The thing about a tribute album to Fleetwood Mac is that the songs of the Go Your Own Way people have always been intertwined with their lives and complicated inner-band loves. The iconic material is not so standalone. But it is not even just that. Fans attached their own circumstances to the outpourings of Stevie Nicks and the others. “Like a heartbeat, drives you mad,” Nicks sang, “In the stillness of remembering what you had, and what you lost.”
Some of us were in the shine of our lives when Fleetwood Mac rode the FM dial and soared platinum-disc high. Stuff was summer music, all year long. But Just Tell Me That You Want Me, from the same curators who a year ago brought us Rave On Buddy Holly (a commendable salute to the genius Texas hiccupper), isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, like the best tribute albums, instead of being a retread or a retreat, it is a mission to rethink and rehear the originals. Can you deal with that? Are you open, or are you closed?
The 17-song release (plus bonus tracks Hold Me by the L.A. sister act Haim, and The Green Manalishi by the psychedelically inclined Entrance Band) begins with an instrumental written by Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac’s guitar-playing co-founder. Albatross is rendered by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, who respectfully admire the original’s haunting, cinematic feel. It’s only a little over four minutes long, but it feels like forever – and that is meant favourably.
Another Green-written number from 1969, Oh Well, is heavier fare, with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons going purplish into the blues. Excellent cowbell dangling happens. Gibbons croaks like he’s swallowed his beard, and the whole thing screams for a Quentin Tarantino zombie movie. It’s the harshest and most devastating of shrugs: “Don’t ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to – oh, well.”
Then comes the sunny Best Coast, who work with hand-clapped beats and bopping girl-group pop on Rhiannon, lightening up the original and representing the California side of Fleetwod Mac’s duel citizenship. Stacking it next to the deep-in-the-cellar blues preceding it is what some people call artful juxtaposition. Others might call it jarring. Oh well.
What I would call the New Pornographers’ version of Think About Me is bright, colourful and just a stitch twee – an irresistible thrum, as was the Christine McVie-sung original. “Baby, once in a while, think about me,” is the lightly suggested petition, from a lover on the more giving side of a relationship.
And by all means, let’s think about McVie, who resists Fleetwood Mac reunions. Two of her songs appear here, compared to 10 by Nicks, four by Green, two by Lindsay Buckingham and one by the late Bob Welch (Future Games, which receives a synthetic, softly cathartic treatment from MGMT).
Highlights include the ethereal Swedish songstress Lykke Li, who sings blue-green on an echo-laden Silver Springs, an elegant curse set upon an ex-lover (Buckingham), issued by Nicks – “Time casts a spell on you, but you won’t forget me.”
Most poignant is Antony Hegarty, the high-voiced talent who warbles affectingly on the acoustic-picked Landslide, another penned by Nicks. “Can I handle the seasons of my life?” is the question. It’s a song about growing up. And that never gets old, even if we do.
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