Listening to Mirage is akin to sinking into a warm bath, a familiar and soothing experience.
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 bandâs signature tracks in âGypsyâ and âHold Me.â These two songs also ushered the band into the video age, but, as Mick Fleetwood has said more recently, those songs âbecame more memorable than the album as a whole.â Despite its commercial success, Mirage was generally dismissed by critics, and Rolling Stone would go on to stateÂ that âthe band seems to have lost its spirit.â Veteran critic Robert Christgau would declareÂ that he was âalternately charmed by its craft and offended by its banality.â
The rerelease of Mirage is an opportunity to reassess the work and see if itâs aged gracefully, and to better understand how it fits into the bandâs catalog. Itâs true that the album was one of the bandâs least focused efforts. The last time they had been in the studio together was almost three years earlier for Tusk. Since then, theyâd 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 Nicksâ Bella Donna becoming especially successful and casting a shadow over the Mirage recording sessions. So, in retrospect, itâs 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 âStraight Backâ.
Nicksâ other two writing credits, âGypsyâ and the charming-but-out-of-place country song âThatâs Alright,â were older tracks not written for Mirage. Elsewhere, Buckinghamâs âEyes of the Worldâ recycles the guitar riff from âStephanieâ 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 âEmpire Stateâ to â50s retro on âOh Dianeâ and âBook of Loveâ and crisp modern pop on âCanât Go Backâ.
Even Christine McVieâs 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. âOnly Over Youâ is not too distant in tone from the earlier âOver My Headâ and âOver and Overâ (creating an âOverâ trilogy of sorts), and the albumâs final track, âWish You Were Here,â is a piano-based ballad functioning like the similar Rumours closer âSongbird.â
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 arenât 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 âCanât Go Backâ called âSumaâs Walkâ and a version of âHold Meâ that is markedly different from the album track. This early âHold Meâ shows just how significant Buckinghamâs touch was in the evolution of the song. Starting life as a likable but unremarkable composition by McVie and singer-songwriter Robbie Patton, itâs 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 thatâs a marvel of economy, phrasing and melody.
The leftover songs from the Mirage sessionsâsome of which have seen previous release on The Chain box set or as B-sidesâare all nicely collected in one place on this deluxe reissue. Thereâs the extended video mix of âGypsy,â the old cowboy song âCool Waterâ (which has a rare lead vocal from bass player John McVie) and the fiery instrumental âTeen Beat.â Nicksâ âSmile at Youâ was resurrected for 2003âs Say You Will, while her âIf You Were My Love,â McVieâs âPut a Candle in the Windowâ and a loose band cover of Fats Dominoâs âBlue Mondayâ get their first official appearances. These tracks are a mixed bag and, with the exception of Buckinghamâs wistful âGoodbye Angel,â 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 albumâa 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 didnât surface again until Tango in the Night, five years later; at the time the longest break since their founding in 1967.
Yet, itâs 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 itâs handful of hits, have been in the pop consciousness for over 30 years now. Itâs 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, doesnât 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.