Friday, 9 January 2015

Rick ASTLEY: Whenever You Need Somebody




(#358: 28 November 1987, 1 week)

Track listing: Never Gonna Give You Up/Whenever You Need Somebody/Together Forever/It Would Take A Strong Strong Man/The Love Has Gone/Don’t Say Goodbye/Slipping Away/No More Looking For Love/You Move Me/When I Fall In Love

I hardly ever listen to Pick Of The Pops these days as, unlike what would seem to be the vast majority of Radio 2 listeners, I am able to lead a contented and fulfilling life without the need to hear “Maggie May” or “Love Train” ten times per day. I understand completely why the programme should trounce Radio 1’s The Official Chart show so soundly in the ratings, though note that it itself is trounced by almost the same margin by Capital Radio’s Vodafone Big Top 40 programme, which does not halt the flow of music or enthusiasm by calling everything “Official” and assuming that its listeners do not possess a level of intelligence equivalent to a two-year-old child or a capacity for memory retention similar to that of a goldfish and do not need to have the same few phrases shouted at them every twenty seconds.

Then again, you might think that in a world which is speedily going to hell, or at least back to the fourteenth century, in a handcart, people need the reassuring blanket of aged security that old records and old charts offer. I don’t believe that the old is better than the new by virtue of age alone, however, and this was quietly demonstrated by the first hour of last Saturday’s show, which featured the twenty best-selling singles from 1956. The fifties are a decade seldom revisited by the show – every few months, as, I suspect, a tentative experiment in audience engagement – and 1956, with one foot still in the pre-rock era, is a territory practically never ventured into. I noted with slight disappointment that the show wasn’t going to go through the Top 20 of the week ending 7 January 1956, where, I think, hits like Dickie Valentine’s “Old Pianna Rag,” two versions of “Suddenly There’s A Valley,” Jimmy Shand’s “Bluebell Polka” and Winifred Atwell’s “Let’s Have A Ding-Dong” would have befuddled too many people (despite there being, at number one, something called “Rock Around The Clock” and something else called “Rock Island Line” at number seventeen).

Still, the 1956 hour was a revelation, if only of how shockingly dated, to the extent of being practically prehistoric, most of the twenty featured records were. I well remember listening to a similar retrospective chart show on Radio 1 at Sunday lunchtimes in the seventies – a programme now written out of history due to its having being hosted by a broadcaster to whom Anthony Burgess, correctly as it turned out, referred as “the most evil man in Britain” – when these records were only twenty or less years in the past (i.e. the distance between “Some Might Say” and now) and they already sounded a bit pickled, a little frayed at the edges. But grotesque things like Anne Shelton’s “Lay Down Your Arms” sounded eviscerated from the nineteenth century (“March at the double down Lover’s Lane,” post-rationing self-denial in the age of Rachman and Christie). Frankie Laine’s “A Woman In Love” simply sounded ludicrous (“CRAAAAYYY-ZILLY GAAAAZE!”). Novelty instrumentals like “Zambesi” and “Poor People Of Paris” bore a creak worthy of Edison cylinders. Rock ‘n’ roll-inspired novelties like “Rock ‘N’ Roll Waltz” hit bigger in Britain than “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” Even forward-thinking records like Lonnie Donegan’s “Lost John” sounded decidedly wrinkled, regardless of how many rock stars he or it may have inspired at the time. Things like “It’s Almost Tomorrow” – though anticipating the quiet dread of Fleetwood Mac’s “You & I Part II” – made me surprised that there wasn’t a lute or a crumhorn to accompany the medieval plainsong. The year-end top twenty contained two Elvis songs, but also two songs by Teresa Brewer, both of which have dated quite atrociously (one, “A Sweet Old-Fashioned Girl,” tries for Betty Hutton OTT-ness, but Brewer is too sweet to be convincingly unhinged; the other was “A Tear Fell,” about which you can read here).

The music demonstrated how, and why, Presley became so big – “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” in this context sounded as though they were proclaiming against what surrounded it – and otherwise, perhaps only Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of This,” Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” (Britain’s first R&B number one) and, at a stretch, Doris Day’s “Whatever Will Be, Will Be,” would still pass muster and remain playable now.

The reaction on social media thereafter was quite revealing; many listeners had felt that the show had reached back a little too far, beyond their collective memory – well, we are talking about music that is almost sixty years old – and most seemed relieved to be immersed in the relatively familiar past of 1980 which followed in the second hour (then again, 1980 alone is now thirty-five years away, the same distance it was at the time from the end of the Second World War). 1956’s charts were also a field for subtle, or not so subtle, separatism. The “Only You” which hit big in that year’s Britain was not the Platters’ original, but the anaemic cover by white Kentucky college boys the Hilltoppers.

Top for the year – which added to the general sense of anti-climax; was this as good as it got? – was the record which kept “Heartbreak Hotel” at number two, Pat Boone’s weepie “I’ll Be Home.” But this was a bastardisation of a 1955 record by the Flamingos, whose original is superior to Boone’s in every way (the lyrics of Boone’s version seems to transpose some of the Flamingos’ lines); Sollie McElroy’s lead vocal is pained, ecstatic and dread-filled all at the same time; Boone does not attempt to repeat the “A-a-a-a-at the corner drugstore” which opens the second verse, and being a black doowop group from Chicago, their intonation of lines like “Our love will be free” and even “I’ll be home to start serving you” – the song is about a serviceman called off to fight – necessarily carries a deeper weight than Boone’s, which imply that to “be free” is to be free of dirty Commies. On the B-side was his blasphemous downsizing of “Tutti Frutti.” This is the world into which John Lydon was born.

You may wonder what any of this has to do with Rick Astley. But to look at his apprehensive apprentice face on the cover of Whenever You Need Somebody, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the intervening three decades had not happened. Actually, Astley was a tougher character than that; when discovered by Stock, Aitken and Waterman he was singing (having previously drummed) in a soul band called FBI, and four of the album’s ten songs were written or co-written by him. Nonetheless, the record’s deliberately arcane liner note, telling the lad’s story as though it were still 1957 and he were a Tommy Steele of the North, sets out a gradual but steady and grafting rise to fame; Astley was one of the first musical beneficiaries of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, one of the Thatcher government’s few good ideas (£40 a week – in eighties money – to start up and run your own business; and it should be reinstated, taking inflation etc. into account; £40 a week doesn’t sound much now, but in the mid-eighties it went a very long way) and he was then employed in SAW’s studio in Bermondsey, learning the business from tea-making upwards. A classic tale of free enterprise, in other words.

