptempo romantic anthems of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. The major difference in performance lies in the vocal readings, which increasingly pair McVie's smooth alto with Buckingham's keening tenor.

His own songs find Buckingham further exploring the more extroverted vocal attack he has favored since Tusk. His work here is somewhat more reined than the most primal moments on that LP and his own Law and Order, but it is hardly due to mellowing: On Book of Love, he swings from a plaintive croon on the verses to a throaty, agonized howl on the choruses. The latter attack predominates on the mysterious Eyes of the World, which features his teasingly fragmentary lyric style.

Perhaps most impressive are the vocal arrangements and subtle instrumental embellishments that Buckingham contributes throughout. Never a conventional grandstander on guitar, he moves even further away from the original Mac profile as a guitarists' band: Although he's capable of riveting single-note solos, he trims them to a minimum, concentrating more on subtle rhythm parts, lacy acoustic guitar picking, and offbeat filigree (like the open-tuned harp he plucks on Empire State, a tribute to Manhattan that suggests the Beach Boys on acid).

As for the vocals, Buckingham and McVie, both together and individually, build lush, ear-filling harmonies behind their material. Framed by the record's predictably deep, immaculate sonics, the choral aspect is one of the album's finest common threads.

If there's any serious weakness here, it's the perfunctory feel Nicks brings to her songs. Whether preoccupied by the success of her recent solo album or weary of the partnerships within Fleetwood Mac, the dreamy pop siren sounds particularly mannered. Her writing simply recycles the ersatz mysticism and narcissistic role-playing that initially intrigued on songs like Rhiannon. Should her apparent detachment prefigure her departure, the band could suffer commercially. But I doubt there would be much musical damage-the best songs on Mirage are those from which she has, for all intents, already departed. S.S.

Thanks to Anusha for posting this to the Ledge.