A new Fleetwood Mac album has been released. Which of the following best describes your reaction? (A) ”They’re a proven commodity, dude.” (B) ”Oh, wow!” (C) ”Don’t the people in that band all have solo careers now?”
An (A) answer means you probably work in the record business; (B) means you won’t want to read the rest of this review; (C) means you wonder whether the old Fleetwood Mac really still exists.
You might be wise to wonder. From 1982 to 1987 Fleetwood Mac released no new material. The band’s 1987 album, Tango in the Night, seemed to bring it back to life. But then Lindsey Buckingham quit; he was replaced by two musicians not usually thought to be as imaginative as he. Now we have this new album. It keeps the band’s name alive, but sounds like an anthology of miscellaneous solo projects — most of them, not surprisingly, by the band members with the biggest solo careers, Christine McVie (whose voice sounds sweet and gauzy) and Stevie Nicks (whose voice has an arresting edge almost like a metal file, an understandable reason either to love her or hate her).
But the most distinctive songs turn out, surprisingly, to be by the new guys, singer-guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. Together they wrote ”When the Sun Goes Down,” a breezy country tune notable for its complete lack of pretension and for finely etched background harmony by the two women. ”Distinctive,” though, doesn’t necessarily mean good. Burnette (this time with an outside collaborator) also wrote ”In the Back of My Mind,” a song that begins with minutes on end of strange thumps and muttering. I guess that’s meant to be the sound of the back of his mind, though you’d also have to call it unconvincing psychedelia, years after its time.
The other songs go down easily, as the six musicians compound rock, country, folk, and pop into a mix that always sounds plush, even when the lyrics ask what otherwise might register as sharp questions about the pain of love. In an environment that undemanding, the edge on Nicks’ voice can be an asset. Still, most of Behind the Mask is pretty bland. The songs hardly add up to an album; the six musicians hardly add up to Fleetwood Mac. C