Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fleetwood Mac

  • Then Play On [Reprise, 1969] B+
  • Fleetwood Mac in Chicago [Blue Horizon, 1970] B+
  • Kiln House [Reprise, 1970] A-
  • Future Games [Reprise, 1971] B
  • Bare Trees [Reprise, 1972] B+
  • Penguin [Reprise, 1973] B
  • Mystery to Me [Reprise, 1973] B+
  • Heroes Are Hard to Find [Reprise, 1974] B-
  • Fleetwood Mac [Reprise, 1975] A-
  • Rumours [Reprise, 1977] A
  • Tusk [Reprise, 1979] B+
  • Live [Warner Bros., 1980] C+
  • Mirage [Warner Bros., 1982] B+
  • Tango in the Night [Warner Bros., 1987] B+
  • Greatest Hits [Reprise, 1988] B
  • The Dance [Warner Bros., 1997] Neither
  • Rumours: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition [Warner Bros., 2013] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Then Play On [Reprise, 1969]
I put this record on a couple of months ago, noted that the famous second-rate English blues band was mixing easy ballads and Latin rhythms with the hard stuff, and forgot about it. Much, much later I tried again. Well, it's an odd amalgam but very good. Recommended to the curious. B+

Fleetwood Mac in Chicago [Blue Horizon, 1970]
Combining the recently released Vols. 1 and 2, this two-LP set lets five sincere but never sedulously irrelevant (cf. John Mayall) English lads explore their branches. It almost brings you back to those distant days when "white blues" was more than code for "heavy." Knowledgeable song selection, expressive playing--especially by Peter Green, who filters B.B. King through Santo & Johnny with a saxophonist's sense of line--and lots of help from Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Shakey Horton, and others makes the thinness of the singing seem like a tribute to a new tradition. B+

Kiln House [Reprise, 1970]
Despite the departure of the miraculously fluent Peter Green, the mansions in their jazzy blues/rock and roll guitar heaven are spacier than ever. A country parody called "Blood on the Floor"--a clumsily convoluted "Dear Doctor"--is less charitable than one would hope, but it's more than balanced off by Jeremy Spencer's membership pledge to the rockabilly auxiliary, "This Is the Rock." And somebody up there loves Buddy Holly so much he unearthed "Buddy's Song," by Buddy's mother. A-

Future Games [Reprise, 1971]
These white blues (and hippie rockabilly) veterans shouldn't have to depend on new recruit Bob Welch's deftly metallized r&b extrapolation for rock and roll, but unless you count the studio jam, they do. And if the best song on the album isn't the slowest, that's only because Welch also has mystagogic tendencies. It's the simplest in any case: Christine Perfect's "Show Me a Smile." B

Bare Trees [Reprise, 1972]
Their new identity is ominously mellow, but at least this time it's recognizable, and they've upped the speed a little. A lot less muddled than Future Games and occasionally as rich as Kiln House, but so thoroughly homogenized that it's hard to remember exactly how the cream tasted once it's gone down. B+

Penguin [Reprise, 1973]
Those who complain about the remake of "(I'm a) Road Runner," with Mick Fleetwood smashing past the cymbals while Dave Walker shouts, probably think these studio craftspeople were slumming when they jammed with Otis Spann. I love it. I also like all of Christine McVie's husky laments. But could rilly do without Bob Welch's ever-mellower musings. B

Mystery to Me [Reprise, 1973]
I downgraded this at first because I doubted the continuing usefulness (much less creativity) of such smooth-rocking expertise. And I still do--when they achieve the contained, "Layla"-like freneticism of "The City," their professed distaste for urban "darkness" insures that the breakout will be a one-shot. But this album epitomizes what they've come to be, setting a gentle but ever more technological spaceyness over a bottom that, while never explosive, does drive the music with flair and economy, the least you can expect of a band named after its rhythm section. Even Bob Welch does himself proud. B+

Heroes Are Hard to Find [Reprise, 1974]
The proof that their formula has finally trapped them is the pitifulness of their attempts to escape--with string synthesizer, pedal steel, half-assed horns, and other catch-22s of the International Pop Music Community. Bob Welch sounds bored, which is certainly poetic justice, and even Christine McVie is less than perfect this time out. Their worst. B-

