Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

Fleetwood Mac Friday #3: “That’s Alright”

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The late-era Mac album Mirage, like the earlier hitfest Rumours, maintains an intensely intimate and confessional tone while simultaneously aiming for the highest point possible on the charts. The band has been through an exhausting amount of shit at this point, though– lineup changes, broken relationships, fights, a failed double album (Tusk), legendary drug excesses. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham have both made solo albums since Tusk. So you can see the seams ripping, even though many of the songs are straightforward, unexperimental rock singles, in contrast to Tusk. This dichotomy makes it easier to pinpoint what exactly it is about Fleetwood Mac’s music that’s so pleasurable.

“That’s Alright,” is impossibly catchy but also melancholy. It consists of a simple drumbeat, a conventional country and western bassline, and Nicks’s vocals providing a melodic counterpoint to the bass and acoustic guitar. It’s kind of a musical summation of what makes the Buckingham / Nicks partnership work so well: Nicks’ mournful vocals and lyrics, the rest of the band plodding along, as if oblivious, but with the notes of each still meeting up and harmonizing over and over.

Buckingham is such a genius, and the Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac: Rumours documentary which I guess is no longer streaming on Netflix, makes the best case for that label: in it, Buckingham shows us that one of the percussion instruments on “Second Hand News” is a chair, and lowers every track on “Gold Dust Woman” except one, to reveal an almost-buried recording of the entire band wailing in anguish. But the music he’s made without Nicks is too logical, too predictably full of those same country and western bass and drum patterns without emotion. It’s also too in thrall of its own musical science experiments that exist only for the sake of experimentation itself. He’s a typical dude in that respect. Conversely, Nicks’s solo albums can at times be too woowoo, all vamping and witchiness.

Another reason I’m thinking about this dichotomy is because I read an excerpt from Kim Gordon’s book, and I think Sonic Youth works essential the same way: you listen to Thurston Moore’s solo stuff, it’s all the riffing and lobster noises you love in an album like Sonic Nurse, but none of the heart. You need Gordon’s wailing and yammering and howling and screaming and creepy whispering.

Putting things in binaries like this is an almost chauvinistic oversimplification, and I mean no slight against Gordon’s songwriting or anything else, since I don’t really know anybody’s process. Also it should be noted that Thurston Moore cheated on Kim Gordon and they are never, ever, ever getting back together, whereas Fleetwood Mac have had a million super-successful reunion tours.

But I think it’s important how much Buckingham’s and Moore’s typical dude experimenting and chugging along complement Nicks’s and Gordon’s mystical access to the power of their emotions. The enduring music from both partnerships comes from the fusion of two elements which conflict, and which were ultimately doomed to end from the beginning.

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