Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:27 November 2020
Lovers of fine art know that strange but thrilling feeling of looking at an x-ray of a famous painting and seeing an early version underneath. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is the most well-known example. That combination of familiarity and strangeness can often bring a new appreciation of a well-known work. So it is with the 2020 RSD release of “Alternate Rumours”, an assembly of early, demo, and alternate takes from Fleetwood Mac’s most famous album.
For those people—perhaps as many as a dozen or two, worldwide—unfamiliar with Rumours, it was the 1977 planet-conquering LP that made the UK/American band the biggest musical thing ever, for a bit. We covered Rumours at the Discrepancy blog here, if you’d like a refresher.
So, after you have enjoyed the alternate cover—a different image from the same photo shoot—what does this musical x-ray of Rumours show? First and foremost, it demonstrates what an outstanding collection of songs the band put together for their second release following the arrival of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. And technically, the quality of these “works in progress” recordings is very good, though those with keen ears will note the overall mastering volume is lower while many of the vocals are further back in the mix.
Album opener “Second Hand News” demonstrates both these trends, while pushing John McVie’s bass somewhat higher. Buckingham’s vocals are not multi-tracked, so sound a little thinner—and more immediate—as a result. The guitar part in the song’s ending is yet to be added. After Buckingham, we have Nicks. Her “Dreams” is stripped back and sounds quite different; it’s Stevie with the rhythm section: drums, bass and basic electric piano. There are no harmonies nor vocal additions and, most notably, those deliciously subtle Buckingham guitar fills are absent.
“Never Going Back Again” is a delight: a vocal duet with a quite different guitar part. “Go Your Own Way” sounds rougher (in a good way) but the absence of Buckingham’s clever twin-speaker guitar solo and tearing lead-out are a shock. The biggest surprise, though, is the acoustic demo of “The Chain”. This is an almost entirely different song; over a strummed acoustic guitar, Stevie Nicks sings a lament totally at odds with Buckingham’s raging storm on the finished album. Worth the price of admission on its own, this one!
To analyse every song would deny Mac fans the delight of discovering variations themselves on this “alternate” version of an old friend. So let’s return to the painting comparison. No-one ever said “Oh, I wish Leonardo da Vinci had stuck with that demo Mona Lisa, let’s scrape away the finished picture”. The final incarnation is rightly the one we revere. Same thing here. While Alternate Rumours is a most entertaining diversion, shining a different light on both the songs and the production process, the end result is that we return to the original LP and hear it for the classic it is. Stimulated by a glance behind the curtain we return to the audience to enjoy the highly polished end-product of the artist’s hard work.
© 2020 Bruce Jenkins