Sound: When "Tusk" was released in 1979, national expectations were high with the latest Fleetwood Mac album to follow 1977's smash-hit "Rumours". Unfortunately, many fans were disappointed with the tremendously lengthy and messy "Tusk", despite it being a major artistic achievement. Flashforward twenty or so years with the release of "Say You Will", the first studio album from Fleetwood Mac since Tango in the Night in 1989. Comparisons to "Tusk" were immediate- "Say You Will" has a whopping 18 songs on a single disc as opposed to "Tusks" four sides. Yet, no matter what is said about their similarities, it is the differences that make "Say You Will" stand out as its own, artistic achievement.
Fleetwood Mac has never sounded better and more updated. While "Rumours" represents the California FM-radio friendly sound and "Tango in the Dark" a definite 80s sound, "Say You Will" sounds like a mixture of many time periods, as well as sounding very modern. Without Christine McVie however, the album does suffer some setbacks musically. Buckingham and Nicks, the two remaining songwriters both share a total of 9 songs each. This makes the album almost appear as two solo albums for the two artists. McVie was instrumental in reigning in the kookier aspects of Buckingham and providing a lighter, more feminine touch to songs while Nicks wrote the rockers. It can be strange to hear back-to-back Buckingham followed by back-to-back Nicks, but it can be achieved with an open ear.
As usual, Buckingham is a master in the studio, arming most of the songs with an army of guitars and other sonically interesting sounds. The opening track, "What's the World Coming To?" is a great start to the album with it balancing both the commercial, pop aspects that made Fleetwood Mac famous as well as the distinct harmonies that make them further appreciated by musicians. Obviously, some of his tracks stand-out more than others. "Bleed to Love Her" shows that Buckingham is a master of cathy songwriting, and his arrangement of the both the guitars and Nick's harmonies showcase years of refining his craft. Sonically, "Come" is his opus on the album as well as the furthest he goes into "weird" territory that defined "Tusk".
Nicks is also at the top of her game. Possessing a distinct, low voice in the 70s, it seems even more low on "Say You Will", but sounds much cleaner than her later studio albums. Providing the title track, Nicks shows that she also is still able to craft a catchy pop-song that would help propel the album up the charts. Yet, her stand-out tracks would have to be the 80's rocker "Running Through the Garden" and the gentle ballad, "Goodbye Baby".
Musically, it is difficult to mention every single song on the album due to its sheer length. But each listen to the album will reveal something new, for Buckingham has crafted an often very dense production while still remaining friendly to the "Rumours" fans. As usual, both John McVie and Mick Fleetwood are instrumental at helping Lindsey and Stevie develop the rhythm structures, and they are certainly both challenged by the newly updated Mac. // 8
Lyrics: Lyrically speaking, Buckingham has gone through very interesting changes since the last Fleetwood Mac album. Nicks however, stays mostly comfortable using her often vague metaphors and tales of love lost with a taste of magic.
Buckingham is clearly a more happy camper than he was on "Tango in the Dark" where he was 'looking out' for love and avoiding it entirely. "Bleed to Love Her" is a celebratory song about his wife, but can be seen as melancholy when viewed in context. Nicks (his former girlfriend) is singing back-up and thus creates a subtle drama. Hailed as a musical soap opera, "Bleed to Love Her" would be the closest the two get to singing about their relationship, even without mentioning it at all. Buckingham also takes other interesting topics such as the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow in "Murrow's Turning Over In His Grave". As the second track, the subject matter is quite strange, and it's a tricky start for the album. It deals with how Murrow, a journalist who believes in strict honesty to the media would be turning over in his grave at the current state of it. A weird topic perhaps, but Buckingham does have a point.
Stevie Nicks also seems to have found a more relaxed life and also has plenty of stories to tell. "Destiny Rules" is a great song about traveling abroad and being away from home. The magical experience that comes with a foreign country to detailed very well by Nick's often magical lyrics. She even takes on the heavy topic of 9/11 with similar grace, without becoming overly tacky. And though often vague, her lyrics resonate emotionally somehow on "Goodbye Baby". // 8
Overall Impression: While it is not a perfect album, "Say You Will" is still a strong, if overly lengthy comeback by Fleetwood Mac. It rewards repeated listens because of the unique melodies and structure crafted by frontman Lindsey Buckingham, but also because it is a display of an older band who can still rock. While The Rolling Stones and Yes may release some rather "less than interesting" material, this band still has a few more stories to tell and songs to sing before they give in. // 8