By Richard Bienstock
20th Sept, 2016
Ahead of new reissue, drummer talks “wild and romantic” France sessions, opulent video shoots and more
“I don’t think it would be wrong to say it sort of got overlooked,” says Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood, reminiscing about his band’s 1982 album, Mirage, which will be reissued in a deluxe package via Warner Bros. on September 23rd. It’s something of an odd statement to make about a record that charted at Number One on the Billboard 200, spawned multiple hit singles and went on to sell more than three million copies. Of course, when you’re in Fleetwood Mac, the definition of what constitutes success is relative.
The album, the band’s 13th studio effort overall and fourth to feature singer Stevie Nicks and singer/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham alongside longtime members Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and singer/keyboardist Christine McVie, came on the heels of one of the more impressive runs in rock: the lineup’s smash 1975 “debut,” Fleetwood Mac; the now-more-than-40-million-selling follow-up, Rumours; and the sprawling and sonically adventurous Buckingham-helmed double–LP Tusk (a commercial “failure” that still managed to move several million copies). By the time the band reconvened for Mirage in May 1981, they had been off the road for close to a year, during which time three members had recorded – but not yet released – solo albums (Buckingham’s Law and Order, Fleetwood’s The Visitor and Nicks’ eventual chart-topping, multi-platinum Bella Donna). That time apart, combined with the tensions that had been brought on by the experimental nature of the Tusk album, left them ready to recapture a bit of the old Rumours magic, so to speak.
“There’s no doubt that having come off Tusk there was a conscious effort to make Mirage into more of a band album,” Fleetwood says. “Because Tusk had been very much Lindsey’s vision. And it was a great one – along with [1969’s] Then Play On, it’s probably my favorite Fleetwood Mac album. So it was a highly successful creative moment. But at the time we took some blows for it, and Lindsey in particular, because the album wasn’t as successful as Rumours. How could it be, anyhow? But that being beside the point, I think Lindsey sort of handed back the mantle on Mirage. It was, ‘Let’s just do this as a band.’ That was the vibe going into it.”
The result was an album that, if judged by its two hit singles – Christine McVie’s buoyant “Hold Me” and Stevie Nicks’ somewhat autobiographical “Gypsy” – seemed to represent something of a step back to the concise, sharp-focus pop-rock that had characterized Rumours and Fleetwood Mac. Indeed, says Fleetwood, “If you were a sort of super-intellectual critic, which is maybe not a great place to come from, it would be fair game to say the album kind of went backwards.” But, he adds, “Having said that, the amazing thing is that, looking back on it now, in the present day, so many of those songs are at a very high level in the continuing story of Fleetwood Mac.”
All the more reason, then, to revisit Mirage now. The new three-CD-plus-DVD deluxe package presents the original 12-track album in remastered form, along with one disc of B sides, outtakes and rarities, and another that collects 13 songs from two nights at the Forum in Los Angeles during the band’s 1982 Mirage U.S. tour. Also included is a vinyl copy of the album and a DVD of the original collection in 5.1 surround sound (additionally, there are two-CD, single-disc and digital download versions available). “The fact that we’re talking about it again is actually really cool,” Fleetwood says of Mirage. “Because we ended up making a far better album than we gave ourselves credit for for many years.”
They also made an album that is more varied and quirky than it gets credit for. In addition to the two hit singles, there’s plenty more of the sort of expertly crafted soft rock the band had become known for by that point, such as Christine McVie–penned tracks like “Only Over You” and the propulsive opener (and minor hit) “Love in Store.” But there’s also the brittle electro-pop of Buckingham’s “Empire State” and lilting country-folk of Nicks’ “That’s Alright,” the latter a holdover from the Buckingham Nicks days a decade earlier. Furthermore, unlike the lineup’s three previous efforts, which were recorded mostly in and around California, Fleetwood Mac, along with Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut (who co-produced with Buckingham and the band), tracked Mirage largely in France, at the famed Château d’Hérouville, outside of Paris. Explains Fleetwood of the change of scenery, “My recollect was I asked the band if I could record overseas to help me out with some tax issues. And very kindly they did that. But in truth, knowing me, I think the main purpose of it was to get them the hell out of L.A. so that we could make an album without imploding.”
The band’s new environs offered up a different sort of vibe than the Southern California studios they were used to calling home. “We were at the Château, which was an historic place,” Fleetwood recalls. “If you look it up, you’ll see that some incredible shit was done there – [Elton John’s] Honky Chateau and all that. A whole load of people had recorded there. So it was an amazing place. It was wild and romantic. It’s a mansion in the French countryside, with cooks and food and wine, you know?” He laughs. “I personally had probably too much fun. I used to go into Paris every weekend and misbehave and come back for work on Monday morning. But it accomplished what we needed, and, all joking aside, the fact that we were in France and we were in the middle of nowhere, truly I think it had great value.”
The band’s choice of location for recording their music wasn’t the only aspect of Mirage that showed Fleetwood Mac breaking with their past. They also explored new avenues in terms of how they offered up that music for public consumption. Mirage was released in June of 1982, less than a year after the launch of MTV. As a legacy band that had often proved surprisingly adaptable to current trends, Fleetwood Mac embraced the music-video age to great success. So much so, that, rather than merely mimic playing their songs in the clips, as most artists did in the network’s earliest days, Fleetwood Mac opted to take on acting roles. The first single from Mirage, “Hold Me,” came complete with a storyline that showed the band frolicking in the Mojave Desert, with Fleetwood and John McVie playing archeologists who excitedly stumble upon a cache of buried guitars and other musical instruments. The elaborate clip for “Gypsy,” meanwhile, had the distinction of being the most expensive music video ever produced at the time. “I’m really glad we made it,” Fleetwood says, “even though it cost a fortune for us.”
As for the shoots themselves, the directors of the videos for both “Hold Me” and “Gypsy” have since discussed the fact that the band’s well-publicized and mythologized romantic entanglements led to some uncomfortable moments on the sets. Fleetwood, however, says he doesn’t recall as much. “I don’t have huge memory of any gossipy things happening,” he says. “But the amount of pain we were used to going through, maybe it was noticeable. Although we had an uncanny ability to suck it up. But ‘Gypsy’ especially, it’s interesting because they’re featuring Lindsey and Stevie dancing in it and you’re going, ‘This is quite profound. …’ It was like, ‘Wow, that’s a scene!'”
He continues: “In general, though, we were really professional, and I believe from memory we were all hugely cooperative and into [doing the videos], really. There was no ‘I don’t wanna fucking do that,’ one-shot-and-we’re-out-of-there type stuff. And the directors, they were young filmmakers with big budgets, and they seemed quite conversant with handling lunacy. So they were fun days.” Fleetwood laughs. “I mean, to me everything was fun because I was having a party 24/7. So it didn’t really fucking matter! But I think we were good candidates for that sort of thing.”
It would seem that Fleetwood Mac were in fact very good candidates for that sort of thing, as both “Hold Me” and “Gypsy” became staples on MTV, helping the band to achieve two of the biggest hits of their career. In fact, Fleetwood now acknowledges that “those songs became more memorable than the album as a whole. And that’s sort of an unusual slant.
“Mirage is part of our history,” he continues, “and as the band heads no doubt to a wind-down of some description in the next few years ahead, I think these types of cataloging events are important. Because it’s certainly not an album to be discarded. And now this little project is representing it, and giving it measured and investigated amounts of kudos. That’s a good thing.”