The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Thursday, October 31, 2002
STEVIE FIXED

I had to write something about Fleetwood Mac - or to be exact, the two Fleetwood Macs which have been predominant at different times, or at opposite ends of the same stretch of time.

Peter Green's Mac were responsible for perhaps the most nihilistic sequence of pop singles ever with the (distantly) possible exception of Nine Inch Nails (and without the showbiz). And yet the hits were rarely, if ever, loud - the desperation was evident with barely suppressed rawness of hurt. On "Need Your Love So Bad" Green relocates Little Willie John's hard-on to the hard concrete of Cross Deep. He is pleading for the Other. If she doesn't respond he may destroy himself. That overdubbed string refrain, curling upwards like a giant raised eyebrow (the equivalent of LL Cool J's repeated "why?" on "Born To Love You" or Van Dyke Parks' forest of question marks punctumising U2's "All I Want Is You"). Without the strings there would almost be no music.

"Albatross" was an albatross for the group, but was there ever a quieter number one? At the opposite end of the decade to the sinister idyll of its equivalent, Acker Bilk's "Stranger On The Shore," it's a quiet repose, a reminiscence sparked off by Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk," but as redolent of suppressed emotion as Eno's "Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960." The musicians here are trynig to playing as quietly as possible, as if not to awaken the neighbours (think also "Pink Frost" by the Chills, of which Mark Sinker once remarked that they sounded as though they had mufflers on their amplifiers). So much space; so much unsaid; Mick Fleetwood's tom-tom refrain about as un-tribal as you could get (compare with its exact contemporary, Gaye's "Grapevine").

"Man Of The World" rents the cover open for a few seconds only. Green has already mused for two verses about his much-travelled but little-learned life ("there's no one I'd rather be") when, at the last line of the second verse, he suddenly slashes his guitar as though he has just slashed his wrists and screams in unfathomable grief "BUT I JUST WISH THAT I HAD NEVER BEEN BORN!" And then, suddenly it's quiet again. Like Poltergeist, it's most frightening when it's quiet, because you're waiting for Green to erupt again. But he doesn't; he leaves you in no doubt that he could if he wanted to, but he doesn't. He just delves back into himself and grieves more deeply ("I wish I was in love" - beyond loneness). Talking to his own mirror, waiting for the blood on the glass to dry up into a makeshift mural.

"Oh Well (Part 1)" is more animated, but Green's problems are as evident and explicit as those of Richey Edwards on The Holy Bible. He pities himself ("I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin") but repels any outside attempts to reach him ("Don't ask me what I think of you/I might not give the answer that you want me to"). The guitars are about to reach some sort of climax when suddenly they disappear, and we dissolve into Part 2; a single strummed acoustic, a medieval recorder (let's go back to your CHILDHOOD) - unresolved to fadeout.

And "The Green Manalishi," a top ten hit in 1970 (the equivalent - imagine the Manics' "4st 7lbs" being a top ten hit in 1994) is one long, lost fadeout. What is the two-pronged crown? It's his own demons which have come to devour him. The riff endlessly repeats; there's hardly a song, just an indistinct scream deep within. He is saying help me, I'm trapped, I trapped mysefl. As with "You're Holding Me Down" by the Buzz or (more literally) the closing moments of Notorious BIG's Ready To Die, it's the sound of someone committing suicide on a pop record. The band couldn't disentangle them; as with Floyd/Barrett, they weren't particularly inclined to do so either.

The second predominant Mac was that driven by Buckingham and Nicks - the polar opposite; in this group's work there is candid, exquisite neurosis. Lives, relationships collapse within them and around them as they make themselves bankable again with Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Even in something like the former's "Landslide," Stevie nixes any notion of her own permanence ("If you see my reflection on the snow-covered hills/A landslide will bring it down"). Less overtly melodramatic than "Gold Dust Woman" but a statement of determined invulnerability set against internal collapse worthy to stand against its descendent - "Delicate Cutters" by Throwing Muses.

Oh "Dreams." To hell with the Corrs. You can't compress the emotions in this song into one chord. The whole punctum of this Nicks song is that it's unresolved. The way Stevie trembles the word "go" over six syllables in the final chorus of "women, they will come and they will go" is as unreproducable as Sinatra's ascending "IIIIIIII would sacrifice anything..." with which he charges back into "I've Got You Under My Skin." And is there a more heartbreaking or poignant final chord in any pop record than that which ends "Dreams"? You could never notate that.

In "Sara" from the Tusk album, Stevie of course elects to drown, to surrender to emotions engendered by the Other. She never quite resurfaced; her work thereafter leans more towards the studium. Maybe she was just happier. A full and unsurpassable discussion of this song can be found in the old Melody Maker booklet Unknown Pleasures, in which Simon Reynolds dissects Tusk in detail (memo to Simon: please post this on Blissout. It's a work of art).

But we mustn't forget Buckingham either. Even by 1979's advanced standards, "Tusk" the song is a queer piece of work, with its marching bands, its never-quite-a-chorus, its quiescent paranoia ("why don't you tell me who's on the 'phone?"), its climactic repeated scream of "DON'T TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME!" - the other end of "Oh Well"'s prism? - the freeform multiple drums which stand in for a middle-eight (as though the UCLA marching band had inadvertently walked into a John Stevens/SME workshop). In the UK this was their biggest hit single since "Oh Well."

And fifteen years of hindsight lead me to think that 1987's Tango In The Night is, sonically, rather more of an avant-garde work than it was given credit for at the time. Here Buckingham's production echoes in all kinds of strange places, like a mentholated Lee Perry. "Big Love" is a sort of sequel to "Tusk" but equally paranoid; the collective grunts which climax it sound as far away from orgasm as could be imagined. The weird varispeeded voices which lurk out of every orifice on "Family Man." The post-ZTT bliss of "Little Lies" which occupies the exact middle ground between Prefab Sprout and Bucks Fizz (and this in a Christine McVie song; very much the rational straight player in Mac, and consequently the least interesting).

Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood and McVie are currently recording a new album - their first as a unit since TOIN - to be released next year. Glitch input? Neptunes input? Don't rule out either.


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