Listening to 24 Karat Gold is like being caught in a time warp. Then is now, now is then, and the listener feels confronted by Stevie Nicks’ 1981 solo debut Bella Donna’s scandalous twin: the sister sent away for telling truths no one wanted known.
But time and truth have a way of not being denied. Ditto songs that yearn to be heard. And so Nicks, one of romance and gypsy mysticism’s great ciphers, returns to these songs of love left to die, romances unrealized and adventures that haunted her long after their end.
Written from 1967 through the mid-’00s, it is the chronicle of a wild heart that knew no caution and took the battering inherent to living amongst the outlaws. Advance press confirms these songs were inspired by Fleetwood Mac partners/former paramours Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley and good friend Tom Petty.
In the fraught wreckage of a life fully inhabited, if perhaps faithlessly shared, Nicks puts her angst outside her skin and stitches the songs up with Waddy Wachtel’s searing guitar lines, notably on the Petty homage “Hard Advice.” In many ways, Wachtel’s twisting sting and bass player Michael Rhodes’ melodic throb give these songs shape and offer presence.
But the real star is Nicks’ voice, every bit as throaty and suggestive as in her “Rhiannon”/”Edge of 17” heyday. Earthy and resonant, it teases on the gently undulating “Cathouse Blues,” sweeps wide-open across the luminous “Starshine” and haunts the lonesome piano-grounded “Lady.”
If “I Don’t Care” is an awkward lite-metal track that topples into pensive songwriter territory and “All The Beautiful Worlds” is a pretty-enough romp through a painfully self-conscious implosion, the ambitious “Mabel Normand” considers Nicks’ own storied addiction against the prism of an obscure ‘20s comedienne of that name.
And that is the challenge of this collection.
Nicks teams again with Dave Stewart, and the excesses are indulged to a lush extreme which doesn’t always serve her songs. While “Blue Water” feels like classic-if-generic SoCal ‘70s rock, with harmonies from country’s boy-girl-boy crossover Lady Antebellum, Mark Knopfler’s co-written “She Loves Him Still” is as gorgeous as any of Nicks’ signature ballads (“Landslide,” “Beautiful Child”), proving Nicks’ magic remains.
That’s the vexation and amazement of Gold’s frozen-in-amber reality. For as much as her acolytes wish they could twirl in chiffon scarves and platforms, few remain as ageless or beyond the clock as Nicks; in that gap ripples the nostalgia that stains these songs.