Fleetwood Mac [Reprise, 1975]
Why is this Fleetwood Mac album different from all other Fleetwood Mac albums? The answer is supergroup fragmentation in reverse: the addition of two singer-songwriters who as Buckingham Nicks were good enough--or so somebody thought--to do their own LP for Polydor a while back. And so, after five years of struggling for a consistency that became their hobgoblin, they make it sound easy. In fact, they come up with this year's easy listening classic. Roll on. A-

Rumours [Reprise, 1977]
Why is this easy-listening rock different from all other easy-listening rock, give or take an ancient harmony or two? Because myths of love lost and found are less invidious (at least in rock and roll) than myths of the road? Because the cute-voiced woman writes and sings the tough lyrics and the husky-voiced woman the vulnerable ones? Because they've got three melodist-vocalists on the job? Because Mick Fleetwood and John McVie learned their rhythm licks playing blues? Because they stuck to this beguiling formula when it barely broken even? Because this album is both more consistent and more eccentric than its blockbuster predecessor? Plus it jumps right out of the speakers at you? Because Otis Spann must be happy for them? Because Peter Green is in heaven? A

Tusk [Reprise, 1979]
A million bucks is what I call obsessive production, but for once it means something. This is like reggae, or Eno--not only don't Lindsey Buckingham's swelling edges and dynamic separations get in the way of the music, they're inextricable from the music, or maybe they are the music. The passionate dissociation of the mix is entirely appropriate to an ensemble in which the three principals have all but disappeared (vocally) from each other's work. But only Buckingham is attuned enough to get exciting music out of a sound so spare and subtle it reveals the limits of Christine McVie's simplicity and shows Stevie Nicks up for the mooncalf she's always been. Also, it doesn't make for very good background noise. B+

Live [Warner Bros., 1980]
The name of the leader is Lindsey Buckingham. His milieu is the studio, his metier pop. So the lax arrangements on this two-LP profit-sharing plan must have pained him almost as much as trying to fill solo space better suited to the likes of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. I wonder whether any of the five songs not on their three big LPs will see daylight again after this sorry beginning. And not counting the Brian Wilson chorale--just the composer to do live, right?--I wonder whether Lindsey will mourn any of them. C+

Mirage [Warner Bros., 1982]
This is the safe follow-up Rumours wasn't, and I find myself alternately charmed by its craft and offended by its banality. After seven years, you'd think they'd weary of romantic tension-and-release. But despite the occasional I'm-scareds and can't-go-backs, you'd never know how much passion they've already put behind them--they write about infatuation and its aftermaths like twenty-year-olds. This is obviously a commercial advantage, and I wouldn't want to be immune to its truth. But pop music offers endless variations on that truth, and since only the most graceful are worth pondering I have to say that there isn't another "Hold Me" here. B+

Tango in the Night [Warner Bros., 1987]
Fifteen years ago, when their secret weapon was someone named Bob Welch, they made slick, spacy, steady-bottomed pop that was a little ahead of the times commercially. Now, when their secret weapon is their public, they make slick, spacy, steady-bottomed pop that's a little behind the times commercially. This is pleasant stuff, nothing to get exercised about either way--no Rumours or Fleetwood Mac, but better than Bare Trees or Mystery to Me, not to mention Mirage. Marginally better, anyway. In a style where margins are all. And all ain't all that much any more. B+

Greatest Hits [Reprise, 1988]
To my surprise, I had more fun replaying side two of Mirage, which turns out to have some weird and pleasant shit on it. Reminding me that what distinguished them from your average great pop band was that their hits were improved by their putative filler. So with some obvious--in fact, all too familiar--exceptions, the radio-ready format makes them seem blander than they actually are. B

The Dance [Warner Bros., 1997] Neither

Rumours: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition [Warner Bros., 2013]
Live set on this three-CD exploitation might well entrance, outtakes disc will not ("Monday Morning," "Oh Daddy") *