Reissued and Revisited: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac: Tango in the Night

Jun 14, 2017 By Frank Valish Web Exclusive
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It's tempting to cast aside Fleetwood Mac's 1987 album Tango in the Night in discussion of important and impactful Fleetwood Mac albums. Arguably, the band's best days were behind it. The group that formed as a blues combo led by the guitar genius Peter Green had morphed into the pop-rock multi-million sellers of Rumours. Lindsay Buckingham changed the game with the experimental Tusk, but the band's next album, 1982's Mirage tried in vain to recapture the band's Rumours heyday. By then, Stevie Nicks already had an extremely successful solo career, and even Buckingham had branched out on his own, with his first two solo endeavors, 1981's Law and Order and 1984's Go Insane. It easily could have been that Fleetwood Mac had run its course. The self-avowed return to form, Mirage, while spawning three hit singles, did not live up to the artistic merits of its predecessors. What more was there to accomplish?

Unlike previous Fleetwood Mac albums, Tango in the Night is very much a Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie album. Whereas Tusk before it was for all intents and purposes a Buckingham project, and Mirage seemed more balanced, Tango in the Night marries Buckingham's studio wizardry and boundary-pushing aesthetic with McVie's songwriting, which brings the album its brilliant melodic pop touch in songs like "Everywhere," "Little Lies," and "Isn't It Midnight." Never before had McVie, an enchanting songwriter with a blues background and more delicate melodic touch on previous Mac records, come out so pop in sensibility. Stevie Nicks, who was largely absent during the sessions due to personal issues, doesn't arrive full-force until the album's ninth track, the rehab-inspired "Welcome to the Room...Sara." [Yes, she sings the album's second song, the big hit single, "Seven Wonders," but it's a song she didn't write.] "Welcome to the Room...Sara" is distinctively Nicks', with its mystical lyrics and ethereal, witchy pop melodicism.

Buckingham's fingerprints are all over the album. In many ways, Tango in the Night is much like Tusk before it, with Buckingham taking the reins of a band that was suffering internal strife and molding it in directions Fleetwood Mac didn't naturally go. "Caroline" opens with very "Tusk"-ian rhythms and morphs into a gentle fingerpicked guitar-driven verse with world music rhythms returning for the chorus. "Tango in the Night" ups the ante, a mix of ethereal soundscape and furious percussive march. Of course, as seems to be the case with '80s Buckingham-led Fleetwood Mac, there's a track that hasn't worn well with time, and in this case it's the skittering "Family Man," with the chorus that finds Buckingham singing "I am what I am" in echoed vocal, followed by a deep voice intoning the title phrase and a list of different family members (father, mother, brother).

The album closes with "When I See You Again," a perfect heartache ballad written by Nicks (the song, one of Nicks' strongest, is criminally near-hidden at the back end of this album) and "You and I, Part II," a Buckingham/McVie composition that combines the best of what both songwriters brought to Tango in the Night, wrapped up in a blissfully catchy tune.

After Tango in the Night was completed, Buckingham left the band, and Fleetwood Mac chose to tour the album without him. For perhaps just this reason, the live material that has been featured as extras on previous Mac deluxe reissues, is not present here (although immersing oneself in Tango in the Night makes one morbidly curious about those performances). As such, the deluxe reissue here contains precious few extras worth their salt. A second disc of demos, b-sides, and instrumentals is essential for tracks like "Where We Belong," a Buckingham/McVie track that doesn't appear on the album proper, and a demo of Nicks' "Ooh My Love," which didn't see the light until a vastly different version appeared on Nicks' 1989 solo album, The Other Side of the Mirror. A third disc features remixes and dub versions of five of the album's tracks, the CD totaling 14 tracks with multiple remixes of each cut. For as good as the album and its demos/b-sides are, this remix CD is difficult listening (imagine an '80s Fleetwood Mac club night). A fourth disc collects videos for the album's 5 singles.  

Ultimately, Tango in the Night holds up well to time and situates itself well among Fleetwood Mac's back catalog. Upon re-examination, 30 years on, its artistic merits exceed what you will remember from a catchy hit single or two. Yet it's still obvious that Fleetwood Mac was on the downswing by Tango in the Night. It's next album, 1990's Behind the Mask did not even include Buckingham. And it would be 10 more years until the band reunited with the spectacular The Dance. But as such, Tango in the Night is a terrific last gasp, that of a band still experimenting, still heralding a great pop melody, and clinging still, one last time, to one another.



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June 15th 2017

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