In defense of: “Rumours”

“In Defense of” is a series of essays defending things I enjoy that don’t always hold up to scrutiny.

A good friend of mine who happens to be black once voiced his dislike of black metal on the premise of “it has nothing to offer me.” And he’s right. A bunch of lanky white guys in what is essentially evil clown makeup doing their best banshee impression over trebly guitars and rigid, grooveless drums while lyrically touching upon ridiculous themes ranging from Norse mythology to garden variety misanthropy to good ol’ fashioned racism and antisemitism would have literally nothing to offer anyone that isn’t obscenely white. I still have a soft spot for black metal, even despite its many immediate and glaring flaws. And, in a much different way, I feel the same about Fleetwood Mac, especially their iconic folk-rock masterpiece Rumours.

Much like black metal (ironically, despite its moniker), Rumors has nothing to offer black people. And I don’t say that in a “this album is OURS!” kind of way; I say that in the way that this album is constructed, from its muted opening chords to “Gold Dust Woman”‘s fadeout, for super lame white people. In theory, if you put this album next to Miles Davis’ The Birth of the Cool, it will explode much like a chameleon will hypothetically explode when walking over plaid. And I don’t say that because this album is essentially rooted in folk and country; I say it because Fleetwood Mac water down every bit of folk, country, and even the few attempts at rock into a beige, murky paste perfectly fit to be consumed by the masses petrified by metal’s Satanism, disco’s hedonism and punk rock’s anarchy.

I say this because there is absolutely nothing offensive about this album. It rebels against nothing; the closest Fleetwood Mac come to rocking the boat on Rumours is Lindsay Buckingham’s gritted tooth instistence that “packing up” and “shacking up” is all his wrongdoing lover wants to do, and while bordering on racy, it had been said so many other more vulgar and suggestive ways that even considering it’s origin in 1977, it could already be taken as pretty goddamn tame. Though the album was famously recorded by five coked-the-fuck-up ex lovers, there’s no trace of drugs or sex anywhere. Mick Fleetwood could perhaps be the most grooveless of all the ’70s AOR rock uber-drummers: he doesn’t attempt to match Keith Moon’s 40-fills-a-minute pomposity or John Bonham’s thick Mississippi Delta rhythm. Even the harmonies, still one of the most impressive parts of the record, are essentially the Mamas and the Papas without any of that pesky counterculture. There’s a great line from one of the original “Wayne’s World” sketches about how Rumours was handed out to people who moved to the suburbs along with free samples of Tide. Much like Dark Side of the Moon, Rumours is seen by many as existing solely so the punks could have something to hate and rebel against. If someone throws Rumours on at a party, that party has either become indescribably lame or was from the beginning; it’s almost certain that if you survey the room, there will be a girl in overalls.

The problem? The album, much like Wonder bread and Applebee’s, is a terrific, easily consumed piece of America. It works as an excellent way to calm yourself down after a long day of work or as a breakup record when you don’t have the kind of patience to put up with the funk Blood on the Tracks or Disintegration would put you in. While it won’t jostle your world and permanently alter your perspective, it’s nice. And sometimes you need nice. After hours of getting sneered at by Mission of Burma and Shellac, bitched at/to by Morrissey, preached to by Fugazi, or getting your skull pounded by Neurosis or Mayhem, sometimes you need nice. The radio singles on this album are, for the most part, so ubiquitous that there’s almost no way you don’t know them. But when they come on, the fatigue that now accompanies some of classic rock’s once greatest hits (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Start Me Up”) subsides for a feeling of, “Hey… alright.” Even the so-so songs on the record (“I Don’t Want to Know”,”Oh Daddy”) are great because you know “Gold Dust Woman” is waiting to give a relatively interesting and ominous closing to the album.

The flipside to Rumours‘ comforting blandness is that its the sound of Fleetwood Mac as a band, with everyone’s annoying eccentricities kept in check: Stevie Nicks’ public library “mysticism” is delegated solely to “Gold Dust Woman”, and its forgivable, because you know the woman was waiting the whole album to throw on some ridiculous, flowy black dress and talk about magick; the quirks and weirdness that Lindsay Buckingham would employ to make/mar (depending on who you ask) Rumours‘ follow-up Tusk is sidelined in lieu of delicate fingerpicking and unimpressive and therefore non-distracting guitar leads; Mick Fleetwood’s limitations as a drummer were inconsequential as he took a page from Ringo Starr’s playbook in just being the functional, rhythmic backbone of the band as opposed to trying to be a focal point (the drum solo he arbitrarily adds to Tusk‘s title track is easily Top 5 Worst of All Time); John McVie adds nothing discernible to the album except the terrific bassline that puts “The Chain” back into motion; and Christine McVie… oh, Christine McVie.

The album’s lost gem is clearly Christine McVie’s “You Make Loving Fun”, usually obscured by the shadow of “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop (THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW!!!)”. McVie’s sassy electric piano strut is the closest to funky the record gets, while her voice and vocal melody are of a level of richness that is all but unattainable in our world of R & B’s masturbatory melisma and Nickelback and Hinder’s constipated bellow. The song epitomizes Fleetwood Mac’s place in the classic rock pantheon and the 70’s pantheon perfectly: it’s there as the perfect soundtrack to driving home in the dying humidity of an early August evening after a long and grating day at work, and while the world wouldn’t be any worse off if it wasn’t there, at the time, it’s certainly nice that it is.

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2 Responses to “In defense of: “Rumours””

  1. MK Says:

    WordPress got mad at me for not entering my mail and deleted the great comment I just wrote. It was something along the lines of, Fleetwood Mac doesn’t not suck and/or rule. This album IS nice, and that’s why it will never leave my collection. Sometimes I just need a little optimism.

  2. The Ten/Fourteen Best Songs of 2008 « …and Mediocrity Held Sway! Says:

    […] deep past): Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, the Zombies, Fleetwood Mac (and not hip Fleetwood Mac, but the lame, multimillion selling shit), 1999-era Prince, Maggot Brain, and Charles Mingus, to name a few. Is it because I’m getting […]

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