Now, I have to be clear here; I am an ardent fan of the work of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. I refuse to join in the sneering demolition job that is still being carried out on their achievements by commentators who really ought to know better. Along with New Order, the Pet Shop Boys and the Smiths, they basically kept the British pop single going in the puzzling days of the mid-eighties (and slightly less puzzling ones of the later eighties) and their commercial and aesthetic pummelling of the majors by, essentially, punk rock means is a New Pop feat in itself. “Today’s Sounds/Tomorrow’s Technology!”? I’m all for it.

But SAW were at their best as a singles team. With albums they tended to struggle, and once you get past the frontloading of hits there tends not to be too much else of interest. Moreover, they worked best with acts who had a bit of fight about them, who argued back and who, overwhelmingly, were female. Mel and Kim, Bananarama, even Mandy Smith (whose “I Just Can’t Wait,” the “Cool and Breezy Jazz” 12” mix thereof, also from 1987, is probably SAW’s finest single achievement) and, God bless her Scouse boots, Sonia – not to mention the Australian coming just around the corner (and there were more – Princess? Lonnie Gordon?) – all gave back more, arguably, than was put in.

Whereas Astley sounds a little overwhelmed. The opening trio of hits is fine enough; ideal soundtracks for strolling through sparkling, glittery late eighties shopping malls, knowing bubblesoulgum for the M25 and Big Bang, although one notices that a large part of Astley’s appeal was that he was straight as a die. In a year whose serenaders included confusing, ambivalent, troubled William Boldwoods and extravagant, flamboyant Sergeant Troys promising the world, the girls settled for eighties pop’s Gabriel Oak. Nothing wrong with this, per se; Astley stands in the midst of a long line of reliable Britpop boys-next-door which extends from Craig Douglas to Olly Murs – and is noticeably “meatier” of voice than either.

Astley was loved for his sense of reassuring permanence, a sense comparatively rare in the parallel world of rock ‘n’ roll. Listening through the hits, I am struck at the sentiments they express. “A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of.” “You wouldn’t get this from any other guy.” Lyrics of the calibre of “I’ll always do what’s best for you” had been by and large absent from mainstream pop since the days of Dickie Valentine, another youthful reliable with a pleasant, if somewhat limited, vocal mid-range and an approachable personality (although Lena wondered whether the 21-year-old Astley didn’t more resemble “Frankie Howerd’s nephew”; that same “ooh, not ME, surely!” quality). I also note that the title track was originally recorded, by SAW, with a female singer called O’Chi Brown, with no commercial success, in 1985; in a song which successfully manages to paraphrase both Dusty Springfield and Steve Arrington, Astley sounds, if anything, like a stronger Mark King.

“It Would Take A Strong Strong Man” was not a single in Britain, but went top ten in the States (as did the album) and topped the charts in Canada. Noticeably more strident and pained than the more familiar hits – you can picture Ashley, hoarsely yelling at the microphone – it suggests that his adoration might in part be one-sided, an impression which the faster-paced “Don’t Say Goodbye,” the record’s only remaining SAW-penned song, reinforces.

The trouble is we then dive headlong into Astley’s own songs – just to remove any tired notion that he was an SAW “puppet” – and they are…decent, but not much more than that, and certainly not very memorable, not even the Deep House anticipations of “You Move Me” which intertwines expressions of love with humdrum life in Thatcher’s Britain – he works his socks off, but the boss still calls him in to say, with regret, “Here are your cards” (is this the only song with such a phrase in its lyric?). This side of Astley is better than Curiosity Killed The Cat, certainly, but how low is that bar set? Like the fourth side of Welcome To The Pleasuredome, we are reminded that it’s only because of “Never Gonna Give You Up” that we’re hearing this stuff at all.

The album’s most troublesome song is its last, and the one which throws up all of the bothersome questions. Astley’s “When I Fall In Love” is an attempted carbon copy of the Cole original, down to Gordon Jenkins’ arrangement (here reproduced on Fairlight, or Fairlights), and vocally is no more than adequate. However, it is a strangely desolate piece of work, and one is drawn to the unfortunate conclusion that had this been 1956, Astley would have been out there dutifully covering American hits of the period. It sounds like an attempt to erase the three decades of uprising which separate the two recordings, a deliberate attempt to go back to a time when rock hadn’t happened and singers knew their place.

The video is creepier still; Astley wanders around a deserted, snowbound studio set, hanging out in front of, or inside, a log cabin – there is no object of his love, only the camera, only us. There is in the distance an arched bridge which could have fallen in straight from It’s A Wonderful Life. He looks as he sounds; like a sad, small robot, lost in an abandoned world; I think of WALL-E and his endless viewing of highlights from Hello Dolly, as if to remind us that this was what humanity was once capable of creating. I do think of a George Bailey who kills the world by never taking any risks. And last week’s Pick Of The Pops was a timely reminder of what such a world – this world which so many people in Britain supposedly desire – would actually be like.*

*An interlude here about radio comedy, mainly because I listened for a bit to BBC Radio 4Xtra on Wednesday evening. Some art doesn’t transcend its time, and may not even have been art. Was there ever anything remotely funny about The Navy Lark? I listened to what sounded like the first episode of the second series – from September 1959 – and it was creakily unfunny, a prematurely tired set-up with mirthless non-development. Stephen Murray’s Commander (“the new Number 1”) was so bumbling and anonymous, one forgot he was there most of the time. Leslie Phillips, as he has always done, played himself. Ronnie Barker and Michael Bates were wasted. A little of Jon Pertwee’s gurning gurgle – he sounds as though warming up to play Worzel Gummidge – goes an awfully long way (with the emphasis on “awful”). And yet the series ran, unchanged in any detail, until the era of punk. What was the attraction? Moderate pleasure giggling at a fundamentally inefficient British way of doing things?

