Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ still impressive 35 years later

I was born to my parents when they were thirty years old, which means that they were as old as I am now when Fleetwood Mac released “Rumours,” their eleventh and most epochal record. Selling over forty million copies — at one point moving over 800,000 per week — and garnering critical acclaim for its technically proficient production and excellent music arrangements, the album is now recognized as a milestone for pop music in the late 1970s. It has now been reissued in a lavish box set, giving critics from all music publications a perfect excuse to reaffirm its already-established greatness.

On first listen, if the listener is not equipped with liner notes or perhaps an online lyrics sheet, she or he will think this album as a relatively breezy and glossy pop record. There would be considerable justification for this, as attested by the smooth vocal harmonies, elegant guitar breaks, and catchy melodies. Listening to “Rumours” often feels like basking in the sunshine, with none of the jagged edges often found in contemporary punk rock or funk. When the guitars are electrified, as in a brief solo in opening track “Second Hand News,” they sound crisp. The more folky acoustic songs brim with pretty chords. Bass and percussion are de-emphasized in favor of accessible tunes, particularly in the perennial radio favorite “Go Your Own Way.” Some of the songs toy with putting on some sonic weight, as hints of a seductive beat show up in “You Make Loving Fun,” but for the most part “Rumours” keeps it light.

At least, the arrangements and instrumentation are light. Produced in a morass of romantic turmoil and interpersonal strife, the album mainly features songs relating stories of heartbreak and separation. That shiny opening track — ”Second Hand News” — is pleasant to the ear but the lyrics beg to differ.

Vocalist and lyricist Lindsey Buckingham opens the song by lamenting “I know there’s nothing to say/ Someone has taken my place.” From there, songwriters Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie express their bitterness and let listeners in on some of the personal dramatics that made for press fodder back in 1977.

Another affecting track that comes near the middle of the record — it was the beginning of Side Two when it was originally on vinyl — is “The Chain,” a song produced by a collaborative effort from Buckingham, McVie, Nicks and even drummer Mick Fleetwood. It is the only such song on the album, with the rest being composed by one of the band members. Its sound is layered, founded on a solid rock bass progression and built up with guitar solos, banjo riffs and keyboards. It features some of the most solid songwriting on the album, using few words in a highly expressive way.

“And if you don’t love me/ You will never love me again/I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.” This refrain sounds more insistent each time it is repeated.

While its music has had any hint of an edge sanded down, “Rumours” has its own bittersweet atmosphere. At times it keeps too closely to middle-of-the-road guitar pop for its own good, but the quality of the music and especially the recorded vocal performances sell even less impressive songs. Much imitated and long adored, Fleetwood Mac’s best-selling album is certainly worth giving a close inspection.