If you're one of those people like me who lost track of Fleetwood Mac in the post-Peter Green haze of erratic albums and perpetual personnel changes, brace yourself for the nicest musical surprise 1975 has sprung on us: Fleetwood Mac (the band) has produced "Fleetwood Mac" (the album), a record strong enough to demand immediate inclusion in any consideration of the year's best.

Just prior to the recording of this new album, the band replaced the departing Bob Welch with two new members, vocalist Stephanie Nicks and guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham. As Buckingham Nicks they released one mildly promising album on a Polydor subsidiary in 1973, which sounds absolutely premature by comparison with their initial accomplishments as a part of Fleetwood Mac. They're both talented writers and singers, but their decisive contribution to the band is more in the realm of attitude; there's an aggressive energy at work here that even the original Fleetwood Mac might not've been able to match.

Stephanie's songs are indicative of the diversity this new band is capable of. She can go soft and acoustic on "Landslide" and be equally effective at handling the electricity of "Rhiannon" (possibly the most powerful son in their live set.) And have them both rank amomg the album's highlights. Lindsey Buckingham is a solid guitarist, and his intelligent ideas about guitar tracking play a substantial part in the success of this album. It's not the blinding guitar virtuosity of previous Macs, but playing with taste and an almost impeccable sinse of what each song requires of his instrument. "Monday Morning" (featuring great Buddy Holly drumming from Mick Fleetwood) and "Blue Letter" are performances Nils Lofgren and the Eagles (respectively) would be proud to claim as their own, and Buckingham's musical personality would seem to be emerging in an attractive niche somewhere between the two. But where taste and restraint can occasionally border on strangulation, his big and brutal playing on "I'm So Afraid" suggests an explosive quality that this band has only begun to explore.

A lot of the old Fleetwood Mac was merely convenient conventional frames on which great and near-great guitarists could hang their most impressive licks. This album, however, crystalizes Fleetwood Mac as a SONG band, something they've been threatening for the last four years. The crucial element in the taking of this direction has been Christine McVie, who had the same blues roots everybody else did but countered with a pop sensibility that, until now, none of the band's guitarists truly shared. Her pop inclinations blossomed with the last album's "Come A Little Bit Closer," which may've been THE undiscovered pop gem of 1974 and remains eminently ripe for a smash coverjob.

Her songs on this album, most notably "Forever" and "Say You Love Me" strike the most operative balance of her influences yet. The former is a smooth love ballad that DENNIS WILSON (my emphasis) could almost've written, while the latter shows off her developing mastery of a distinctively bouncey strain of good-time rock. And her keyboards mesh with Buckingham's guitar to give the overall sound more punch, bringing a band that has always been the sum of readily identifiable parts into a more unified perspective. The one son co-authored by McVie and Buckingham, a rave-up called "World turning" is not among the better tracks (being to my taste one of those live killers that never really translates to record), but the amount of radio exposure it's already gotten reflects an effectiveness at providing their audience with a relatable point of transition between old and new Fleetwood Macs.

Keith Olsen's main contribution as engineer and co-producer is that you can finally begin to get on record a consistent picture of how good a drummer Mick Fleetwood is, something you've always had to see the band live to fully appreciate. On the band's past studio efforts, it didn't necessarily matter WHAT he was playing because too often it sounded like he was beating on a piece of fruit with a mallet. This time around you really begin to feel the presence of his drums and, more importantly, what they mean to the construction of Fleetwood Mac's music. Though I feel a bit foolish waking up to the fact seven years on, the partnership of bassist John McVie and Mick Fleetwood is the best rhythm section in rock & roll.

While this is one of the album's greatest assets, it simultaneously creates the album's only real problem. It almost seems as if Olsen achieved his drum presence not by making them bigger, but by making everything surrounding the drums smaller. What this album lacks, which you notice when you see the group live, is power, and it's down to the way the band was recorded. You're always aware that they're making the right instrumental moves, but the point is never driven home with the authority it should be. The greatness of the music is all here, but its real muscle is not always represented.

Such ultimately petty gripes aside, this album scores heavily for what it delivers but also for what it promises. Its three hit single possibilities ("Blue Letter," "Monday Morning," and "Say You Love Me") could very easily explode the dimensions of an already-substantial following, yet it's still just a beginning. The album was recorded before the band had ever played together live, which makes for a potential here that's nothing short of frightening. Far from being merely a good band with a distinguished past, Fleetwood Mac is a band with a future.

Thanks to Kayde for transcribing this and posting it to the Ledge and to Anusha for forwarding it to us.