Fleetwood Mac defies rumors with top album

Gary Graff, Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Peels of laughter bounced out of the makeup room, where Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie were holed up during the video shoot for "Seven Wonders," the second single from Fleetwood Mac's album, "Tango in the Night."

Filming videos is usually a tedious process, full of hurry-up-and-wait directors and bored rock stars.  But it was obvious the women had found something to have a good time about.

"It was about the makeup or something -- we just went crazy," Nicks, 39, recalled during a recent telephone interview. "When we finally calmed down, I just told Christine that I hadn't had that hard a laugh with anyone for a long time.

"After that, I started thinking a lot about the two of us in the early days, on the road without the wardrobe mistresses, the makeup artists. (McVie) and I were like our only friends.  This went on for a long, long time, and we're still really, really close.  That's the neatest thing about all this."

Interpersonal relationships are what rule the Fleetwood Mac roost.

They inspire the songs of Nicks, McVie and bandleader Lindsey Buckingham.  They decide when the group members will work together, or apart.  The top 15 "Tango in the Night," lest we forget, is the Mac's first album in five years.

That's not to say that these interpersonal relationships are as harmonious as the music the group makes.  Quite the contrary, Fleetwood Mac -- formed as a blues-rock band in 1967 by drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie -- in its current incarnation is a volatile group of divergent personalities prone to spats, ego battles and long periods of inactivity.

Two couples -- the McVies and Buckingham and Nicks, who joined the group in 1975 -- broke up while they were recording the phenomenally successful "Rumours" album in 1976.  Three years later, those four essentially fired Fleetwood as the group's manager.  All five band members live within a half-hour of each other in the Los Angeles area, but, as Buckingham said, "We're only a group when we're on stage." And since its last album, "Mirage" in 1982, the band essentially splintered, spurring more than a few rumors of a breakup.  For good.

"In everybody's mind, there was going to be another album," said Buckingham, 37, who fueled the split rumors during interviews to promote his "Go Insane" album in 1984. "It was just a question of when."

Nicks was more direct: "When people ask, 'What got you back together?' it really hits a nerve in me.  I never felt like we split up.

Fleetwood Mac is notorious for going our own way.  We had a commitment for doing another record, and we never said we weren't going to do it.

"We haven't changed.  We're still a volatile group.  When we're in a good mood, we're a fun little traveling party to be with, and there's not a better group of people in the world.  When we're not in a good mood, we're not much fun to be with.

"But that's what keeps it together.  We're so much at odds, sometimes, but when it comes down to it, it's really a special thing.  No matter what problems or fights, you can't replace the fact that these people have been your friends for 12 years."

As far as the music industry was concerned, the heavy odds were against ever seeing Fleetwood Mac on vinyl again.  Much happened after the "Mirage" album and tour: Fleetwood declared bankruptcy, John McVie battled alcoholism, Nicks checked herself into the Betty Ford Center, Christine McVie got married and all but John McVie recorded solo albums.

Contractual obligations were the impetus for "Tango in the Night," but band members said "Mirage" was the actual motivation.  Nobody, it seems, was too happy with that album and tour, though Buckingham was clearly the most unhappy.

To him, "Mirage" was a reaction to 1979's "Tusk" album, which was, in turn, a reaction to "Rumours."  When the latter album sold 17 million copies worldwide and launched four hit singles in the pre-"Thriller" days, there was a good deal of pressure put on the group to make "Rumours II."  Buckingham reacted with "Tusk," contributing a load of offbeat, experimental and adventurous songs that unnerved Mac fans.

The album sold well -- four million copies -- but not up to "Rumours" standards. "Six months later," Buckingham said, "Mick and several other people in the group turned around and said, 'You blew it.' " So "Mirage" surfaced as a safe, accessible slab of pop.  And it didn't sell as well as "Rumours" either.

"We didn't want to leave on the note struck by 'Mirage,' " Buckingham said. "It was an ambiguous piece of work in my mind.  It wasn't too visionary.  There were a lot of things hanging out on a limb at the end of the 'Mirage' tour that we wanted to tie up with" "Tango in the Night." Which is not to say that recording "Tango" was easy.  To get the album made, the group's lawyer -- each member has a private manager -- suggested hiring an outside producer and letting each member come in whenever he or she was needed.

That didn't work;  as Buckingham pointed out, "It reeked of being a business arrangement."  So he and longtime collaborator Richard Dashut put Buckingham's next solo album on hold and agreed to steer the new Mac attack at the guitarist's home studio.

Band members shuttled to and fro, but Nicks complicated matters by being on tour to support her "Rock a Little" album. "I'd be out on the road for a month," she said. "Then I'd come straight home to Los Angeles, get a hotel room and go into the studio with Fleetwood Mac for two weeks.  It was difficult;  I'll make sure it never happens again."

The whole album took 18 months to finish;  when it was over, Buckingham felt the group had achieved what it set out to make, a "combination of quirky, experimental feel within a radio framework.  We wanted this to be a radio record, and I think we succeeded."

Indeed, radio -- and Fleetwood Mac fans -- have embraced the album and its first two singles, Buckingham's "Big Love" and Nicks' "Seven Wonders."  There's also evidence that a tour would go over well, but that, like the rest of the band's future, is another issue.

It's 4-1 on that matter, with Buckingham casting the dissenting vote.

He's simply not interested and, as Nicks explained, "You don't want to drag someone who doesn't want to go."

And though Buckingham makes overtones that "Tango in the Night" is indeed the last gasp for Fleetwood Mac, Nicks and the other band members say they're not through yet.

"Every time he says that, the rest of us look at each other and go, 'We've heard this before,' " said Nicks, who's been performing with Fleetwood's side group, the Zoo. "It's kind of like a romance, when someone is always saying, 'I'm going to leave you' and never does.

"We don't feel like this is the last album.  The same problems that arise in Fleetwood Mac today are the same ones that rose 10 years ago.

It's hard for us to have a big album out and not be touring. . . but nobody feels any animosity towards (Buckingham).  Everyone just wishes he wanted to and hopes he might change his mind.  Past that, there's not a thing anyone can do."

Thanks to Anusha for sending it to us.