On the surface, one would read Fleetwood Mac’s work on Mirage as a form of course correction. At the time, the band had finished Tusk, which was a whirlwind of fractured, experimental songwriting dominated by Lindsey Buckingham. In contrast, Mirage was more collaborative and focused on fuller, pop-friendly songs. It certainly sounds like Fleetwood Mac in ways that Tusk never did and wasn’t aiming to do. A cynic could view this as a form of playing it safe, and Mirage certainly resulted in a re-establishment of the band’s pop-chart place. Perhaps its success is what warranted the massive deluxe reissue that came out this year. But while Mirage is certainly a more commercially palatable version of Fleetwood Mac, this Fleetwood Mac is arguably the most fractured that the group would ever be.
Previously, Fleetwood Mac existed as a cohesive piece, united behind a singular concept (such as Rumours and its odes to fractured, fucked up relationships) or one person’s vision (as they were behind Buckingham’s mad genius on Tusk). Mirage, on the other hand, is clearly the work of three individuals, each with their perspectives and approach. As a result, Mirage occasionally lacks cohesion, largely because of Buckingham. The guitarist had immersed himself in punk and New Wave while recording Tusk and his first solo album, and those influences pop up again on his Mirage compositions.
However, his work is melodically flat almost deliberately; it often seems as if he’s resentful of the fact that he has to record with Fleetwood Mac at all. As such, his songs meander and alienate, bringing the overall mood of Mirage to a screeching halt whenever they appear. Buckingham was reportedly unhappy with the direction in which the band was headed on Mirage, but to this listener’s ear, he was intent on making things worse with plodding songs like “Book of Love” or the wretched “Empire State”.
Despite this, Mirage is a great pop album at points. Both Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie bring their A game here, the latter especially so. The songs that the duo wrote for Mirage could easily be counted among the finest they ever wrote and that goes beyond the hit singles. Nicks’ “Gypsy” is immortal, sure, but her country-tinged “That’s Alright” rings more authentically than it should.
McVie, meanwhile, kicks the album off beautifully with “Love In Store” and delivers another classic with “Hold Me”. Even “Only Over You”, one of Mirage’s more dated songs, works in spite of itself. Furthermore, the pair’s work reaches beyond the group’s common lyrical touchstones of love and heartbreak, instead exploring ideas like mortality and death. It’s all done in a familiar way, but it further proves Buckingham’s assertion that Mirage was Rumours II wasn’t all that accurate.
For all of Buckingham’s complaints about Mirage, he offered a fundamental contribution that is enhanced by this most recent remaster. His work with Richard Dashut and Ken Calliat behind the boards not only helped elevate his bandmates’ songs, but it gave Mirage a timeless sound in an era when Fleetwood Mac’s contemporaries were stumbling over themselves to sound “new”. Fleetwood Mac’s “soft rock era” albums have always sounded immaculate, but Buckingham went a step further by adding touches of dark melancholy in his mixing of the band’s harmonies and his restrained guitar work. Now, the band sounds fuller and more vibrant than ever; each note comes out with perfect clarity.
Mirage is not often mentioned as being Fleetwood Mac’s best work, but it could be their most underrated album. While it lacks the cohesion of Rumours or their self-titled 1975 album, the calling card of this band has always been the presence of many cooks in the kitchen. And given that a few of the band’s finest compositions are here, Mirage merits reconsideration.