Our rating: *** (3 stars out of 5)
Fleetwood Mac are restless. After dozens of songs, albums, tours, and RIAA certifications, you’d think they would’ve reached a point of satisfied complacency, like when a star athlete hits the twilight of his or her career and admits, “I’ve done it all it’s time to retire.” Maybe Fleetwood Mac did, in fact, reach such a point after 2003’s Say You Will. The band announced an indefinite hiatus — its members diverting their concentration to their personal lives and solo endeavors. The Mac’s future was in question…
But if Michael Jordan wearing a Washington Wizards jersey taught us anything, it’s that you can’t keep The Best at bay while they still have the ability to play … and make lots of money. So in 2009, Fleetwood Mac reunited for a tour (which — just like Jordan on the Wizards — put asses in seats and made tons o’ cash). During the tour, Lindsey Buckingham dropped this nugget: “The time is right to go back to the studio.”
But for three years that promise went unfulfilled as Fleetwood Mac rode the nostalgia train all the way to the bank. Another world tour, TV appearances, and album reissues — no new music.
Via a surprise press release last month, Fleetwood Mac announced Extended Play, a four-song EP of new material — their first since 2003. Expectations were high for these songs, considering Buckingham’s aforementioned statements and the subsequent lack of fresh studio material from the band.
By its own nature, Extended Play can’t meet those expectations. A quick-hitting EP simply cannot contain the songwriting force that is Buckingham/Nicks/McVie. Shit, Rumours could barely contain ‘em (and Tusk overdid it). Instead, we don’t get that team at all. Just Buckingham. Every song on Extended Play is sung and written by him (“Without You” is a re-recording of an old Buckingham/Nicks demo).
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it makes the EP feel more like a Buckingham solo project than a true Fleetwood Mac release. The songs play it safe, adhering to the midtempo rhythms that best suit his voice. Lead track “Sad Angel” opens with the familiar jangles of “Go Your Own Way” — a momentary callback before we finally hear this new, Christine McVie-less iteration of Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham’s fatalism is firmly in place: “My eyes saw the words / With a prayer and a curse / Your pain had to sleep/With a sword that it keeps.” They’re contemplative lyrics for an otherwise simple pop tune. Modern production techniques enhance Buckingham’s clean guitar tones and his vocal harmonies with Nicks. Even the compressed MP3s sound superb — magnifying every nuance, from the patter of Mick Fleetwood’s snare to the slight gravely tic in Stevie Nick’s voice (which proves that she is in fact 64, despite her age-defying looks).
The new version of “Without You” is a welcome rendition. It’s an acoustic duet between Buckingham and Nicks — the only real presence she has on Extended Play. Although it was likely written while they were madly in love with one another, the song emphatically contradicts that idea: “I’m so lonely babe/I can’t live without you.” The following track, “It Takes Time”, is a somewhat forgettable piano ballad, but Fleetwood Mac close strong with the hook-y power-pop of “Miss Fantasy”.
Extended Play is a short tease, but these tracks aren’t throwaways or an attempt at a quick cash-in. Lindsey Buckingham wouldn’t put his name on something like that. A known perfectionist, he co-produced the EP alongside Mitchell Froom, and the attention paid to detail shows. Sure, the songs don’t veer far from Fleetwood Mac’s mellow-rock wheelhouse, but why should they? Extended Play is hampered by its fleeting duration; however, for being an out-of-the-blue release that costs less than $5, Fleetwood Mac fans should be more than satisfied. Just know that you won’t be hearing much from Stevie Nicks or John McVie.
Essential Tracks: “Sad Angel”
Jon Hadusek / Consequence of Sound / Wednesday, May 15, 2013