Mon 13th Jan 2014
Fleetwood Mac’s original songbird is to rejoin the band, and will bring optimism, beauty and bittersweet melancholia
When Mick Fleetwood announced to a Hawaii audience that Christine McVie would be rejoining Fleetwood Mac on a permanent basis, you couldn’t really argue with his assertion that it was the “the worst kept secret there is”. During an interview in December 2013, McVie surprised me by saying she would be “very delighted” to reclaim her place in the group she left in 1998. Not long after, Steve Nicks responded by telling Billboard that McVie “didn’t need to ask”. You hardly needed Hercule Poirot’s mobile number to work out what “woman wanting to rejoin a band” plus “band happy to let woman rejoin band” might equal.
Still, the fact that McVie, who turned 70 last year, wants to renounce a hermetic life in a mansion in Kent, which seemed to consist largely of cooking, gardening and looking after dogs, in favour of stepping back on the road with one of the best and most dysfunctional bands of all time is cause for celebration.
It’s pointless to talk about a “best” member of Fleetwood Mac, for without any of them the band are significantly depleted. But McVie was always my personal favourite. Compared to the other two songwriters – Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham – her songs had a simplicity and clarity to them. This was partly down to the fact her music stemmed from the blues she played growing up: Don’t Stop and Say You Love Me, the band’s first top 40 hit with the classic 1970s lineup, both get their momentum from what McVie terms “that left-hand boogie bass thing”.
But it was also down to her lyrics. Unlike Buckingham’s dark explorations of his soul or Nick’s balancing act between gritty relationship strife and mystical flights of fancy, McVie’s songs often bristled with optimism, at least on the surface. Don’t Stop, written off the back of an imploding marriage, is basically a message from McVie to her ex (bassist John McVie) telling him that everything will be fine in the future. Her songs showed how giddy she could become with love: a new partner would“make loving fun”, she’d want to be with them Everywhere and she’dtingle “right from my head to my toes”. Such cheery vibes seem astonishing when you consider how well the Mac traded in turmoil.
They never became twee, either, because that smokey falsetto of hers contained more than a trace of melancholy. At times it sang not just of love, but of an insecurity that came with falling in love: an overwhelming and potentially dangerous experience in several of McVie’s songs.
This is certainly the case in two of my favourite McVie compositions. Over My Head, from the band’s self-titled first album with Buckingham and Nicks, talks of a guy who can take her to paradise one minute, then be “cold as ice” the next. “I’m over my head,” she concludes, “but it sure feels nice.”
Honey Hi, from Tusk, their experimental followup to Rumours, begins innocently enough (“Honey, honey, honey / Who could be sweeter than you?”) but again McVie never seems fully secure, pleading: “Don’t take the love light away.” Her innate ability to write hits was matched with a charming inability to analyse them. “I think I’m just good with hooks,” she told me, which is rather like Heston Blumenthal revealing he can work a toaster unaided.
It is, of course, hard to say how McVie will adjust to life back with Fleetwood Mac (bacchanalian drug use might be a thing of the past, but a heavy touring schedule and long gigs most certainly aren’t) – although she has at least stayed out of the limelight for long enough to know that this is what she wants. And there can be no doubt as to whether her vocal chords are still up to it: from the very first note during her guest appearance with the band at London’s O2 back in September, McVie sounded as sweet and pure as the day she joined the band back in 1970.
That short performance will have reminded many Fleetwood Mac fans what they’ve been missing since McVie left. It’s a testament to the sheer song-power of the band that they could travel the globe in 2009, playing three-hour sets while virtually ignoring McVie’s canon, and you still wanted to hear more. But on their current tour, you would be forgiven for feeling that the shows were in need of an additional sprinkling of magic. Now the band have got their original songbird back, they won’t need to worry about that.