WARNER BROS. RECORDS have been delighting us with deluxe, expanded and remastered versions of Fleetwood Mac albums for a number of years. This year sees the re-release of an album comprising of four hit singles in the UK, one of those being the eternally classic ‘Gypsy’, 1982’s ‘Mirage’. The question is not the quality or value of the album itself, this is in my opinion a seminal album. In fact, Fleetwood Mac released nothing but seminal albums between the period of 1975-1987. There is not a bad track on any album from ‘Fleetwood Mac’ right the way through to ‘Tango in the Night’. The question then has to be whether the constant rehash and re-release of every album in the history of music by the music industry today is productive or counterproductive and whether this album needed to be remastered.
‘Mirage’ originally consisted of 12 tracks and that is of course what you get with the remastered copy, though there are B-sides and rarities on the deluxe and expanded versions. This is an album of soaring vocals and a moving pace that penetrate with an accentuated power in the remaster. Tracks like ‘Can’t Go Back’ and ‘That’s Alright’ with their ticking drumbeats seem to set you off on your own private journey. ‘Book of Love’, with barber-shop style backing-vocals and screeching lead vocals (showing us the continued presence of Lindsey Buckingham’s punk influences), settles and disturbs you. Lindsey completely encapsulates all the conflicting emotions and perplexing thoughts of love as an idea. This is in stark contrast to the almost puppy love lyrics of ‘Oh Diane’. Despite the simplicity and sparse quality of the lyrics, there is a childlike honesty to them and let’s not forget that songs with a name in the title always stick in your head. Musically, the acoustic nature of the song feels like hark back to ‘Fleetwood Mac’ and ‘Rumours’ and is a welcome break from some of the more heavily instrumented pieces. It is no surprise then that when ‘Oh Diane’ was released as a single they brought the penguin back for the cover as a nod to their earlier work.
Christine McVie pulls heavy-weight on this album as always. McVie, of course, known and beloved for the beautiful simplicity and almost omniscient nature of her lyrics, as well as the sultry and angelic quality of her vocals and piano scores on ballads such as ‘Songbird’ and ‘Over My Head’. On this album she turned out two classic scores for longing and lost love – ‘Only Over You’ and ‘Wish You Were Here, the latter being my favourite track on the album. But of course the unexpected gem by McVie on this album was ‘Hold Me’. In ‘Hold Me’ Christine gave us a surprise upbeat and pop-sounding love story, a tradition she continued on ‘Tango In The Night’ with the song that seems to be every male-twenty something’s guilty pleasure – ‘Everywhere’. ‘Hold Me’ should not be the kind of Fleetwood Mac song that lasts and yet it is one of my all-time favourites. The duet Christine and Lindsey perform on this track fully displays what a band in unison can achieve. Their voices blend with such marital ease that you might imagine it was they who had the affair and not Lindsey and Stevie. This song also features one of my favourite guitar solos in the Fleetwood Mac catalogue and possibly in music history. Does it sound more impressive on this remaster? I have no idea as I am unconscious because that solo knocks me out every time.
There are few better story tellers in music than The Stevie Nicks and on this album Nicks delivers two vivid and thrilling tracks that are almost theatrical in lyric content and sensational in composition in ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Straight Back’. To hear these songs as Nicks might have heard them in that genius head of hers is a treat not to be overlooked.
‘Mirage’ is the perfect name for an album that never ceases to catch me off guard and takes me to places that are so lucid and lifelike and yet just when I think I can grasp that place it moves or changes and by the end of my journey I find that it has all been a wonderful dream. Fleetwood Mac themselves are perhaps beginning to feel a bit like a mirage, constantly close by but forever out of reach. I can tell you from my own recent history that I have experienced this sensation. In 2015, in a brash moment of impulsiveness I am not prone to, I purchased £500 a piece tickets to see Fleetwood Mac in concert in Manchester. I have never paid more than £30 for a concert but as all of the members of Fleetwood Mac were performing together for what looked like it could be the last time, I seized the opportunity. We had incredible seats at the in the centre only a few rows back from the stage and I marvelled at the idea of being able to feel Lindsey Buckingham’s saliva on my forehead. The day came, my sister and I tottered off on the train up to Manchester and I decided to check my emails during the journey; well it was lucky I did because I had an email from the ticket company telling me that the concert had been cancelled due to the poor health of one member of the band. That member turned out to be John McVie who had been ill the few days before and cancelled a few dates of the tour, however Fleetwood Mac did play the Isle Wight Festival the very next day. You can imagine my disappointment as a fan who was prepared to fork out a ridiculous amount of money, had missed out on an opportunity to see my favourite band, all the while knowing that thousands of people who had coincidentally bought tickets to a festival the band just happened to be playing at got to witness the Mac in all their majesty.
Even now the intangible nature of Fleetwood Mac persists for me. After being told that the 2015 tour might be the last, in December of the same year we learned that Fleetwood Mac were recording a new album. It was not until August of this year that we heard more on the subject and were told that Stevie Nicks would not be contributing. Subsequently we have also learned that the new album has been given a release date of sometime next year and there has also been the promise of a 2017 world tour. The remaster of ‘Mirage’ is a perfectly decent interim place-holder and I do believe that it is a worthy purchase for any hardcore fan (though I advise you to pay out for the expanded or deluxe versions). Perhaps the difference between this and the last CD version is not particularly noticeable and maybe remasters are just a money-making ploy. What remasters do is keep bands like Fleetwood Mac fresh in the public’s mind until 2017. That may be nothing more than a fiscal tactic to the producers but for us it creates shared experiences that are sorely lacking in music today. They also help new generations come to music that they might never have looked at before and remasters make sure that timeless bands like Fleetwood Mac are never forgotten.
But will I simply buy the new album or will I venture again to attempt to book tickets for the tour next year and share some experience? I guess I could try again to chase some unpredictable event but then again ‘lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice’. Perhaps the eternally ethereal Fleetwood Mac are a band better left in that beautiful nether region between reality and my imagination. There is something to be said for this kind of band with such an international history, with members from the U.K. and the U.S.A., constantly on the move. Perhaps it is only now that I truly see they’re a ‘gypsy’.
Mirage, 2016 Remaster available on CD, Vinyl and Digital Download Oct. 7.