The Dance

Family reunions aren’t easy. So why should it be any simpler when bands reconvene?

When divorced acts like the Eagles or Kiss reconnect, they can’t help but confront the lingering doubts, betrayals, and jealousies behind any rich relationship. Yet their most troubling entanglements seldom show in the music; they’re drowned out by the harmony of nostalgia.

If only things were so easy for Fleetwood Mac. When the band’s prime lineup reconstituted in May, whitewashing the past simply wasn’t an option — not for the group that shot to superstardom on Rumours. Using the 20th anniversary of that gazillion-selling album as a sharp hook for their return, the band taped three shows in L.A., creating a concert special just aired on MTV, a new live LP, The Dance, due out this week, and a forthcoming home-video version, all to be followed by a fall tour.

During the age recalled by The Dance (1975-87), the Macs prided themselves on airing every piece of dirty laundry they had. And not just in the press, but in the lyrics to nearly every song. Years before Oprah, Phil, and Sally, they understood the power of spilling your guts before a nation of voyeurs. And — oy! — did they have guts to spill: the fallout from two cracked relationships (John and Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks), rampant drug use, band defections, even an incestuous affair within the family (Nicks and drummer Mick Fleetwood).

It should surprise no one, then, that in the sequel to pop’s sudsiest soap opera you’ll find no neuroses or desires barred. The band’s beaming faces — evident in the special — may make plain how tickled they were to share a concert stage for the first time since 1983. But their lyrics — and the fresh inflections they award them — find the members both tracing old scars and holding out new hopes in a way that should chill and move anyone who has followed their story so far.

Nary an ounce of sentimentality mars Mac’s comeback. Their idea of a proper reunion kicks off with a song treating relationships as nothing less than slavery (Buckingham’s ”The Chain”). They chase that doozy with the tale of a woman who sets her man ”free” only to warn about impending loneliness (Nicks’ ”Dreams”). Next up, Christine McVie offers a chirpy ode to infatuation that masks a magnificent obsession (”Everywhere”). From there, the double meanings only multiply.

The musical settings reveal equal complexity. The fact that so many songs hold their original arrangements becomes a bracing metaphor for the endurance of old wounds. When they do make dramatic musical changes, it ups the emotional ante. Some songs get stripped to their acoustic core, allowing the singers to ruminate on the consequences of their lyrics. In ”Rhiannon,” Nicks intones ”Dreams unwind/Love’s a state of mind” with a gravity that measures 20 more years of wisdom and loss. The effect intensifies in ”Landslide” when she admits ”I’m getting older too.”

Buckingham makes an equally grand update with his feverish solo performance of ”Big Love.” The guitarist’s breathtaking fingerpicking suggests a greater comfort with emotional upheaval. The four new songs also make good use of time gone by; McVie’s buoyant ”Temporary One” talks about relationships as unending, yet she spikes the realization with doubt. Buckingham’s rockabilly ditty ”My Little Demon” works as a fresh confession of inner torment, while Nicks’ ”Sweet Girl” finds her wondering what she sacrificed for a career.

As much present-tense emotion as these songs offer, they live up to the high melodic standards of the band’s past. The result puts Mac right in step with the current, tuneful direction of pop. But The Dance ends up being deeper than the sum of its sterling tunes. Swallowed whole, the album offers both an encouraging and scary reminder: Once you’ve made a familial bond with someone, you can never fully go your own way. A

The Dance
  • Music