A May 1966 episode of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again followed, and was as bad, if not worse. Given what most of its participants went on to do, this was thin stuff indeed, like a bad student revue where sound-effects and silly voices are allegedly funny in themselves…and with a thick dollop of misogyny, laid on with such relish that one marvels that Jo Kendall didn’t just hit the rest of the cast over their heads with a spiky baseball bat for the full half-hour. Derek Bailey was in the studio band, and wisely kept his head down. As regards “When I Fall In Love,” its best use in 1987 was as a scratchy introduction to Pop Will Eat Itself’s “There Is No Love Between Us Anymore,” which more or less could be construed as everything Rick Astley wanted to say, but couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

T'PAU: Bridge Of Spies






(#357:  21 November 1987, 1 week)


Track Listing:  Heart And Soul/I Will Be With You/China In Your Hand/Friends Like These/Sex Talk/Bridge Of Spies/Monkey House/Valentine/Thank You For Goodbye/You Give Up/China In Your Hand (reprise)

There is a certain category in Popstrology (if I keep referring to it that’s because it’s a great book) called You Had To Be There.  At certain points in history, a song and/or band is briefly very popular, for reasons that, looking back, may be hard to understand, unless you were there at the time. 
                                      
Now, I don’t remember this time all that well –I am not who I was in the summer, nor am I like how I will be in midwinter – so the moment here for me is (in a non-creepy sense) historical; there hasn’t been a woman-fronted rock  band on Then Play Long for some time, let alone one from Shrewsbury.  Carol Decker – who is looking askance at something/someone on the cover, not at the viewer – is not, as you might expect, someone who has been singing in a band since she was a teenager; in fact she only got into making music in her twenties, having been encouraged by someone who had overheard her singing at art school.  T’Pau (named after a Vulcan princess from Star Trek) came together in Shrewsbury in 1986, though she had been in bands for five years before – and had, crucially, grown up hearing big female voices, whether they were the jazz greats, Dusty and Cilla, opera stars and disco divas – and yes, the Pretenders, too.  All of this she heard and absorbed, and Decker’s voice is as big and dramatic as all those references would imply.  (She also, like Corinne Drewery, liked to go out to Northern Soul clubs.) 

T’Pau’s fame is a You Had To Be There moment as women – one by one, all of them quite different – began to have success in the charts and acceptance in the critical and (if I can put it this way) female world.  It was women who immediately understood T’Pau and put Bridge Of Spies here, women who may or may not have gotten the Frankenstein references of “China In Your Hand,” but who certainly understood the physical aspect of the song – the delicate thing that must be handled carefully.  I can even see the song as anti-Thatcher, as a plea for gentleness and slow steady progress as opposed to someone who is pushing way too hard, who maybe should let some of her ideas simply remain ideas, and not become realities.    

The crash of ’87 has happened, the Great Storm has happened – there are forces that are bigger than mere people, and the yang/yuppie/greed-is-good vibe of '87, repugnant at the time and now revived and once again becoming obsolete, is being replaced by something else.  Sure, the blonde ambition of Madonna is everywhere, but even in her next album, she realizes there is something greater than herself.  But I digress...the women who buy this may not be buying it for the music as such, but for what it stands for - what it represents,  if you like.  "China In Your Hand" - which is a big rock ballad about not going too far - is a song that can come off as British Pat Benatar, only Decker is more pleading, less snarly; at no point does Decker come off on the album as someone different or Other; she's no Kate Bush, singing from the point of view of the creator or monster, just as the observer who sees that life is difficult and can't always be solved by mere rock oomph or the triumph of someone's will.  

"Heart And Soul" is a song I associate with a very specific time and place that hasn't happened yet;  I will get there eventually, but in the meantime, what a song!  Written by Decker and her bandmate/boyfriend of the time Ron Rogers, it poses two overlapping voices - one singing, one kind-of rapping - against each other, one counterpointing the other, the speaking voice remembering how it was, the singing voice yelping "Living in a fantasy/Was never any good for me!" She begs and pleads for "a little" of what she needs, but her romantic needs are so great that you sense a little of anything isn't going to be enough - the song builds and drums circle and thwack, the bum-bum-de-de-bumpa-bum becomes more insistent, as if she is going to fall into a damn whirlpool of agony if the Other doesn't at least realize that she wants him.  "You never want me for myself" is a line many women would have co-signed on immediately, and she will or will not beg him to love her, depending on which voice you believe.  It is as if the inner and outer dialogues within a woman are revealed here, which is different from Bowie's modest/wry echoes of himself on "Ashes To Ashes."  

"I Will Be With You" is (as the title almost guarantees) T'Pau doing their best Bon Jovi - the album's producer is Roy Thomas Baker after all, so the rock thing prevails, and this is the most stock, if I can put it that way, of songs, though I don't know if Bon Jovi would sing "And I have such memories/But I don't like to resurrect them."  The demand for reality, not fantasy, is constant in this album; and there is a toughness to it, too, a refusal to look back.

"Friends Like These" looks at the world - again I think of Thatcher - of elders and betters, "friends" who only know one way of doing things, and who won't change, could never alter or modify themselves - "They see how you should feel/But oh how/The mighty all fall down/Heavy in a sea of principles/They drown."  All this in a Eurovision-friendly "Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da" way, as if to say the time of such high and mighty people is coming to an end; oh they mean well, but they are patronizing and presumptuous and no one from Shrewsbury (or elsewhere) is going to be impressed by them anymore.

"Sex Talk" - well, there's a title - is actually about just that; the sex phone lines that existed in the 80s, and it's a song of justification, of need, of speed - it is a rock song, alright - of a woman in a room who just wants someone to talk to, who is (and this is never discussed) maybe afraid to go out and find an actual guy herself, who is too scared, who is so lonely that even a voice on the phone is better than nothing.  Decker from the point of view of this woman with gusto and understanding, not looking down at her.  As the song rocks along and Decker wails, "Love, love, love without a face" you can tell  this is a cold and frustrating world for the narrator, and the anger has already erupted:  "I never had any one to love me/Anyone to need me/I take what I can on the telephone" - in fact on Bridge Of Spies almost none of the songs are happy ones.  There's an impatience and eagerness to get on with things, which again I think women would have understood - and still do - whereas some men would hear this and just interpret the album as one by a needy, unhappy woman. (Though there are some men who dig "rock chicks" and with her denim and big hair and earrings, Decker fits this very well...)

"Bridge Of Spies" is a nearly-happy song - she is so close to being with him, so close and finally free:  "Your love is a distant thing that I kept deep inside of me/Now if I could show you where I lived in my fantasy

On the continent of dreams you'd be with me."  It comes with the requisite rockin' guitar solo, but her ultimate happiness doesn't really come through musically; there is no explanation as to what the title means or why is it that she is unhappy in fantasy usually, but not here - because she gets to abandon it?  So much of this album is about having to pretend, to fantasize, to live in some parallel universe just to get through the damn day.  Is this the You Had To Be Thereness of T'Pau?  

