Rating:Quick: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when Fleetwood Mac is mentioned? If we’re being charitable it might be the ubiquitous Rumours, released in 1977 and probably a key soundtrack to your parents’ baby-making days. But most likely it’s either band members fighting, band members fucking or band members boozing and drugging themselves stupid. In the sordid melodrama that was Fleetwood Mac, the music long ago became secondary to the group’s comical dysfunction and the interpersonal conflicts that its members brought upon themselves.
Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac tries to shift the attention from the band as punch line back to the music. Like most covers albums, it’s equal parts hit and miss, with its front half far more consistent than its back half. Indeed, there is a lot to like from the outset. After a faithfully rendered version of instrumental “Albatross” by the Lee Ranaldo Band and J Mascis, Antony Hegarty provides a reverential and suitably sparse take on “Landslide,” complete with his usual warble and thankfully free of any vocal histrionics. Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino offers a wonderfully bouncy interpretation of “Rhiannon,” and it’s nice to hear her doing something other than her lovesick little girl shtick; Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy turn in rich harmonies on “Storms;” the New Pornographers show a more downcast side on “Think About Me.” And in perhaps the album’s best moment, Lykke Li performs a devastatingly disconsolate version of “Silver Springs” that perfectly captures all the bitterness and betrayal of the original.
Just Tell Me is packed full at 17 tracks and nearly 80 minutes (inexplicably, “Go Your Own Way” isn’t among these covers); it’s during the second half where this sheer volume begins to reveal deficiencies. Starting with Washed Out’s techno/disco reworking (or gross dismantling, if you prefer) of “Straight Back” and ending with MGMT’s nine-minute version of “Future Games,” Fleetwood Mac is dubiously recast as a dance band. In between those two tracks, the other cuts are marginally inventive but even more so grating, with Craig Wedren and St. Vincent going belly up on a dub-heavy “Sister of the Moon” and the Crystal Ark doing their damndest to remind us that “Tusk” still isn’t a very good song. Points for trying, all around, but these experiments tend to sound contrived and, at worst, beyond pretentious.
A covers album that works from start to finish is rarer than hen’s teeth. Just Tell Me That You Want Me is unfortunately not it. It has its strengths though; there’s an ease with which a large segment of the record is executed and several tracks give listeners a chance to appreciate the band as a creative force and not just another “Behind the Music” soap opera. Almost too predictably, however, it suffers under the weight of its contributors’ pretentions and various artistic quirks, ultimately doing no justice to the band’s originals in an apparent attempt to beat certain songs into a shape that will never fit them.