Rhino (4-CD, 1-LP Box Set)
**** (four stars out of five)
The latest, and possibly the last, in Rhino’s series of deluxe boxed Fleetwood Mac albums (they’re not really going to tackle Behind the Mask and Time, are they?) sits in a most peculiar position.
On the one hand, 1975’s eponymous LP features some of the band’s most beloved songs — “Rhiannon,” “Landslide,” “Crystal,” “World Turning”; three more sizeable radio hits — “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head” and “Monday Morning”; and, of course, the most seismic new additions the group’s ever-changing lineup had seen, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
On the other hand, however, Fleetwood Mac is so dwarfed by what came next, the mega-platinum double punch of Rumours and Tusk, that it is often… not overlooked, but certainly underrated. A fate which this box loudly declares to be utterly without merit.
The original album is problematic, it is true. The lineup was still finding its feet in the studio, still figuring out its capabilities. The songs which would probably have made it onto the record regardless of who the new kids might have been — McVie’s “Sugar Daddy,” “Over My Head” and “Warm Ways,” and Michael and Richard Curtis’s “Blue Letter” — could have been recorded just as successfully by at least the last couple of incarnations, while “Say You Love Me” escapes that definition only by virtue of a distinctly Buckingham-esque arrangement.
Sonically, too, it felt a little underwhelming, a bit too nice. A bit easy listening. Nothing like the aural feast that tears from the grooves of Rumours and beyond. Or maybe that’s just hindsight talking, because the first thing you notice this time around is, just how aggressive it can be.
Four discs (plus remastered vinyl of the original album) serve up Fleetwood Mac and four attendant single edits (disc one); early versions and a live appearance on the Warner Bros. sound stage (disc two); a compilation of tracks from the accompanying tour (disc three) and, finally, a 5.1 surround sound mix that brings a whole new ambiance into play.
Remixed, the album feels tougher, wilder. Buckingham’s guitar is seldom less than in-yer-face, while it feels as though the original mix was completely set aside, in favor of what the early versions and the live tracks reveal to have been the group’s natural sound.
Not every track has been re-envisioned, not every change is for the best — the added laughter and effects appended to “Sugar Daddy” do not raise the song above its customary mawkish demeanor, and the vocals on “I’m So Afraid” feel thinner than the song demands.
But “Over My Head” suddenly touches Tusk‘s “Warm Ways” in the quest for all-encompassing perfection; “Landslide” and “Crystal” feel more raw than ever; and “World Turning” is simply unhinged. Again, you catch hints of this in the alternate versions, and extensions of it in concert… the seven minute “Rhiannon,” taken from the Sound Stage tapes, is a tout-ensemble peak that Mac in general, and Nicks in particular, never recaptured. History itself might not have been rewritten had this mix been deployed back in 1975, but the album’s reputation may well have been.
With just one of the non-album tracks, the aptly-named “Jam #2,” having seen release in the past, the box is generous. The live discs afford us the opportunity to hear this lineup tackle selected highlights from the past (“Hypnotized” is a genuine treat), and though the liner essay feels a little too rote, the booklet itself packs some terrific photos. Indeed, no matter how much you love the other box sets in this series, Fleetwood Mac might well be the one you need to hear the most.
Maybe they should tackle Behind the Mask next.
Dave Thompson / Goldmine / April 2018, p. 31.