Back in the Bar-Mitzvah days of the drug culture the British music scene was shaken by what came to be known as The Blues Boom. Beginning with a small corps of dedicated musicians in the early Sixties, blues bands proliferated at a feverish pace until by 1968 nearly every person in the British Isles between the ages of 16 and 35 was in a blues band. But by its very popularity the blues boom insured its own destruction. After all with so many people in unsuccessful blues bands how could anyone afford to buy anyone else’s records? So the boom subsided as the less accomplished musicians in the lot went on to find some measure of economic stability as light bulb designers, pop artists, members of hard rock groups, or what have you.
Of the many second generation British blues musicians who remained active Peter Green was among the most promising. During his tenure with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Green had distinguished himself as a fine singer and guitarist – a worthy successor to Eric Clapton. Indeed, on much of Mayall’s second American album, A Hard Road, Green was the dominant personality. It came as no surprise when in 1967 Green left the Bluesbreakers to form his own band, Fleetwood Mac.
The other band members were Mick Fleetwood, a comically attenuated drummer; John McVie, Mayall’s longest lasting bass player: and Jeremy Spencer, a fanatical admirer of Buddy Holly and Elmore James, whom Mike Vernon had discovered playing piano at a seedy blues bar in a seedy British town. Not long after releasing their first album the band was augmented by guitarist Danny Kirwan, a mere slip of a lad, who if he progressed at the expected rate seemed well on his way to becoming God Jr. The band’s second album, English Rose, most certainly rates as one of the best British blues albums, handily fulfilling everyone’s expectations. One of the album cuts, “Albatross,” was released as a single and rose to the top of the world charts.
It was not long before the band left Columbia and the tutelage of Mike Vernon and after nearly signing with Andrew Oldham’s Immediate Label found a home with Reprise. This event was marked by the release of a single, “Oh Well,” which had been quite successful in Europe, but flopped in the US, followed shortly by an album entitled Then Play On.
With Then Play On and increasingly in their live performances the band began to show rather disintegrative tendencies, torn between Green’s hard-driving intense style. Spencer’s imitations of old rock stars, and Kirwan’s growing predilection for mush-mouthed balladry.
Green quit and the happy balance of English Rose was lamentably short-lived. Kiln House was released and Christine Perfect (Mrs. John McVie) formerly of Chicken Shack joined the band. While Fleetwood Mac was often very good at this stage, with Green’s departure they had suffered a discomforting loss of intensity. Last year while on tour in California, Jeremy Spencer quit, defecting to one of the many strange religious cults so popular in Southern California. (I have some sympathy with Spencer. If I had to go to Los Angeles again I might join some strange religious cult). Spencer’s place was filled, more or less, by American singer-guitarist Bob Welch.
So, it is with a lineup of Kirwan, McVie, Welch, Fleetwood, & McVie that Fleetwood Mac is heard on Future Games. For my taste, the album has little to commend it. Danny Kirwan is out front on most of the cuts and sadly his singing and playing appear to have lost their edge. His voice drones, innocuously, he plays almost aimlessly, and the songs he writes are just too long. One of them, “Sometimes,” might have been good but it lingers on purposelessly and painfully for six and a half minutes. Only once, on “Morning Rain” does his playing briefly equal his past performance and his tough, rather disjointed style almost re-emerges. Christine McVie puts in far and away the best performance of the album, but this too is disappointing in the light of her past achievements and potential. Her voice sounds surprisingly weak and emotionless here. Her piano playing too is not up to her known capabilities. Still one of her songs, “Morning Rain” does have its moments. While Fleetwood and McVie handle their rhythm chores competently they have usually been heard to be much better. As for Bob Welch his talent appears to be notable only in its lack of distinction, but perhaps he too has the ability to do better.
Future Games is a thoroughly unsatisfactory album. It is thin and anaemic-sounding and I get the impression that no one involved really put very much into it. If Fleetwood Mac have tried to make the transition from an energetic rocking British blues band to a softer more “contemporary” rock group, they have failed. If they have simply lost interest, I hope they regain it in time to salvage what was once a very promising band.
Loyd Grossman / Rolling Stone / December 9, 1971