[12 August 2012]
Given the mythos created by the band’s in-fighting, love affairs, and line-up changes over the span of four-plus decades, it’s little wonder that young people continue to discover Fleetwood Mac in karaoke bars and in their parents’ dens after blowing off dust on hardly-played LP records. By including several indie contemporaries alongside already-established rock and roll heroes, Just Tell Me That You Want Me will likely provide yet another way for both younger and more nostalgic generations to connect with Fleetwood Mac’s back catalog.
Just Tell Me That You Want Me leads off with “Albatross” by the Lee Ranaldo Band with a little help from J Mascis, proof that Fleetwood Mac’s corpus is in very capable hands throughout the album. Although the spooky, instrument cover from Fleetwood Mac’s earliest incarnation is beautifully done, one wonders why the “day-job” bands of Ranaldo and Mascis didn’t contribute to the compilation—can you imagine Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr. working through renditions “Go Your Own Way” or “Say That You Love Me?”
Unsurprisingly, Billy Gibbons & Co.’s offering, the Peter Green-penned “Oh Well” is one of the better tracks to grace the collection. The veteran ZZ Top guitarist offers a slowed-down, sludged-up rendition of the song that retains the bluesy texture of the original while still managing to sound fresh. Gibbons’ selection is a natural one, but it’s done with just enough panache to both honor and reinvent the song, breathing new life into the iconic lead guitar and vocal parts while still keeping the melody recognizable.
Although the song is perhaps one of Fleetwood Mac’s most widely-recognized tracks, it is still surprising that “Landslide” makes an appearance. The Smashing Pumpkins, the Dixie Chicks, and Tori Amos have already adequately covered the song, and there’s nothing particularly novel about Antony’s cover of the song written and sung by Nicks on the Mac’s self-titled 1975 release. Antony’s offering isn’t bad by any criteria, it’s just unnecessary and could’ve been substituted by another track of equal or higher quality. Best Coast’s treatment of “Rhiannon” is also a misfire, but for altogether different reasons. As good as her playful performance of the song may be, it still comes off as being a mockery of the much-celebrated tune, sounding far too much like the original recording to warrant its inclusion on a tribute like Just Tell Me That You Want Me.
The New Pornographers find a way rework “Think About Me” in fun, upbeat ways without being ridiculous, another gem on the tribute. Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s stripped-down acoustic cover of “Storms” from Tusk is even better, providing further evidence that there are no slouches on this collection. Although Nicks handled the lead vocals magnificently in the original, the crooning found on this version by two men works just as well.
“Straight Back”, “Tusk”, and “Future Games” are given electro-pop treatment on the second-half of the tracklisting, which gives the impression that the disparate genres were compartmentalized at least semi-consciously on the compilation. The layers of synthetic sound work well on Washed Out’s “Straight Back” and the Crystal Ark’s treatment of “Tusk”—the vocal harmonies on this particular track are performed in the spirit of Buckingham-Nicks while the rhythm section is surpassingly pleasant without big-band percussion—but not so much for MGMT’s “Future Games”. The swirling, spacey sounds that round out the album are fun, but the essence of the song is almost totally lost. It’s bold, but perhaps too bold to be called a tribute.
The most disappointing thing about the compilation, however, isn’t what’s included on the album—it’s what is noticeably absent from the tracklisting. To be sure, the essentials from Mac’s 1977’s Rumors are included here. The bases (“Gold Dust Woman” by Karen Elson and “Dreams” by the Kills) are adequately covered, but cuts like “The Chain” and “I Don’t Want to Know” could have easily replaced some of the lesser-known songs from Fleetwood Mac’s repertoire included on the album. But these omissions don’t render the tribute album an unsuccessful one. The choice to even out the songs throughout Fleetwood Mac’s existence is a good move, one that will surely inspire fans of the group’s many different to get ahold of the collection of songs included on Just Tell Me That You Want Me.