Stevie Nicks is back and she's still singing about angels, gypsies, and Lindsey Buckingham.
Everyone wishes that their favorite artist or band would release a rarities album filled with unreleased songs, B-sides, and other hidden gems. With 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, that is exactly what Stevie Nicks fans gets, an album composed of reworked, and in some cases, completely reimagined demos, some dating as far back as the late '60s. And despite this collection being composed of songs recorded at different periods in time, it’s still a surprisingly cohesive and unified album that is as much a part of Stevie Nicks’ canon as are beloved albums like Bella Donna and The Wild Heart.
Although it is a distinctly Stevie Nicks experience, certain songs on 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault do borrow from other bands, and/or popular musical styles from the time they were originally recorded. With its glam infused blues sound, lead track "Starshine" is reminiscent of early '70s Rolling Stones, and its eerily easy to envision Mick Jagger singing along with Stevie. "Mabel Normand" has that patented Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pop-rock sound to it that adds an intriguing dimension to Nicks’ hauntingly vivid lyrics. Adding to the diverse nature of the album is "Twisted", a song that sounds better suited for the adult contemporary charts of 1995.
Not only is it a refreshingly eclectic sounding album, it’s still one that is wholly and uniquely Stevie Nicks. Amongst the decade spanning diverse sounds, reminiscent of other bands, Nicks even finds time to include other artists on this album. Lady Antebellum provides backing vocals on "Blue Water", as well as a superb cover of Vanessa Carlton’s "Carousel", which deals with the uncontrollable passing of time, something that Nicks’ lyrics have dealt with for over 40 years now.
One of the album highlights, "She Still Loves Him", features one of the most poignant and underrated collaborations of her career with music and a melody written by Dire Straits member Mark Knopfler. "She Still Loves Him" answers the question of "What Stevie Nicks album would be complete without a love song to Lindsey Buckingham?" It’s the direct sequel to one of the most beloved B-sides of all time in "Silver Springs", another songs written by Nicks for Buckingham. Nicks is the titular "She" as Buckingham is "Him", the misunderstood object of her affection, and it’s a proclamation, better yet, an exaltation of her love for him despite the passing of time and the impossibility of ever being with him again. The entirety of her relationship with Buckingham can be summed up in one of the last lines of the album: "Oh no, they would not like it much anyway, but she still loves him." It’s strikingly powerful, yet somberly intimate which makes it a Stevie Nicks classic after the first listen.
Despite the fact that the songs on the album were recorded at different points, and despite the fact that they are influenced by the times in which they were recorded, what saves the collection from falling off the rails, which it very easily could have, is Stevie Nicks’ ever present aura. All of her songs, even when with Fleetwood Mac, possess an intangibility to them. There’s a certain enchantment to all the songs on the album that blends in nicely with the rest of her catalog. Even an outlandish track like "Cathouse Blues" with its snazzy 1940s sound is still imbued with Nicks’ gypsy charm.
Just as much as she borrows from other musicians and sounds, she also borrows from herself on 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault. "Dealer" sounds like an updated version of "Gypsy" even though it was written and recorded around the time of Tusk. Nonetheless, it’s still interesting to listen to these tracks knowing their chronology and literally listening to how her own personal sound and style has changed over the years. If you know Stevie Nicks, it’s pretty easy to ascertain when each song on this album was originally recorded.
One thing that has most definitely changed over the years is Nicks’ voice. At her best, she sounds exactly how you’d think 29 year old Stevie Nicks would sound at age 66. At her worst, on "If You Were My Love", she sounds like Bob Dylan with a stuffy nose. Despite some pitfalls and missteps, the raspy, scratchy vocals of Stevie Nicks are still preserved and come through rather nicely when all is said and done.
Bear in mind that being 16 tracks deep, this is a long album clocking in at 70 minutes. Understandably, pacing problems ensue. While it’s thoughtful of Nicks to dig deep into her unreleased catalog, the middle third of the album drags on a little too much as the middle five songs can, and should have, all been cut down by a minute each. The pacing of the album isn’t as flawed as Exile on Main Street, nor does drag its feet through its most boring section, but halfway through 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault listeners will get antsy waiting for the pace to quicken again. Thankfully with "Watch Chain", one of the standout tunes, the album recovers and conservatively sprints to the finish line with tracks that range from the passable ("Hard Advice"), to the mesmerizing ("She Still Loves Him" and "Carousel").
It’s great to see an artist dig so far back and deliver an album of unreleased, and unused material, especially when their fanbase has been begging for one. 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault owes its inception to the rampant number of bootlegged copies circulating YouTube. Clearly there was a demand for an album like this, and Stevie Nicks certainly delivered. Albums like these are intended solely for the real fans, as casual listeners would like two or three songs, but they wouldn’t fully appreciate it as much as others would. With such a mix of songs spanning almost 40 years, Stevie Nicks proves that if you open the vault, you might as well empty it out.