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Revisited: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours


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Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours sold over 40 million copies, making it one of the most successful albums of all time.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Released in 1977, Rumours caused a mighty rupture in history’s musical landscape. Their 11th pop album self-fashioned Fleetwood Mac's unprecedented sonic identity, pioneering the evolution of soft-rock. An eclectic mix of Cream’s psychedelia, The Rolling Stones' rock ‘n’ roll with a healthy injection of folk, all wrapped up in dreamy beats and ethereal harmonies, Rumours is intricate yet profound. Not only was the album a huge attribute to the band's commercial success; it established their unique sound, so much so that it can almost be thought of as a 'genre' in its own right. 

It is a rarity for an album to simultaneously captivate and inspire countless generations 40 years after its release, particularly considering how different the current pop-chart scene is today - infiltrated with rap, grime, and synthetically engineered dance beats. Yet, Fleetwood Mac seemed to do it with their eyes closed. Rumours exuded transcendent timelessness, perhaps because of its central theme – the disentangling of the human heart through failed romantic relationships.

At a time where ‘hippy’ hedonism was rife, a cocaine-fuelled Fleetwood Mac were experiencing inner turmoil, to say the least. Singer/keyboard player Christine McVie and bassist John McVie filed for a divorce after an eight-year marriage, Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks broke up, and Mick Fleetwood, who realised his wife was having an affair, embarked on a hot-and-heavy romance with Nicks. The inner workings of the band's very own "rumours" are projections of raw and candid confessions of heartbreak to each other – no-one’s story is left unexplored. The album, therefore, sews together an infinite number of broken hearts and unifies romantic stories, becoming something that perpetually resonated with its listeners. 

Apart from its stream of iridescent hits, one of the remarkable features of the album its subsequent storytelling capabilities; harnessing lyrics that are poised with elegant depictions of, often impertinent emotions, and channeling it into musical prowess. They are hugely integral to Rumours' DNA - it is near impossible to remove each track from its personal context. For example, Buckingham's lead on 'Second Hand News' is chock-full of passive-aggressive lyrics about finding solace in someone else, continued significantly by the infamous jab at Stevie Nicks in 'Go Your Own Way' - "Packing up / Shacking up's all you wanna do". 'I Don't Want To Know' and 'Never Going Back Again' are upbeat, self-assured defiances of heartbreak, whilst 'You Make Loving Fun' embodies the exciting thrill of Christine McVie's dip into a dangerous affair.

Despite this, however, Fleetwood Mac weren't the first and certainly won't be the last to write about heartbreak and romantic relationships. What sets Rumours apart is its captivatingly characteristic way in which it presents these emotions; there are countless heart-break piano anthems that will continue to be written that don't necessarily contain the same sense of stardom. Fleetwood Mac juxtapose upbeat presentations of failed love underpinned by many glossy, chart-topping pop hits.

Musically, the album retains several influences; Christine McVie's stark harmonies, dreamy and melting harmonic lulls in choruses, intricate folk guitar hooks fused and seriously wiggly basslines, fused with soft-rock mastery and epic guitar solos. The biggest exemplification of this is in the wonderfully unique rock-guitar-scatting by Buckingham in 'Second Hand News', adding energy and conviction to his emotions and the stylistic revamp of the Bee Gee's 'Jive Talkin'. 

However, it is the shimmery veil of mystique in Nicks' vocals and hazy, fortified by atmospheric instrumentals, on ‘Dreams’ and ‘Gold Dust Woman’ that have been the most influential musically. Nicks transforms spiritually in such performances; she exudes both ethereal delicateness and stirring, uncontainable passion. Such spirituality lives on in countless female artists; most notably Florence and the Machine, seeping through particularly in the dramatic physicality of live performances.

A prime example of Nicks' direct influence, however, can be seen in Gabrielle Aplin's cover of 'Dreams'. Though the backing has evolved to have more of an electronically produced feel, the muted distortions of backing vocals and chords are so atmospheric, they are almost eery. Aplin channels Nicks in her angelic high notes, taken almost an octave above the original vocal melody, which pierce through the shadowy background and are fortified by Dan Smith's harmonies that ooze in the song's choruses. 

By handpicking some of the most favourable elements of each genre they sample, Fleetwood Mac were able to show off their storytelling abilities against a timeless backdrop; it's become very difficult to argue that Rumours hasn’t been one of the most influential pop albums of, well anyone's, time. To channel personal feuds and collapsing inter-group dynamics into creating a revolutionary style is an accolade in itself. Yet, it is the time-enduring and honest discussion of love that perpetuates Rumours' dexterity, paving the way yet setting it so apart from other Fleetwood Mac albums. 

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