What do AC/DC’s Blow Up Your Video, Metallica’s St. Anger and The Stone Roses’ Second Coming all have in common? To put it bluntly, the lowest ebbs of their respective bands. Each of these records are viewed as far from the heights of their creators, and in much the same vein rests Fleetwood Mac’s 1995 album, Time. It was released when the band had shifted irrevocably, and failed to make much of a dent in the three charts it found a place on. Compare this to Tango in the Night, released just eight years earlier. It spawned several singles and went multi-platinum in both the U.S. and U.K. Or wind the clocks back even further, to 1977, when the band’s Rumours made for one of the best-selling albums of all time.
So what went wrong with Time? And why did one writer put it on his list of the All-Time Worst Albums Ever Made?
Well, 1987 would actually be the best year to go back to, and where the seeds of Time were really sown. Fleetwood Mac, a decade on from their biggest success, were still on top of the world, having just unleashed the likes of ‘Little Lies’, ‘Seven Wonders’ and ‘Big Love’ onto the charts. Tango in the Night was produced, in part, by the band’s guitarist, male vocalist and one of its principal songwriters, Lindsey Buckingham. Tango in the Night was not quite as much his brainchild as 1979’s Tusk – but it certainly owed a lot to him. The problem was that, on the eve of the band’s tour promoting such a record, Buckingham was exhausted. At bandmate Christine McVie’s house that night, he announced his plans to leave the band.
What happened next is disputed, but some kind of argument or fight broke out, and Buckingham subsequently retired from the group for several long years, concentrating on his own work, 1992’s Out of the Cradle, his third solo release. Fleetwood Mac, now without one of its vital parts, hired guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnette to fill his place. In a special for VH1’s Behind the Music, Buckingham would later chuckle that the gap he left behind needed two players to fill.
Fast forward two years, and Fleetwood Mac unveiled their fifteenth studio work, Behind the Mask. Featuring Vito and Burnette on both guitar and vocal duties, it was a pretty strong album – particularly given Buckingham’s (still notable) absence. It reached the top of the UK Albums Chart, went platinum there, and ‘Save Me’, one of the album’s singles, made the US Top 40. In retrospect, it’s still a solid offering of British-American pop rock, and stands by itself without Buckingham. Behind the Mask is no Rumours, but given the band at that time, it was better than anyone could have expected.
Five years later, though, and things went from adequate to worse. Following the album’s… less than brilliant reception, all things considered, Stevie Nicks left the group. Again, the reasons why are slightly unclear, but it seems she got into an altercation with band ‘dad’, Mick Fleetwood – over one of her songs, ‘Silver Springs’, not appearing on a future, Nicks compilation. Fleetwood wanted to save its inclusion for a forthcoming FM box set (the song had gained interest among fans by this time, so it would be a key selling point). Knowing Stevie Nicks, this is probably why she left.
Now, whilst Stevie Nicks is not the beating heart of Fleetwood Mac – I only make this seemingly cruel point because the entire band is often reduced to solely her contribtions all too often – she did write some of its best tracks, from ‘Rhiannon’ to ‘Landslide’, ‘Sara’ and ‘Dreams’ – the band’s only number one in the U.S. Without Nicks and Buckingham; the young, American firebrands of the group, things looked bleak. Still, they had the timeless rhythm section of Mick and John McVie, and keyboardist Christine McVie – who was also an excellent songwriter (See ‘Say You Love Me’, ‘Songbird’, ‘Think About Me’, ‘Everywhere’, ‘Little Lies’, etc.). Billy Burnette and Rick Vito weren’t terrible, either, so maybe the Mac could pull it together, against all odds?
Well, in a word, no. The ‘Rumours line-up’ was a match made in musical heaven. Whether they were friends, enemies, or both, the results of their emotional turmoil made for some of the best music ever released. Strip the band of that, and all they produced was rather generic pop rock. By 1995, Rick Vito was gone. Dave Mason, the guitarist for British rock band Traffic, and country singer Bekka Bramlett had joined the band, forming Time‘s ultimate sextet (Lindsey Buckingham did contribute backing vocals to one of the album’s tracks, but this was his sole offering). The line-up for a band already famous for its ever-shifting cast was far from where it had been just seven years before.
The classic, Rumours line-up did regroup for Bill Clinton’s Presidential Inauguration in 1993, for a performance of his campaign anthem, ‘Don’t Stop’, but they wouldn’t come together for any significant length of time until 1997.
But, enough of the history. Let’s take a lot at the album itself. And, a disclaimer, I actually sort of like this album. Maybe it’s the inner sonic hipster in me, but I don’t think Time is terrible; it has its moments, and shades of what once was for the band. That being said, it’s still very far from Fleetwood Mac’s magnum opus.
‘Talkin’ To My Heart’ is perhaps an apt introduction to who Mac were now. A collobaration between Burnette and newbie, Bekka Bramlett, it’s country rock. At a push. And it is far from the American-influenced classic rock of yore. The chorus is pretty catchy, and it could be a lot worse, but if this was what you immediately heard after buying the new album and putting it on, I can see why you might be disappointed. There were better contenders to kick off Time.
‘Hollywood (Some Other Kind of Town)’, a joint effort between Christine McVie and then-husband, Eddy Quintela, echoes the band’s Tusk era, touching on the homesickness McVie would feel when away from the band during Behind the Mask. It’s still far from ‘Think About Me’ or ‘Never Make Me Cry’, however, and one of Time‘s most forgettable pieces. ‘Blow By Blow’ gives recruit Dave Mason a chance to show his chops behind the microphone, with quintessentially rock roars; and it’s… actually not that bad. It’s got an energetic chorus, well-executed harmonies and some real crunch to its guitars. It unearths a problem that runs throughout Time, though. Whilst it’s a good track, it’s not exactly Fleetwood Mac. It’s not what you’d expect when you think of this band, and though there’s nothing wrong with a group breaking new ground, it’s hardly experimental. It’s not Rumours, it’s not the zany choices of Tusk, nor the dance-influenced pop of Tango in the Night. Much of Time exists in some ether – for those very few occasions when you want to listen to Fleetwood Mac, but not quite Fleetwood Mac.