"Monkey House" is about freedom of choice, of movement, ultimately existence; it's the most overtly political song on the album, with the early mention of "no more dirty books" it's a revolt against the PMRC/Victorian mores that Thatcher was bringing in - "mental hygiene" is the phrase that sticks out here (again this song rocks like Pat Benatar, and Decker sounds her toughest).  Just act and think nicely, says The Man, and Decker replies, the hell with that

Well, as modern as Decker is, the roots of rock are dug deep in the world of romantic and hopeless longing:  "Valentine" is one such song, not "oh-look-at-my-pain-as-I-stalk-you" like Adele, but full of stoic 50s suffering:  "I know mine are the tears I never cry/I know mine is a love I must deny.../I see you every day/With happy home and child/I look the other way."  I can't even tell if the Other even knew about her love in the first place; again there is at a deeper root a cowardice here, a too-cautious way of living, where her love is never expressed, and she winces when she sees him, which is apparently every day.  This is a living death, and her song for him - this song - is giving her game away, using song to say what cannot be said otherwise.  It's the heart (and soul) of this album - the need to do something, anything, other than nothing, because this is what happens if there's no courage...

"Thank You For Goodbye" is much more upbeat, with lots of "HHHHEEEEEEEAAA-AAAYYYYYYYYAAAA!" and "HAHHHHOOOOOWAOOOOOOHHH!s" from Decker, as she thanks someone for getting rid of her, as she is now "Here with someone new/Why do you stare/Cos you know/Our love is dead you leave it be/Don't come to me" - yes, this is the happy ending of the album, or so it seems; she is with someone who cares for her, she was dumped but is now able to look her ex in the eye with gratitude, and she has crucially moved on, out of the fantasy world and into an actual relationship.  If only this were the end, but....


"You Give Up" is as relentless an ending to any album TPL has come across so far.  She is clearly addressing her Other here, someone who is too fond of extremes, someone who needs to be (yes) more realistic: "Now why can't you reach/For a closer dream?" Decker wonders as she accuses this Other as being lazy, of not trying hard enough to get anything done, too reliant on excuses and alibis.  And the caution and patience that "China In Your Hand" is crying out for meets its match here, in a tough song about how you've got to hang in there and be tough yourself.  As if to emphasize this contradiction, the music of "China In Your Hand" appears again at the end, as if to say, "Yeah BUT."  You can be pushy but be too pushy, too ambitious, actually achieve that extreme, and you will not enjoy the consequences.  And so ends this album of dissatisfaction, thwarted desire, anger, a big voice from a (relatively, in rock terms) small place which itself is ambitious but has its doubts.  Decker herself admits that the band, herself very much included, needed more self-confidence; more belief in itself.  

Thus this is their only appearance on TPL (their appropriately titled follow-up Rage got to #4 in a year's time) and that is because, I think, they captured a moment; but the late 80s were a time of so many moments, some more lasting than others, and the Women In Rock one was going through some pretty intense times. The Blondes (The Primitives, Transvision Vamp, The Darling Buds) were coming up on the horizon, and the underground riot girrl scene in Seattle/Portland* would bring its own views to bear.  Standard, solid and honest T'Pau couldn't keep going through all these changes and broke up in '91; but to give a real happy ending, they have a new album out, as if to say, we now have the confidence and belief, and Decker is now happy, looking directly at the viewer, not dubiously at her bandmates or inwardly, at herself.

Next up:  some like to rock, but he just likes to roll.


*I wonder if a young Courtney Love heard this album.      
 
 



 






 


 


Sunday, 21 December 2014

George MICHAEL: Faith




(#356: 14 November 1987, 1 week)

Track listing:  Faith/Father Figure/I Want Your Sex (Parts I & II)/One More Try/Hard Day/Hand To Mouth/Look At Your Hands/Monkey/Kissing A Fool


The other day I asked about the English attitude towards pleasure – is there a book on it, or an essay?  I got one reply back about it being a rather “short pamphlet,” and (having lived here for six years) I had to sadly agree.  The English like “fun” but kind of mistrust the intensity and expansiveness of “pleasure.”  Being an American here is to be surrounded by people (this is a generalization, I realize) who were only encouraged to have fun, not to discover what really pleased them, something gratifying and rewarding and something they would like to share, not hoard; joy is for Christmas or a Bank Holiday, ultimately only for just about a week or so a year (birthday included).  I may come from a nation “founded” (cough) by the puritanical Pilgrims, but “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are in the US mix, as well.  

That is a burden, sure, but it is also a right (I believe) and it makes up a lot of the raw qualities of the US, for better and indeed for worse.  It is a complex fate to be an American, but it is to be English too; the repressiveness and sense of alienation I feel here in the UK comes and goes, and I can only wonder how young Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Bushey felt as the child of immigrants growing up in the 70s; his audacious leap into stardom has brought him here to 1987 and his first solo album, since Wham! ended in 1986.  I don’t know too much about him, but it is clear to see here he too is fascinated by the US and caught up in the mechanics of his own pleasure, within a society that will (and did) repress that need.

Which is to say, here is George Michael reaching out to the US, making music that is inspired by American music, and of course America took him on as one of their own (in Popstrology 1988 is the Year of George Michael).  Whether they were really listening to him all that closely I don’t know (whether they are listening to future Then Pay Long star Sam Smith all that closely I don’t know, either).  If Michael is being cagey or elusive in interviews around this time, it’s because (in hindsight) he is trying to appeal to everyone with this album, still expected to sell tons by his record label Epic, to take these very personal statements and make them – via tours and videos – very very public.  As you can see from the cover photo, Michael is (unlike Jackson) trying to hide, to protect himself, already saying, before you can hear the album, that this is all you are getting; there are parts of him that will always be (or have to be) reticent, held back…English, if you like*.  

Of course, there were other reasons for Michael to be cagey; drop yourself into 1987 and find yourself in a world of Section 28, a world where “It’s A Sin” can get to #1 but it’s still a huge deal for Princess Diana to be seen touching someone who has AIDS**.  My chronology here may be a bit off, for reasons that will become apparent, but it's no surprise that Michael essentially is playing a shell game with Faith; beautiful and hard to crack, vulnerable and (needlessly, I think) tough.

