Review Summary: The perfect storm.
In hindsight, it's really a miracle that Rumours didn't completely sink. You have two couples who are struggling with internal conflicts - John and Christine McVie had recently divorced, while Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (who were only in the group for a few years by that point) were in an on/off relationship of their own - plus drummer Mick Fleetwood's then-wife Jenny having an affair behind his back. The only times in which the band would be unified and in sync were during musical matters such as songwriting and recording, but they wouldn't connect socially beyond the studio. Of course, it also didn't help that Fleetwood Mac were the hottest music group at the time because of the success of their self-titled "white album" back in 1975, which led to many rumors (hence the title) and intrusions from the media concerning their problems. Basically, the entire situation surrounding Rumours was a complete goddamn mess. However, even in the face of such dilemmas, they pulled through and brought their A-game to create what many consider to be one of the greatest records in pop or rock music history.
The factors in the album's quality and success are too many to count, beyond what could be considered amazing circumstances; however, the mass appeal is one of the biggest things to take into account. The two McVies and Mick Fleetwood were from the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green era), while Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were added much later. Taking elements from the original blues sound of the British members' past and combining them with Buckingham and Nicks' taste for 50s rock and folk proved to be a potent concoction. Want a solid pop tune? Listen to "Dreams." Folk? Listen to "Never Going Back Again." Fast hard rock? "Go Your Own Way." A combination of all three? "The Chain." There's something for everyone here, no matter what you're into. The vocals and songwriting are split between Buckingham, Nicks, and Christine McVie, and all provide their own unique touches to their compositions. McVie's songs are usually more on the upbeat side and provide a welcome change in pace from the darker, more intense listens written by Nicks. Buckingham provides a good middle ground, usually combining an upbeat sound with a varied sonic palate (guitar-wise) and range of moods.
Instrumentally, it's all extremely solid and (once again) very unified. There's no ridiculous shredding from Buckingham, the guitarist instead opting to experiment with what sounds fit best in each song. The rhythm section of Fleetwood and John McVie is also worth mentioning since they don't often receive enough credit; both are very subtle in their roles, but that's the beauty of it. Christine McVie is still one of the central members here, just as she was in the previous record; her piano playing and vocals are graceful, yet dynamically varied throughout each track. And then you've got Stevie Nicks, who really doesn't need to be mentioned because of how well-known and acclaimed she already is. Nonetheless, she goes above and beyond the others when it comes to the vocal department... then again, vocals are the only thing she contributes to this record, so it makes sense that she'd be the focal point in this case. However, as stated before, the real quality of the instrumentation is hearing it all come together as a single entity (with the exception of sparser tracks like "Never Going Back Again" and "Songbird").
But even then, what is it that truly makes this record so legendary? I'd say it has to do with both technical perfection and something a bit less tangible. For one thing, every single song is where it should be. Is there any filler? Not a chance! The placement is flawless when it comes to the record's range of emotions and dynamics, which vary drastically between each piece. But as for the intangible element... it just comes down to the fact that the band were so dedicated and so caring. When Christine McVie sings "Songbird" while playing it on her Steinway piano, her affection for John McVie is extremely evident through how emotive she is regardless of their conflict. The same goes for "Dreams," in which Stevie Nicks' frustration with Lindsey Buckingham is channeled perfectly within the verses as she lays down the cold truth about their relationship. And THERE'S where this album's beauty lies. It's not just great music and lyrics, but it's about writing of love in such a real and meaningful way because they're going through the turmoil realistically. It's a timeless representation of love, one that isn't portrayed in cheesy love letters or bland teen-pop lyrics. Rumours is about the band laying all emotions out on the proverbial table and never holding back about what they feel about each other.
Rumours isn't just a perfect album on a musical level, but on every level imaginable.