Album Analysis | Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
We look into the iconic 1977 album that defined the '70s and influenced a generation of musicians that followed.
Rumours, the 1977 release from the Anglo-American rock band, has remained influential for musicians and artists across all genres. The intention to use a specific critical period of relationship breakdowns and produce pure emotional responses through lyric and sound is bolstered by the production and engineering guidance of Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut- both of whom worked on later albums with the band and went on to have flourishing careers. The notion of art imitating life, and the exploration of this in the musicianship, is partly to thank for the album's connection to such a wide audience base. Currently, the album has sold within the region of 44 million copies worldwide, and is a centerpiece in many people's record collections around the world.
Changes in the band, including the departure of co-founder Peter Green, made way for a development from an earlier blues/folk-rock style to a much more contemporary shift, allowing successful follow up album releases such as Tusk (1979) and Tango in the Night (1987). These releases continue to possess the heart and sound that has become Fleetwood Mac’s resonance, the stunning use of harmonies and feel that has been the band's trademark since the success of Rumours.
Reports from the time, as well as many subsequent interviews, said the band were in complete disarray on a personal level during the year it took to create and develop the album. Divorce, affairs and hedonistic lifestyles, along with the misuse of a plethora of substances, both fuelled artistic development and masked the damage that is scratched into the content of each track on the record. The album is laced with undeniable agonies and relays the happenstance of heartbreak, giving reflections of and references to what was taking place for each individual. Although tragic, the melancholy is delivered through a lighter, more accessible, and marginally slower style that hides the pain under upbeat pop tunes.
Lindsey Buckingham (guitar and vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals) saw their personal romantic relationship deteriorate during the period of Rumours. Mick Fleetwood, the band’s drummer and percussionist, separated and divorced from his wife, and John and Christine McVie, the bassist and keyboard player for the band, also broke up. This level of tragedy should have seen an end to the band completely, but the energy to respond to one another through an artistic medium and collaborate successfully to create some of the most astonishing and devastating works remains just as impressive today.
The validity of the album is the ability to re-create passion and emotion in a realistic and inventive way. The realities of human relationships explored in the tracks are relatable to the listener, making it impossible not to one succumb to the realities explored - this is what gives Rumours its genuine brilliance. Everything is broken, there is little left to repair and yet, there is a tonality of hope in the instrumental lightness. In the lyrical shadows of the tracks, there is an emergent openness and honesty that brings each verse-chorus structure to conclusion with a sense of empathetic understanding and realisation.
The album has a softer rock sound that leans towards pop - this later fully emerged as a common genre style in the '80s, and contains distinctive elements throughout Rumours. The beautiful Hammond organ sound working in synergy with the basslines, pulsing and breathing life into the album, provides audible access to heart as an undertone in the musical scores across some incredible tracks. The guitar work is fluid, and as a cornerstone of the album can be illustrated by the signified increases in volume, pitch and texture during the important lyrical moments to generate gravity and expedience. The album was created to be understood as concerned with love as a concept, and perhaps its brilliance is in challenging the ideal that love can be understood - the album's content acts as allegory and metaphor that can be used as a connection to the experience by any listener.
In the often-covered "Go Your Own Way", Buckingham and McVie splice the vocal, offering a separation that is beautifully in harmony, although the occasional vocal flaw has been left intact to let the listener know that this is real. This extraordinary use of vocal and syncopation to offset lyrical statement and oppose meaning has been replicated and copied over the years. Lindsey Buckingham scripted the track to respond to the break up with Stevie Nicks and the futility of his voice can be heard in the title line. McVie has a more powerful sustain, offering glimmers of positivity that make the track a significant entry.
The statement in "Dreams", applying the vocal of Stevie Nicks using her sporadic dismissiveness and low-tone to emphasise “and what you lost, and what you had, and what you lost” is astounding and true of every good love story going wrong. The track strikes into the heart and asks that heart to feel and associate self in the sentiment throughout every vocal line. The song reached acclaim as a single release and is a clear stand out on the album, showing that despite Nicks having the fewest album additions, she had a significant contributory component to Fleetwood Mac.
"Don’t Stop", with Buckingham and McVie, hides the message in an attempt to create illusion. This is a more upbeat track that nonetheless holds some of the most melancholic lines. The subtle futility of explanation, as well as hurt and pain, is explored throughout this track. Written by Christine McVie, the track explores her separation from bassist John McVie. The ideation of tempo and beat musically in the song is used as a vehicle to administer the rhetorical statement of moving forwards in the lyrical phrasing.
"Songbird" and "You Make Loving Fun" from Christine McVie offer some of the most eloquent and deliberate softness that the album needed. The voice is beautiful and proves to be the most effective on the album. Throughout, you can hear emotion and feel the resonance in every word on these two tracks. The delivery is stunning and however many takes this took to record, the tenderness can be heard in the significance and meaning that the whole album offers. Each track illustrates how Christine McVie owns up to her affairs to her partner of the time and develops this rawness into a style. Delivering with such an emotive performance, these tracks are a haunting escape that is complimented with the use of wind instruments and mood-creating percussion.
The epic and well-renowned track, "The Chain", uses all three vocal powers as well as essentially combining two songs into one, creating an infinite loop of undeniable wanting for more. The refrain line “chain keep us together (running in the shadow)” is delivered with varied levels of intent and the focus is remarkable. Layered instrumentation that nods to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound provides each musician their own few-second slot to showcase their ability to shine. This slides towards the inevitable heavier closing section that skilfully refocuses from a folk-rock to a hard-rock track. The distinction of two connected yet separated elements of the song are the core to the album's themes of separation and connection.
Three-voice harmonies pan around dynamically, shifting the sometimes-oppressive instrumental and bass-heavy sound that dominates the mood in places - an impressive technical production method that is incomparable to other albums of the time. The construction of the instrumentation is solid throughout and shows how it should be done. There is no room for any filler on the album, each track is fully-delivered and has been constructed and ordered based on its emphasis and intent. The opening track on the original vinyl B-side is "The Chain", the anthem that serves its purpose as a side opener that demonstrates that this will be every bit as strong as the material on the A-side.
This timeless number-one album was given favourable reviews and five stars across the industry and by the popular music press in 1977, and remains just as relevant and influential today, prompting similar efforts from artists to seek a soul-caressing yet heartbreaking response from audiences.