One of the reasons Faith did so well is precisely because of this mysterious tension in the album - a sense that while Michael is being open, he, well, isn't really completely forthcoming.  This is a New Pop strategy, saying something ("signifying" as it's called) without actually saying it.  It's not something that started with New Pop - anyone who hears Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" or especially "Nowhere To Run" will know that pop can and does say more than one thing at one time, that the snow tire chains on the latter song aren't just there because they sound good.  Ahem.

Faith starts with the title track, with Michael coming off all 50s Bo Diddley by way of Marylebone, leather jacket, blue jeans, designer stubble, and that signifying earring - a gold cross.  That and a bit ol' acoustic guitar and it's all hello rock and roll, my name is George Michael, how are you?  But he's not about gurning guitar solos or heavy growls; "Faith" is light, percussive, relentlessly on the beat and as upbeat as it sounds, it's about what most of this album is about:  rejection.  The Other (it is left to us to figure out who it is) wants him, but he is being self-protective, having been a victim of the "games" of another who had dumped him - "games" that he plays too, he admits, but now he wants something more, an "ocean" of a love that will not leave him on the floor, gasping and flailing like a fish caught on a line.  He has been "foolish" before and is showing his potential Other the door, as he has to have, yes, faith.  What he wants is more than just to touch someone else, more than just physical. 

From this zippy beginning the album slows down immediately to "Father Figure."  My objectivity about this, because of the time, is about zilch; my own father was very ill at the time, and thus any song where someone wants to be a father to someone else (and it's impossible for me to figure out if Michael is singing this as if he wants one or wants to be one or is one; it is a patient song though, that's obvious enough) was never going to wash with me.  The shift, I can tell, was probably already happening inside me; that terrible gulf of no-father was becoming more and more clear, with no real person to fill it.  George Michael singing this didn't exactly help much, as the gap between life and music began to become more elastic, less predictable.  (It kind of goes without saying that I didn't really pay much attention to Michael at the time; he was there, he was popular, but he was merely there - not liked, not disliked, there.) And so I can listen to "Faith" and give it a thumb-up, but "Father Figure" seems big and intimate and distant and hopeless/unbelievable.  Good, sure, but I somehow can't take it to my own heart, for obvious reasons.  And what is the "life of crime" that the narrator is trying to avoid or escape?  The song is all about someone wanting the Other in a physical way (so much for the previous song's rejection of physical love) but also as a "preacher, teacher" - that latter word will appear later - "anything" the other wants.  It is as if this person isn't just a father but a mother as well - they are everything, and I guess this overwhelming need for someone to be all this for another/to need all this from another is too much for me; a bit suffocating...and yet it all floats by like a meeting of David Cassidy and P.M. Dawn, not oppressive at all.

From the Andy Gibb-all-grown-up of "Father Figure" (he just wants to be his Other's everything) the album goes into Holly-Johnson-breathing-all-over-the-keyboard of "I Want Your Sex."  I don't know whether this was defiant or not as a song, but it's some nerve to write and perform a song that is about (as the kids put it back then) doing the nasty that is so direct and achy and slinky and unapologetic.  The song was all but banned on normal UK radio, mentioned only as "I Want"; the UK attitude towards pleasure - sexual desire and urgency - being that pointless equivalent of the French eating a certain bird - an ortolan? - with a napkin on their head so God can't see them do it.  But this song goes right to the issue - what is dirty?  What does his Other consider pornographic?  Michael sounds like someone who's just graduated and can't wait to show how great he is, how qualified - here he is, boys and girls, come and get him, he's beyond ready, now.  None of these songs is addressed to either gender specifically, letting Michael fly under the radar (so to speak) of what I guess is called "heteronormative" radio.  Sound enough like Prince and do a video with a girl in it and hey ho, beyond the ever-controversial subject of sex itself, then the line "there's boys you can trust/and girls that you don't" (as part of pt. 1) can be all but ignored, as Michael goes on to tell us (as if we didn't know) that sex is "natural" and "good."  I'm not sure if the US needed to hear this, but in pleasure-phobic UK, maybe it was more than necessary?  "I Want Your Sex" is just about desire for anyone, the kind that is near what in UK slang is "gagging for it."  Oh Michael is all grown up now, there's no allusions anymore to dancing - he is throwing it right out there, as polite as he can be - trying to turn the NO! he's getting into a sighing, panting YES.  (It doesn't happen, of course - even in pt. 3, which is tacked on here at the end, he's still trying to get his Other in the mood, via a "gin and tonic."  Hmmm, don't know if that's going to work, George. Pt. 2 is all brassy confidence covering up anxiety, as he endlessly frets/praises over his Other, saying "I'm not your father/I'm not your brother." Which is to say, the single version is heteronormative, the others, less so.)

"One More Try" is the big ballad that shows what Michael is really capable of; it's (my guess) why it debuted at  #1 on the Billboard R&B album chart, being the sort of song that again takes its time, but feels more solid than "Father Figure" - more of something that's been lived, fully experienced.  He has been, yes, dumped; but he is "feeling the heat" in this new relationship, but has no need for yet more rejection; the narrator is an "uptown boy" who is willing, but wary...for his "teacher" to love him, educate him, and then dump him, figuring that's what the relationship is, fundamentally - a short course that leaves the narrator wiser but much sadder.  All this to the ghost of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and just as the song ends, the focus changes to the teacher, who is also alone, also damaged, but willing to give it "one more try" with this novice.  The decision here is to be courageous, to say YES rather than NO, because trying is better than being alone.  Again, in a world where people were basically told to keep themselves to themselves, to save their own lives, this need for the Other conquers all, including the persistent undertow of fear...

..."Hard Day" is about a relationship where the narrator (who clearly is out working) comes home and doesn't really want to hear about the Other's day; he just wants to have sex ("it's what we do best") with him/her, even though he isn't the one that this other loves the most.  Again we have this aching lack of completion, and if he was impatient in "I Want Your Sex" then here he's angry, wanting his Other to trust him and love him back, not bring him down by not loving him, not making love with him. "DON'T BRING ME DOWN" he yells in all caps, he's already had a hard day and doesn't need more difficulties at home with a "sweet little boy" - or is this another reversal, with the Other calling him this?  I don't know - and such ambiguity is how this album could do so well, could fit into the sonic lives of so many people.

