By Hans Morgenstern
Over the course of the 38 years since the release of Fleetwood Mac's masterpiece, 1977's Rumours, the group's members have come and gone for a variety of reasons -- madness, romantic turmoil and creative tension chief among them. All the while, the rhythm section -- drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie -- has stuck it out.
Speaking by phone from a Dallas hotel room, Fleetwood says, "I will take some credit that I've always been, almost to the point of being obsessive, saying, 'We've got to keep going. We've got to keep going, dude.'"
The band is currently in the middle of a U.S. tour, appropriately titled On with the Show. Last year singer/keyboardist Christine McVie, former wife of the group's bassist, returned to the fold, finally re-creating the Fleetwood Mac from the height of its popularity between 1975 and 1987. There were reunions in the '90s, and even an official breakup from 1995 to 1997, but the band could never stay together long enough to create a new album.
"Not in a million years would we have ever thought, including Christine herself, that she would have ever been standing up there to my right, onstage, playing in this band again," Fleetwood admits. "It's a mythological situation that we have right now that is unfolding as we speak. The fact that we're even talking about making inroads to making new music with the absolute lineup of all five of us, alive and well -- with a few battle scars here and there -- is outrageously unique."
That's right, new music. Fleetwood claims he and his long-time partner in the rhythm section -- as well as guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham -- have been writing and recording fresh material for the past four years now. "Lindsey has a really great stash of stuff," the drummer says of Buckingham, who entered the band in 1974 and quit in '87.
Some of these unreleased songs have made the occasional setlist during recent tours, but there has not been a full-length Fleetwood Mac studio effort since 2003's Say You Will. That was the first album since 1970's Kiln House that did not feature any writing by Christine McVie, who retired from the band in '98. Now back at the keyboard, McVie has contributed new music and is co-writing with Buckingham.
"Lindsey purposely didn't finish off several ideas and very much half-formed pieces of music, and they worked on them together, with great results," Fleetwood offers.
So Fleetwood Mac not only has fresh material by the guys in the band, but by McVie, too. He does not mention Stevie Nicks, who has been a steady member since the group reformed in 1997. Nicks wrote music and lyrics for the last album and took over the live performance of McVie's vocal parts during her absence. Listening to Fleetwood, it sounds as if a new collection of songs is not far off.
"I very much hope that at some point in our busy schedule that this cauldron, if you like, of unfinished material will come to its conclusion and become part of what I hope is something that will be put out certainly within the next year or thereabouts," he says.
A new full-length album from the classic lineup -- much like another tour starring Fleetwood, both McVies, Buckingham and Nicks -- seemed impossible, even a couple of years ago. For the past decade, Fleetwood Mac had become a band touring on greatest hits while offering occasional obscure treats for the hardcore fans. And it seemed reissues were probably the only upcoming projects for Mick and company.
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Indeed, the group's most recent major release is a "super deluxe" version of Rumours, which came out in early 2013. The repackaging included a 30-minute promo film produced in 1977, a concert recording from the album's original tour, two discs worth of outtakes and demos, and a vinyl version of the record. "It is really gratifying as an artist, quite frankly, to have a box set on vinyl, beautifully mastered, with extra bits and pieces and pictures and stuff that they find," Fleetwood beams.
Asked whether 1982's Mirage, with its hits "Hold Me" and "Gypsy," and 1987's Tango in the Night, which spawned "Everywhere" and "Seven Wonders," will get equivalent reissues, Fleetwood says he thinks so, but he ultimately defers to the record label.
"We don't have a hell of a lot to do with it, apart from we always love it when our old record company, Warner Bros., decides to do something like that." However, should these box sets happen, the drummer adds, he will be ready to dig through the archives once again. "Hopefully, we'll find outtakes and bits and pieces for all of those albums."
The cynic will look at these "super deluxe" versions as a cash grab, but while reflecting on the band's history, Fleetwood more than once says he is amazed by how quickly time has passed, and that these sort of releases remind him of things that would have otherwise been forgotten. He especially adores seeing photographs of the period in such collections. And he enjoys talking about the past.
But even amid the archive diving and retrospective reissues, Fleetwood Mac produced a little fresh material in the four-song, Buckingham- and Nicks-penned EP Extended Play, released in 2013. Now, with McVie in place and Fleetwood teasing the possibility of a full-length studio effort from the group's classic lineup, this infamously tumultuous and famously brilliant rock ensemble just might have entered an unexpected, late-career period of peace, calm and productivity.
"I would have never have thought that we would have come full circle like this. I'm in heaven, for sure," admits Fleetwood. "In my humble opinion, anyone and everyone in this band is singing and playing better than we've ever done, and the consistency is something that is showing very loud and clear. I'm a pretty good old judge because I'm sitting back there on the drums watching all of this unfold, and it's pretty amazing."
Fleetwood Mac 8 p.m. Friday, March 27. Scottrade Center, 1401 Clark Avenue. $76.50 to $176.50. 314-241-1888.
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