‘Winds of Change’ features written credit from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, but not even the graceful voice of Bekka Bramlett can save it. Middle of the road, mass-produced, country-esque pop ballad. Sorry. ‘I Do’ was the only single released from Time (a fact that should really tell you something) and, to be fair, it was a worthy choice. It may have only reached 62 in Canada – and nowhere else – but proves just how underrated Christine McVie is as both a songwriter and vocalist. The rift between Nicks and Buckingham often makes for some of the band’s best drama, and onstage moments, but poor Christine is forgotten behind the keyboard. ‘I Do’ is a great song, and McVie’s soft notes shine, harking back to ‘Songbird’.
‘Nothing Without You’ seems to be a track written by Bramlett’s father, Delaney, for his 1975 album, Giving Birth To A Song. I have to trust Wikipedia on this one, because I can’t find a single recording of it anywhere. Oh well. His daughter wrote in a new verse and suddenly the song found a new home. It’s got some drive to it; it’s a well-crafted fusion of traditional country and Mac pop, but little more. ‘Dreamin’ the Dream’ sounds like some attempt to join the gentle lullabies of McVie with Stevie Nicks’ natural grace. Bramlett doesn’t pull it off, I’m afraid to say.
Christine McVie dives into the dark for ‘Sooner or Later’, a particularly melancholic tune. Its melodies stand out, its chorus pulls me into some dreamlike stance, but amongst her own contributions it begins to pale. ‘I Wonder Why’, a vocal partnership between Mason and Bramlett is akin to ‘Talkin’ To My Heart’, or future ‘I Got It In For You’. These country rock tracks have some neat guitar and high-octane choruses, but they just don’t belong on a Fleetwood Mac album. Never before has the artistic worth of Buckingham and Nicks seemed so evident. Christine McVie is a mastermind, but it’s obvious at this stage that Fleetwood Mac are a three-singer band, each delivering their own fearsome ballads and rockers. Without just one of them, things start to crumble. Take away two, and Fleetwood Mac falls into Roman Empire levels of disrepair.
‘Nights in Estoril’, however, is the real highlight of the album. With its sweeping drumbeat, ‘Everywhere’ synth shimmer and McVie’s verses of the far and fantastical, it’s Christine desperate to recapture Tango in the Night. And she does a stellar job. It’s no ‘Little Lies’, but it could be an outtake from the band’s 80s years, undoubtedly. McVie initially didn’t want to appear on another Fleetwood Mac album by 1995, but was pressured by Warner Bros. to pen five tracks. Thank God. Without them, Time would be an irredeemable affair. Mason and Burnette even get to show off their six-string physique plenty on ‘Estoril’.
‘All Over Again’ is typical McVie – not her best on the album, but a pretty valid finale. The opposite of bombastic ‘Talkin’ To My Heart’. As she beautifully sings, ‘So what is there left to say as I see us drifting away…’, it’s hard not to see this as some heartfelt message to the absent Buckingham Nicks, particularly in the line, ”Cause in spite of the heartaches and troubles in love, I’d do it all over again…’. It’s a lamentation, really, and a soulful one.
Just when you think Time can’t get any more bizarre, however, Mick Fleetwood descends like some machination of David Lynch, on a track punctuated with longboat-like drumbeat. If you disregard a B-side from Behind the Mask, ‘These Strange Times’ is Fleetwood’s only vocal contribution to the band’s discography. I mean, in the Mac’s seventeen album lifespan, he has offered up his British tones nowhere else. ‘These Strange Times’ is spoken word, a performance poem, really – touching on an apparent lack of faith (‘God is nowhere, God is nowhere’), tributes to Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac (referencing tracks, ‘Man of the World’ and ‘The Green Manalishi’), and apocalyptic prayer. At the same time, Mick’s daughter, Lucy, chants ‘Faith! Have faith!’ in the background, and the track slowly slithers toward something poppier. It somehow puts the entirety of Tusk to shame, and remains, perhaps, the band’s weirdest song to date, buried at the end of one of its least-known albums. It’s also seven minutes in length.
Putting the time that Fleetwood Mac momentarily thought it was Pink Floyd aside for a second, I do want to say something in support of Time. It’s a bit of a musical mishmash, but it mostly delivers. If you’re looking for a decent, pop rock album with country influence, Time really stands out. Billy Burnette makes for a pretty solid songwriter on heartbreak, and both he and Dave Mason shine on guitar. Bekka Bramlett has a voice made for the Wild West, and Christine McVie helps pack in just enough to keep you somewhat grounded in the fact that this is still a Fleetwood Mac album.
That’s about it, however, and even following the Mac’s last album, Behind the Mask, the quality has certainly dropped dramatically. Thankfully it wouldn’t be long before the Rumours line-up reconvened for 1997’s The Dance – within a year of Time‘s release, Mason, Bramlett and Burnette all left – but even then, Christine McVie wouldn’t formally rejoin as a member. Time is better left forgotten, admittedly – the remnant of a band who once ruled the world; now aimless, abandoned and without direction. Without the adored banner of Stevie Nicks to stand behind, or a strong leader in the studio like Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac were in a blizzard without a coat. And, sadly, that will be the legacy of this album for time eternal.