Everything enticing about 1975′s Fleetwood Mac, all the contrasts and connections, are jacked to the hilt on Rumours. The unexpected triumph of the new lineup, and the heavy toll demanded by constant touring and recording meant that both of the band’s long-term couples – Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, as well as John and Christine McVie – split up. Mick Fleetwood was also divorcing his wife, and would soon have an affair with Nicks. Drug and alcohol excess enabled by newfound fame also exploded within the group. Yet Buckingham’s pursuit of musical and audio perfection, and Fleetwood’s managerial ability to keep the usual business wolves at bay helped cohere the quintet into creating a cross-biographical masterpiece.
Every song here is about the songwriter’s relationship to other band members, or to newfound fame and its consequences. And because there are three authorial perspectives, each fluctuating between hope and despair, the result is like Rashoman, the classic samurai film where the same story is told multiple times, but with the added wrinkle that each member is participating in and playing/singing on the others’ narratives.
The myth of this album is such that many who know it now understand its real-life roots, but back in 1977 Rumours was primarily celebrated for being chock full of incredibly relatable, compulsively catchy songs that fleshed out universal emotions with intimate details. Epitomizing late ’70s West Coast pop-rock, it hit when slick disco producers and similarly lavish art-rockers alike pursued sonic perfectionism at the end of the analogue age. Avoiding the excesses of both camps, its core is so immaculately clean that when Buckingham’s guitars swarm and rage at the end “Go Your Own Way,” the progression from calm to chaotic truly seems violent.
Rumours made Nicks a superstar, one who eventually fell prey to the trappings of her own success, but she’s thoroughly on-point here; her songs, particularly “Dreams,” are the smartest on an album hammered together via the hard knocks of experience. “When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know,” she sings deceptively sweetly. “You will know.” Fleetwood Mac here knew.