Besides squeezing out endless cash wads from the wallets of music buyers (an ever-diminishing breed), what’s the point of a fancy-ass remastered deluxe box-set reissue? In the case of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 pop masterstroke Rumours, it’s a question especially worth asking.
It’s almost impossible to improve, sonically, on one of the warmest, richest recordings in the history of pop music. As a studio document—in terms of engineering, production and performance—Rumours is in the elite company of Dark Side of the Moon and Aja: albums with fidelity as high-class as the songs themselves. This new remaster gives each instrument a more crisp, modern definition, particularly on headphones: Check out Mick Fleetwood’s punchy hi-hat and snare on “Second Hand News,” Lindsey Buckingham’s punchier acoustic strums in the left channel of “Dreams,” the more prominent vocal echo during “Go Your Own Way.” But are these “improvements” necessary? Probably not.
This 35th anniversary package (It’s actually been 36 years) is stuffed to the brim with extras, most of which already showed up on the 2004 double-disc reissue. But they’re still marvelous: Stevie Nicks ballad “Silver Springs” is the most transcendent b-side ever recorded; Fleetwood Mac were so on fire during this fertile stretch that they didn’t even bother tacking it on to the actual album. The early run-throughs and demos are illuminating—proof that some of the greatest pop songs start off as silly doodles with gibberish melodies: On “Second Hand News,” Buckingham mumbles his way through about 20 percent of the lyrics (“Let me do my stuff” was the focal point, even in this unfinished version), as the band pitter-patters unobtrusively behind him. On an early version of “I Don’t Want to Know,” Buckingham and company are figuring out the track in real time, with Buckingham giving transitional cues (“Verse!”).
The most revelatory moment is the “acoustic duet” version of “Never Going Back Again,” which is hardly a “duet” since it features brushed drums, congas, piano, a delayed lead guitar figure and three-part vocal harmonies. It’s the maximalist flip-side to the original’s stripped-down simplicity. On the other side of the “essential” coin is “Mic the Screecher,” in which Fleetwood conjures nails-on-chalkboard screeches over aimless piano chords.
Live tracks from the ‘77 Rumours World Tour are worth seeking out for dedicated fans (especially a ripping take on “Monday Morning,” which harnesses more primal energy in its folky strut), even if none approach the quality of their studio counterparts: “Dreams” is played far too fast, losing its sexy, mystical voodoo; Buckingham’s blaring, out-of-tune guitar on “The Chain” is a distracting deal-breaker. A better live document is the “Rosebud Film,” a previously unreleased mixture of concert footage and chatty interviews. It captures the band in all their late ‘70s glory: Buckingham, the afro-glam prince; Nicks, the witchy heartthrob; McVie, the elegant shadow-lurker; Fleetwood, the bearded class clown; McVie, the groove monster in awkwardly short jean-shorts.
In one particularly great scene, Nicks describes the band’s hodge-podge fashion: “I know sometimes we look like—you know, Lindsey’s all Chinese’d-out in his kimona, and I look like I’m going to a Halloween party, and Christine looks like she’s going to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and Mick looks like he’s going to a Renaissance fair, and John looks like he’s going to the beach.”
That unique blend of heavy and playful, mystical and muscular—it was never as potent as it was on Rumours. If there’s ever been an album that deserves the lavish, borderline-unnecessary reissue treatment, it’s this pop behemoth.