So far so good; now, on to side two...

"Hand To Mouth" is the obligatory I'm-socially-conscious song on Faith; around this time, if you didn't have a socially conscious song on your album, you risked looking as if you weren't really grown-up.  It's a feather-light song, musically, but looks at a world of violence, poverty, abandoned women, abandoned babies..."I believe in America" the narrator sings, but here is a cold and unfeeling place, where everyone lives hand-to-mouth; and there is the immigrant woman who has nothing left to lose "so she ran to the arms of America" - hello, The Joshua Tree - into a world of yes, faith but no gods, no one to rely on but yourself.  The first side is about rejection (and longing for acceptance); this is social rejection and the same longing for a place, a place called America where freedom and love ought to be the laws of the land...but there is little happiness.

"Look At Your Hands" is one of the meanest songs I've yet to come across in Then Play Long; and yet as mean as it is, it is weak.  The narrator once knew a girl who he loved, who didn't decide to stay with him; she is now the wife of a "drunken man" and the mother of "two fat children."  He looks at her now with a combination of some (just some, not much) pity and a whole ton of contempt.  That's what she gets for not wanting to be with him - a life of misery, one he taunts her about, telling her she can leave it and be with him, and then telling her he knows she won't do it.  It's emotional abuse, pure and simple, any women's shelter could tell you that, and the narrator throws salt on this wounded woman's life with no real sense of empathy.  He wants her, he claims she wants him, but she doesn't have the guts to leave her abusive husband - well smartass, why don't you take her and her kids (you don't think she's going to leave without them, huh?  HUH?) down to that shelter and go take Feminism 101 to learn how these things happen in the first place.  I rarely get angry with the narrators of songs - but here I do, and I can only look sideways to Michael and one David Austin (the only time Michael has someone help him write a song) and wonder just what they were doing, writing a deliberately spiteful and abusive song.  Sign of the times?  Hmmm....really, all it needs is Mick Jagger pointing his finger contemptuously to show how old-fashioned this kind of thing is.  It's 1987, things are tough all over, and doing something like this to show you're "rock" is just dumb.

"Monkey" is about, yeah, junk, and if it sounds like a reworking of something by Janet Jackson (and, secondarily, Peter Gabriel's So) - well, I can imagine Michael did a lot of listening to Control while writing this.  It just works; and here the Other has him/herself an Other that is a drug, and it's all tough love again - "do you love the monkey or do you love me?" being the main question.  He doesn't know why the monkey is so hard to give up, but in his determination to keep bugging his Other he thinks he might get somewhere, the Other being fundamentally a weak person, weak enough to be swayed by his persistent begging and hectoring questions.  Now the rejection isn't even about a rival but something that clearly provides his Other with something he can't give - hence the anger in the song, the rejection he gives the Other, who can't or won't give up.  "Why do I have to share my baby with a monkey?" it ends, again showing that maybe he really doesn't know his Other as much as he thinks he does, as if s/he is "the best" and yet also mysterious and unknowable...hmm, maybe the Other is scared of something, as scared as the narrators of  "One More Try"? (Also, hello Robbie Williams.)

From this funk attack the album slows right down and reverses out of rock altogether for jazz; the easy sway of a song that talks of hearts, hearts lost and found, the fundamental need - "to even make a start" you have to be true to your heart.  True to yourself?  Is the shell game ending, with Michael ready to say what he really feels?  The song is sung to someone who the narrator has already had a relationship with, someone who was persuaded away from him - "You listened to people/who scared you to death/and from my heart/strange that I was wrong enough" - this all may be signifying, but it's also a story as old as the proverbial hills - two people attracted to each other, the one leaving the other because of what s/he is told by others, not by their own decision, and the rejected one feeling like a fool.  The narrator is loyal, a man - a man who is dumped and yet still hopeful, no longer a figure who is an "uptown boy" but someone with some maturity and understanding that faith is not enough, but knowing your own heart and following it - however fraught with difficulties that may be - is the best, the only way through romance, through life itself.

It isn't much of a mystery to figure out why this did so well - something for literally everyone, with the songs so deliberately vague/slyly signifying that no matter who you were, there was something to identify with - from the 50s to the present and back to the 40s, from longing to aching to a kind of calm...his heart, once on the floor, is now where it should be, solidly within himself, as he can hold on to not just faith but also love itself - patience, if you will - and the last song sets the stage for his next album, as if Faith was just a stage he was going through - a wildly successful stage, but just a stage, nevertheless.  The flood of fear and anxiety and lust is over, and he washes up on the shore of an ocean that is calm and luxe, still able to raise his voice as to how loyal and true he is, but then quietening down again to croon about being a fool, and maybe understanding that in all this he has been something of a fool too, pursuing the wrong people, the wrong goals.  So, a happy (even, pleasurable?) ending of sorts.

It is too bad that I was in no state to hear this at the time, but I was undergoing my own flood, and that dictated its own fears and anxieties, ones that Faith wouldn't have been able to allay much at the time.  The gap between hearing something and it leaping directly into my heart is very narrow now, for some music, and quite wide for others.  The incomprehensible is happening every day, and that is warping and stretching what I can hear, how I hear altogether.  But Faith stands as a near-perfect album of youth, young manhood, finding out what that oh-so-blithely-referred-to faith really means, which is mainly faith in yourself, and hence faith in others.  And also - to follow your heart, your own sense of pleasure.  That much, I would have understood even then, had I bothered to listen.        

Next up:  The power ballad hits the UK, hard.


*The American female response to suppressed/held back English guys is one of either intense curiosity and I’m-sure-I-can-make-him-talk enthusiasm or I-don’t-want-to-be-with-someone-who-won’t-communicate-openly harsh judgement, the latter being the usual response when she finds out that he will talk but only politely and not about himself.  Then, being American she will either give up or keep trying, particularly if he is cute, a description I don’t think any Englishman would use to describe himself, ever.

