Fleetwood Mac boasts the rarest of chart-topping, adult-oriented rock virtues — a group personality. In the three-part harmonies and the assured snap of the rhythm section, we hear five distinct personalities merge into a sound that is unmistakably Mac. On Mirage, Lindsey Buckingham once again reaches into his bag of magicianly production tricks and pulls out an elusive gem of a Fleetwood Mac record that, to borrow some lines from his own "Can't Go Home," has "a face as soft as a tear in a clown's eye."
"Can't Go Home" would sound comfortable in a music box. As with most of Buckingham's tunes, we're hooked before the first word. The melody is sprung from beat one as vibes and guitar play tag atop John McVie's ticktocking bass, and just when you expect it, Mick Fleetwood's snare drum locks the machinery into gear. Fleetwood and McVie, rock's classiest rhythm section, know how to make the simple sublime.
Fleetwood Mac, a vocal group with a beat, doesn't scrimp on harmonies. Voices make a feather bed for Christine McVie's pulsing "Love in Store," adorn the edges of Stevie Nicks' fairy tales and jump all over Buckingham's quirky contributions. Whether answering the lead voice or chanting "bom, bom, bom," the singing keeps Mac's fuzzy face in focus.
Nicks, whose easy allure has made her the most popular of Mac's front three, is also the most problematic. While Buckingham steals from everybody, Nicks picks her own pocket. Is there a witch in the house who could banish "dream," "gypsy" and (gasp) "velvet underground" from her vocabulary? "That's Alright," with a countryish melody and a demonstrative opening image ("Meet me down by the railway station"), is far and away her best new song. Still, when Fleetwood drops extra drum beats into the belly of the belfry on "Gypsy," it's clear that nobody can weave Stevie's velvet and lace like Fleetwood Mac.
Christine McVie might turn out to be the Alberta Hunter of the future. "Only over You" is Mirage's inevitable breakup blues: "I'm out of my mind," she sings in an ascending arch, and while that's not too far from "I'm over my head," Christine's wisdom is in her honey-toned voice. And though "Wish You Were Here" is a Jackson Browne soundalike with really bad words, "Hold Me" bristles with randy fun. Singing in tandem, Christine and Lindsey snuggle up to the rhythm ("Slip your hand inside my glove"), she smoothing his edges and he pushing her over the top.
Hellbent on becoming the silliest of rock stars, Lindsey Buckingham takes Fleetwood Mac's limp language to its logical extreme. He composes mint-fresh pop tunes, but the words are strictly recycled: i.e., "Love is like a grain of sand" or "Who wrote the book of love?" While Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Brian Wilson ignite his imagination, they also tangle his tongue. How lucky they were to have said it first! "Empire State," which crosses the space-cadet Byrds with the car-hopping Beach Boys, is as aggressively asinine as anything to come from Brian's sandbox. Minimally deeper are "Oh Diane" and "Eyes of the World," the former coaxing the dreaded "grain of sand" over a Buddy Holly-ish chord structure, and the latter launching a riveting guitar solo from a "Tusk"-like beat. The finely turned details that illuminate these tunes are deployed throughout Mirage, from the enthusiastic "hey" on "Empire State" to the tiny organ telegraphing "Only over You." Pop touches like these make a few grains of sand seem like a beach.
Fleetwood Mac have never pretended to be heavy thinkers. But like E.T. or baseball's pennant race, Mirage is another of 1982's sunny entertainments: it sounds great in the morning and fine over a sunset with wine.