Continuing the theme of synthesized groups, I attempt to review the albums which showcased the synthesizer in different genres of music. First up, rock group Fleetwood Mac.

FLEETWOOD MAC

TANGO IN THE NIGHT (1987, Warner Bros.)

Amidst release of a compilation album and ahead of a new studio album and world tour in 2009, Anglo-American rockers Fleetwood Mac are set to return to the bigtime.

Following singer-songwriter and keyboardist Christine McVie's departure in 1998, Sheryl Crow, a close friend of Mac's vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Stevie Nicks, had attracted rumours (no pun intended) she would join vocalist/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and founder members drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.

However, the transfer to a rock group full of controversy and hits never materialised and the group continue to work with their core members, which may prove a key ingredient to success.

Although, not for just over 20 years have the former blues-rock (under stewardship of ex-member and guitarist Peter Green) quartet managed to generate noteworthy acclaim.

If, without Chrissie and Sheryl's input they are to return to their pinnacle and peak sound, then perhaps a reminder of their earlier work which elevated them to stardom is worth recognition.

As their latest compilation disc reads, Perfect Days, have long since eluded a group whose members have been subject to drink, drugs and the usual in-fighting and lustful relationships between strong personalities. A perfect package in many critics and music fans eyes then was the advent of 1987's album, Tango In The Night, which also revived Mac's declining status after the epic worldwide blockbuster of 1977's Rumours.

Tango In The Night, with its strikingly vivid multicoloured album cover of a utopian, mystical swamp, painted by artist, Brett Livingstone-Strong, attempts to harness rock grandeur with pop sensibility. Already a coined phrase by music journalists, pop sensibility could not in this instance describe the album better.

After Nicks' return from the Betty Ford Clinic in the interlude between the flop follow-ups to Rumours, 1979's Tusk and 1982's Mirage, Tango In The Night produced a chronicle of cheesy mainstream pop, raving rock anthems and emotionally-tinged ballads by Chrissie McVie and Nicks.

Held together by Christine McVie's intuitive songwriting skillset (which also welcomed songwriter husband Eddy Quintela to the album), Buckingham's fingerpicking prowess, Nicks' bizarre croons, Fleetwood's trademark heavy-yet-precise drumming and John McVie (who had divorced from Christine in 1978 after a seven year marriage) with his mixture of booming and subtle bassline contrasts, the album rocketed to success.

Reaching #1 in the UK and #7 in the US, with three UK Top 10 singles in Big Love (#9), Everywhere (#4) and Little Lies (#5) between 1987 and 1988, Tango reminded die-hard Mac fans of the group's capabilities whilst attracting new audiences accustomed to Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins' synthesized fun-loving rock and those who love big-driving anthems.

For when examining the album, produced by Buckingham and Richard Dashut, its contrast of mid-tempo pop hits, soft acoustic ballads and heavy-partying rock n roll tracks, allowed mass audiences to invest in its stature. After Don't Stop, Dreams and Go Your Own Way's UK and US success from Rumours, the group spent time writing hits which would work on many platforms; and work they did.

Everywhere and Little Lies remain the epitome of eighties rock, gentle but catchy and never straying from safe, marketable pop. Perhaps not daring enough, but attractive through tinkling synth hooks and loveable lead vocals from Chrissie and Buckingham (in the chorus), the lack of guitar is startlingly evident as the core rock elements are stripped bare, but still work through methodical instrumentation and a toe-tapping beat.

Seven Wonders is possibly one of the unluckiest tracks on the album, in the sense that the despairingly accquired taste, which are Stevie Nicks' vocals, destroy what is a wonderfully composed song, filled with dark synth melodies and soft drumming, harnessed by Chrissie's dreamy lyrics, but are let down by her badly-delivered blues croons.

Big Love, like Everywhere and Little Lies' period drama settings, is helped by the stunning mystical scopes of a gothic castle and a combination of versatile keyboard and synth chords, intertwined with carefully orchestrated guitar solos and husky vocals by Buckingham. It also includes some electronic, pitch-shifting vocals resembling gentle orgasms.

Critically, the album is very much a mainstream darling, composed to provide commerical success. This is emphasised by the at times nauseatingly nonsensical and evidently filler tracks of Caroline, Family Man and You and I Part II which although provide amusing novelty, fail to enhance any credibility. Family Man's "I am what I am, am what I am, a family man" and You and I Part II's "For you, you, you, you, you and I", vie with ABC and Rick Astley for some of the cringiest pop lyrics of all time.

However, Isn't It Midnight, Mystified and the title-track, Tango In The Night represent a melding of slow blues riffs, romance and the all-important hints of synthesizer and rock lover guitar instrumentals which helped drive this album to its musical forefront.  

On many levels this album could have been far better than it actually was. However, you would have to rid it of Nicks (who was once in a torrid relationship with Buckingham, which nearly resulted in Buckingham killing her after a raging argument) and the commercial aspects of three and a half to four minute pop songs which arguably undermine the album's appeal.

But overall, precise, melodic, riff-riding and rhythm driven, Fleetwood Mac may not find a better example (apart from Rumours) on which to base their new material. Not perfect, but when have Fleetwood Mac ever demonstrated perfection. Although Tango In The Night gave their greatest glimpse of it so far.

DOWNLOAD: Big Love, Everywhere, Isn't It Midnight, Little Lies, Seven Wonders, Tango In The Night.

 

Synthesis and its history - Album review: Fleetwood Mac