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BIG MAC IS BACK : Together Again for an Album, but for How Long?

June 14, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Leave Mick Fleetwood's cliffside home in Malibu at 11:30 most mornings and you can make it to the driveway of Lindsey Buckingham's modern, single-story house in Bel-Air by noon. Travel east on Sunset Boulevard--past the Beverly Hills Hotel and the lavishly landscaped estates of Coldwater Canyon--until you're at Christine McVie's two-story English manor. Figure 10 minutes.

Head east again on Sunset, beyond the Roxy and Tower Records, and a turn up the hill puts you at Stevie Nicks' split-level pad with its post-card view of the city. Fifteen minutes tops. Then it's just a quick trip across Laurel Canyon to John McVie's modest Spanish-style dwelling in North Hollywood. The whole trip: well under 90 minutes.

It sounds like it would be easy to get the five members of Fleetwood Mac together to make a record--but for most of the last five years, Warner Bros. Records execs wished that it were only that simple.

As time dragged on, there was widespread speculation throughout the record industry that the Big Mac (Over 40 Million Albums Sold) had finally disintegrated amid personal problems and conflicting career objectives. And there were tensions, band members acknowledged in separate interviews.

But Fleetwood Mac proved the skeptics wrong, rebounding in April with "Tango in the Night," an album that was greeted with strong reviews and encouraging sales. It's already in the Top 10 in the United States, Canada, England, Australia and West Germany. Promoters around the country are eager for a tour.

Yet "Tango in the Night" may be the Big Mac's last hurrah.

Buckingham, acknowledged by all parties to be the chief architect of the band's highly seductive sound, has been thinking for years about stepping out of Fleetwood Mac to concentrate on his promising solo career. The timing may finally be right.

"I would not have wanted to leave the group on the ambiguous note that (the 1982 album) 'Mirage' sounded," Buckingham said. "There were lots of things left hanging out on limbs . . . finances, emotions. I think there was also some pride at stake.

"This band has done some remarkable things and 'Mirage' was no way for it to say goodby. I think we had something to prove and we did it in the new album. So, it now feels like the time."

You could have got some handsome odds around town in recent years if you were willing to bet Fleetwood Mac would never see the Top 10 again.

After its "Rumours" album in 1977 established the band as one of the most successful rock acts ever, the quintet has had its share of lumps in the '80s.

Mick Fleetwood, "fired" as the group's manager after the 1979 "Tusk" tour, declared bankruptcy. John McVie spent two years drinking his boredom away on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Nicks' hectic schedule led to a chemical dependency that resulted in a visit last year to the Betty Ford Center. Lindsey Buckingham agonized over his role in the band.

But Fleetwood rejects the idea that these problems were major. He points to the earlier trials of the Big Mac, including the tempestuous "Rumours" recording sessions.

John and Christine McVie, longtime members of the band, as well as Buckingham and Nicks, who had joined just before the "Fleetwood Mac" album in 1975, both ended long-term relationships. The McVies were married and Buckingham and Nicks had lived together for four years. That resulted in extraordinary tensions in the studio.

Looking back on the months of "Rumours" recording, Fleetwood said: "That was an amazing time for all of us. I was going through a hell, too (a divorce), but I was spared the studio thing. . . . So, I have to be a little amused now when all our managers get together and act like there's some really difficult problem. If you want to talk about problems, we are the masters of it.

"Comparing most of the things that come up now to what we've gone through over the years is like telling a war veteran that you just broke your ankle crossing the street. That's no big deal to the war veteran. He's seen people's heads flying off."

With most bands, there is a single spokesperson who conveys an idyllic picture of life within the group. With Fleetwood Mac, however, there are five distinct personalities who often see things differently.

Each has enjoyed the spoils of success long enough to acquire the independence to speak his and her mind freely. This spirit is also reflected in their interaction. Each member has a separate manager and a separate set of priorities--one reason it took five years to get "Tango in the Night" on the shelves.

Drummer Fleetwood, an imposing 6-foot-6 Englishman with shoulder-length hair, co-founded the group in England in 1967 as a blues-accented unit and, with soft-spoken bassist John McVie, has kept it afloat all these years. He comes across as the elder statesman of the band, one who sees occasional skirmishes within the group as the normal actions of any "family." Of the five, he appears to worry most about the group's long-range plans.

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