Mirage holds a strange place in the Fleetwood Mac discography. A major hit that sold over two million copies, the album spawned two of the band’s signature tracks in “Gypsy” and “Hold Me.” These two songs also ushered the band into the video age, but, as Mick Fleetwood has said more recently, those songs “became more memorable than the album as a whole.” Despite its commercial success, Mirage was generally dismissed by critics, and Rolling Stone would go on to state that “the band seems to have lost its spirit.” Veteran critic Robert Christgau would declare that he was “alternately charmed by its craft and offended by its banality.”

The rerelease of Mirage is an opportunity to reassess the work and see if it’s aged gracefully, and to better understand how it fits into the band’s catalog. It’s true that the album was one of the band’s least focused efforts. The last time they had been in the studio together was almost three years earlier for Tusk. Since then, they’d completed a long, grueling world tour that only heightened already existing inter-band tensions. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham each launched solo careers (as did Mick Fleetwood, though his was more of a side project), with Nicks’ Bella Donna becoming especially successful and casting a shadow over the Mirage recording sessions. So, in retrospect, it’s not hard to see why the band was in no hurry to make a new album, a situation addressed, in part, on the Nicks-written “Straight Back”.

Nicks’ other two writing credits, “Gypsy” and the charming-but-out-of-place country song “That’s Alright,” were older tracks not written for Mirage. Elsewhere, Buckingham’s “Eyes of the World” recycles the guitar riff from “Stephanie” on his 1973 pre-Mac Buckingham Nicks album, adding to the air of contract fulfillment. The rest of his selections are uneven and stylistically all over the place, ranging from the filler of “Empire State” to ‘50s retro on “Oh Diane” and “Book of Love” and crisp modern pop on “Can’t Go Back”.

Even Christine McVie’s cuts, a group of well-crafted, blissed-out love songs largely inspired by her recent romance with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, contain echoes of past songs. “Only Over You” is not too distant in tone from the earlier “Over My Head” and “Over and Over” (creating an “Over” trilogy of sorts), and the album’s final track, “Wish You Were Here,” is a piano-based ballad functioning like the similar Rumours closer “Songbird.”

As to the outtakes and early versions on this reissue, each song is represented by just one accompanying alternate and is sequenced in the same order as the original album with a few previously unreleased session songs mixed in. As a result this bonus disc can be listened to in part as an alternate Mirage. Quite a few additional versions of most tracks have circulated for years and hardcore fans who have all the bootlegs may have made other choices. Because, on the whole, the alternate versions here aren’t drastically different from the final mixes. They feel more like a glimpse of the band trying slightly different approaches in the studio and behind the control booth; a little more percussion here, a different guitar mix there.

The main exceptions to this are an instrumental sketch based on “Can’t Go Back” called “Suma’s Walk” and a version of “Hold Me” that is markedly different from the album track. This early “Hold Me” shows just how significant Buckingham’s touch was in the evolution of the song. Starting life as a likable but unremarkable composition by McVie and singer-songwriter Robbie Patton, it’s transformed into a pop masterpiece by the time it reaches the album via a lyrics rewrite, prominent Buckingham co-vocals and a Buckingham guitar solo that’s a marvel of economy, phrasing and melody.

The leftover songs from the Mirage sessions—some of which have seen previous release on The Chain box set or as B-sides—are all nicely collected in one place on this deluxe reissue. There’s the extended video mix of “Gypsy,” the old cowboy song “Cool Water” (which has a rare lead vocal from bass player John McVie) and the fiery instrumental “Teen Beat.” Nicks’ “Smile at You” was resurrected for 2003’s Say You Will, while her “If You Were My Love,” McVie’s “Put a Candle in the Window” and a loose band cover of Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday” get their first official appearances. These tracks are a mixed bag and, with the exception of Buckingham’s wistful “Goodbye Angel,” would have been out of place on Mirage, so were rightly left off.

The deluxe edition also includes a portion of a typical show from the 1982 tour for the album—a tour that drove home the fact that the band wanted to get the whole Mirage experience over and done with. On the road for just two months, they only performed four songs from the album (three of which are here). Fleetwood Mac didn’t surface again until Tango in the Night, five years later; at the time the longest break since their founding in 1967.

Yet, it’s funny how time can change our perception of things. Recent press surrounding the reissue holds Mirage in much higher critical esteem than it enjoyed when first released. The album, or at least it’s handful of hits, have been in the pop consciousness for over 30 years now. It’s also one of the only Mac albums relatively free of angst or drama. It may not be one of their best, but it shows that a Fleetwood Mac album, despite the high standard the band is held to, doesn’t have to attempt a grand or even a unified statement to be enjoyable. Listening to Mirage is akin to sinking into a warm bath, a familiar and soothing experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Bargain Bin Babylon: Silver: Silver

Silver's self-titled album remains a solid slice of radio-friendly country rock and an enj…