**The Queen was against this at the time, according to this link:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1575119/Queen-was-against-Dianas-Aids-work.html

Thursday, 27 November 2014

FLEETWOOD MAC: Tango In The Night





(#355: 31 October 1987, 2 weeks; 7 May 1988, 2 weeks; 28 May 1988, 1 week)

Track listing: Big Love/Seven Wonders/Everywhere/Caroline/Tango In The Night/Mystified/Family Man/Little Lies/Welcome To The Room…Sara/Isn’t It Midnight/When I See You Again/You & I, Part II

“Don’t know what’s wrong,” grunts Lindsey Buckingham halfway through “Family Man,” “but I do know what’s right.” Walking down that cold, cold road is this troubled man who is Springsteen’s junior by just ten days. But who is this “family”? “Mother…father…brother…”; well, if he means Fleetwood Mac, then that takes care of Christine, Mick and John. But somebody else is missed out. In any case, is there actually anybody on this song except him? Does this family even still exist? Or did they already make their excuses and leave?

Detour #1: a hallucinatory rainbow of Fairlight strings and harp and booming Cocteau Twins guitar, the coda to SMiLE Brian never managed to imagine. Then, eventually, a voice, slightly startling in its deepness, uttering words like:

“You, under strange falling skies
You, with a love that would not die”

and:

“You, where the strange wind blows
You, with the secrets no one knows”

and beyond that, nothing except “You, you and I.” You probably won’t know it, because it’s “You & I, Part I,” which only appeared on the B-side of the “Big Love” single. Its omission from this album is rather like Pepper going straight into “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Another thing to note is that this album came out in April and took just over half a year to make number one. In the States, it did very well but never got past number seven on Billboard. Its eventual appearances in this tale can be explained by “Little Lies” becoming a major hit single (and “Everywhere” the following spring, hence its return to the top). This indicates that a lot of people found the record problematic, not quite what they had anticipated ten years before.

But then, what do you make of an album whose lead song and lead single were “Big Love”?

Detour #2: 23 May 1997, in the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank, before an invited audience; the “classic” Fleetwood Mac quintet have briefly reconvened for an MTV special entitled The Dance. It is the first time they have been on stage together since Clinton’s inauguration over four years previously. The performance will climax with a spectacular “Tusk,” featuring the USC Marching Band themselves. But for “Big Love,” Lindsey Buckingham is all alone with his guitar.

Nobody really knew what to make of “Big Love” when they first heard it. Yes, this is Fleetwood Mac – or is it (like “Caroline” and “Family Man,” it was originally intended for Buckingham’s third solo album but sequestered by the band, with some resistance from its author)? Certainly, even Buckingham has rarely sounded so intense or angry. On one hand, as is evident elsewhere on the album, he is having an awful lot of fun with this sparkling new Fairlight toy.

But, not expecting the audience to know about Buckingham’s tortured love life, whom is he addressing? One moment he is promising to build her a kingdom, but in the next verse she is begging him to stay in that very same kingdom; that is, if it is the same “she,” which I doubt is the case (there was Stevie, and then there was Carol Ann Harris, and latterly Cheri Casperi). All the while he is “looking out for love – BIG, BIG LOVE” as though “love” were the equivalent of Family Fortunes’ “BIG MONEY.”

It really is that story again – wanting love as a symbol of perfection, settling for nothing less and not understanding what love is really about. And despite the determined futurism on the music’s surface and the alleged blackboard lectures about New Pop, Buckingham’s howl reaches back to Roy Orbison and forward to Kurt Cobain. When the rhythm section really make themselves known – under the “ooh, aah” climax – Buckingham’s high, pealing, extended one-note guitar scream reminds us that this is the same band who once performed “Man Of The World” and “Oh Well.” Names and faces change but emotions don’t.

More disquieting, however, is the fact that the male/”female” cross-channel “ooh”s and “aah”s are not Lindsey and Stevie, but Lindsey entirely. Where is Stevie again?

A decade later, they are all present, but Lindsey is alone on the stage, and performs a lightning-speed reading of the song. If you know the tricks of playing guitar then you’ll know the playing is not quite as complicated as it sounds – one hand plucking the upper two strings, the other holding down or otherwise handling the lower three, so it’s a question of technical coordination above everything else – but nobody except Lindsey could perform the song with the intensity that he invests in it. When he reaches the climax, thrashing out flamenco chords, rocking back and forth as though in an uncontrollable fit, screaming and crying rather than grunting, and right at the end, cutting off and reeling back from the microphone as though having collided with a volcano, there is a terror that is not present in the original recording; his Orbison musings have mutated into Chris Isaak, and, particularly when taken in combination with the penultimate song on #516, the conclusion is that this is some kind of threnody for Kurt.

Consider the trappings of the original song, which were already oppressive enough; here is Lindsey Buckingham, here’s Charlie Kane, alone in his big castle, with things, but things are not PEOPLE, and he is alone and he knows that none of it means anything without love, the right love, and in 1987 he is not yet ready to break down like he does at the end of the MTV “Big Love,” to admit vulnerability and fear.

What did that old song say?

“And how I don't want to be sad anymore
And how I wish I was in love.”

But where is Stevie?

“Seven Wonders” in Britain was the second single, and missed the Top 40 entirely, and it is recognisably Stevie Nicks but on closer listening sounds more like a demon possessing Stevie Nicks. It doesn’t help that she didn’t write the song herself – the songwriter was her long-time associate Sandy Stewart (who worked extensively with her on 1983’s solo The Wild Heart) and the sum total of Nicks’ contribution was to make minute changes to some of the lyrics and get one line wrong (it was meant to be “All the way down you held the line” but Nicks heard it as “All the way down to Emmeline” and that’s how it stayed, as if she’d just remembered Hot Chocolate).

But Nicks’ delivery is rough, tortured, furious. I’m not saying she heard Kristin Hersh on “Delicate Cutters” and knew that the bar had been raised a little – since she wouldn’t have been in a position to do so – but her voice could scratch paint off the Taj Mahal, despite Buckingham’s sterling background support.

As for Christine, she was responsible (or, in the case of “Little Lies,” one-half responsible, with her then husband Eddy Quintela) for the album’s two best-known songs. “Little Lies” works chiefly because of Buckingham’s keen awareness of New Pop mores – the arrangement and whispered chorales are distilled Prefab Sprout, whereas the chorus could be Bucks Fizz (“Tell-me-TELL-ME-LI-IES!” Who said something about their camera never lies?) – and its own little lie that it’s a charming late eighties love song when actually it is proposing a break-up (“We’re better off apart, let’s give it a try”). Likewise, the happiness on “Everywhere” sounds very transient indeed (“You better make it soon/Before you break my heart”); the latter is effective because of the cut-up symphony Buckingham and his Fairlight make of piercing, pointillistic stars of voices.

Elsewhere there is the unusual sight of three Lindsey/Christine co-writes. Of those, “Isn’t It Midnight” was again written with Quintela, and canters along like a standard mid-eighties MTV-friendly rocker until Buckingham’s furious, fuzzy and increasingly atonal lead guitar suddenly and terrifyingly appears on the scene and proceeds to erase the song altogether; the only other time this happens on the record is with the Buckingham-penned title track, poised as it is between morbid contemplation and unfettered fury, perhaps echoing the record’s cover painting, Homage á Henri Rousseau, by the Australian artist Brett-Livingstone Strong, which depicts a nocturnal glade by the seashore. At its centre something gleams with a light that has been pointed at it from a direction and source unknown; in the water there are two swans, one camouflaged, and between them lurks a crocodile, ready to come ashore and wreak havoc if it gets annoyed – therefore, an idyll which on closer inspection isn’t idyllic at all.

“You & Me, Part II” I’ll come to eventually, but the third Buckingham/McVie collaboration, which closes side one, is the rather lovely “Mystified” with its gorgeous, ruminating chord changes and a feeling of crisp eternity that is highly reminiscent of OMD; it could theoretically fade out altogether, but the song is about uncertainty when faced with what looks like love. It plays like a tropical beach hut silently surrounded by sharks.

Like practically all of the songs here not written by Stevie Nicks, “Mystified”’s lyric is minimalist, almost like a pop haiku, and it can mean whatever your circumstances demand it should mean. Otherwise, Buckingham’s “Caroline” is all scratchy Peter Gabriel manoeuvres, and something about reaching the mountain top and cutting the cord (signifiers!).

But if there are only three songs on this record sung (less than fully) by Stevie Nicks, only two of which she fully wrote, then there is a melancholy explanation for this, as Buckingham told Uncut in a 2003 interview: “It was a very difficult record to make. Half the time Mick was falling asleep. We spent a year on the record but we only saw Stevie for a few weeks. I had to pull performances out of words and lines and make parts that sounded like her that weren’t her.”

Actually, over the seventeen months it had taken to make the album – recording began as early as November 1985 – Nicks had spent a cumulative total of two weeks in the studio. Her cocaine habit had worsened to the extent that she required a thirty-day stay in the Betty Ford Clinic (which was the inspiration for “Welcome To The Room…Sara”). On her release, however, she went to see a psychiatrist and was prescribed the tranquiliser Klonopin, to which she soon became far more seriously addicted; she did not manage to shake the addiction off fully until the early nineties. As an addict, she was hardly capable of turning up in the recording studio and doing her bit and so Buckingham was faced with the task of having to build her vocal tracks up from isolated lines, sometimes even isolated words, as described above. If Nicks’ voice on things like “Little Lies” sounds cut and pasted, it is a speeded-up Buckingham (the drop-ins on “When I See You Again” where it sounds as though he is messing about varispeed-style with Nicks’ voice à la “If I Was Your Girlfriend” – within all the “What’s the matter, baby” stuff - are almost certainly speeded-up Buckingham).

Then again, is that really Christine McVie singing on “Isn’t It Midnight” or a 60 rpm Buckingham impersonating McVie impersonating Nicks? Buckingham, in the abovementioned Uncut interview, summed it up: “Everyone was at their worst, including myself. We’d made the progression from what could be seen as an acceptable or excusable amount of drug use to a situation where we had all hit the wall. I think of it as our darkest period.”

In other words, everybody in this family was too fucked up to make this album, and Buckingham (with co-producer Richard Dashut) had to bear most of the burden of putting it together and making it work. Thus Tango In The Night looks like Fleetwood Mac, sounds at a distance like Fleetwood Mac, but isn’t really Fleetwood Mac. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the two Nicks-penned/sung songs. In contrast to Buckingham’s essentially futurist musical outlook, Nicks sounds stranded in the past; “Welcome To The Room” plays with notions of Tusk and Gone With The Wind but in truth she is far too far gone; at one point (“This is a dream, right?”) she sounds like the yet-to-be-born Taylor Swift. She is back in the past, with the other “Sara” (but “Sara” is Stevie – isn’t she?), with “Beautiful Child” and maybe even with “Quicksilver Girl.” I wonder whether the nod to Propaganda’s “Duel” (“The first cut is the deepest one of all…”) was at Buckingham’s prompting. Most chilling is when she sings, towards the end of the song, “When you hang up that ‘phone/Well, you cease to exist.” As far as the Fleetwood Mac of 1987 was concerned, she was barely existing as it was.

In “When I See You Again” she is dreaming, she is lost in a dream, in memories of things and relationships that once were, and when she can go no further, she gives up:

“And the dream says I want you
And the dream is gone
So she stays up nights on end
Well at least there is a dream left”

With that, she makes her exit from the song, and the album; and we are left with the ghostly voice of Buckingham to sing the final lines - “If I see you again/Will it be over/Again and again/Over and over?” – and sing them right into the next world. He wants to get on; she is incapable of doing so.

The record closes with its most disquieting and disturbing song. Musically, “You & I, Part II” is a cheerful daytime television electro-jingle; with a slightly different arrangement it could have fitted onto the end of Sulk (and yes, I can imagine Billy Mackenzie singing “Big Love”) – but lyrically (and this is Lindsey AND Christine) what the hell is going on? Eyes shut tight, phantoms crawling out of the night, hoping and praying that tomorrow never comes, a Queen Dido-esque entreaty not to “forget about me”…but then again, the phrase “hoping tomorrow will never come for you and I” can have two meanings, depending upon whether you regard the verb “come” as transitive or intransitive. This, however, is unquestionably the end, the sound of the singer closing the door on the “family,” on the group which a decade earlier had already sounded on the point of disintegrating.

And so it proved. Disgruntled by the prospect of touring the album, given the stresses incurred in recording it, Buckingham demurred and left the band. Tango In The Night remains the last new word that these five people have left us; The Dance included no new songs, and by the time of Say You Will, effectively a Buckingham-Nicks record, Christine McVie had retired, contributing only occasional, ghostly backing vocals. There is no indication that their forthcoming reunion will produce any new material. And so the dialogue, the pain, continued in other ways. By the time “You & I, Part II” has done its business, Buckingham’s voice has been reduced to a ghost in the Fairlight. Perhaps he saw the future only too plainly.