What does it take for a band to realize that their prime has come and gone" More to the point, where does said band go after they've released arguably one of the most popular and recognizable pop-oriented records of the 80s" For Fleetwood Mac, Tango in the Night
was something of a miracle, even if Mirage
was never particularly a bad album to begin with. Lush production, well-written tunes, a great sense of cohesion and co-operation: Fleetwood Mac's 14th studio album had all this and more in spades, that is certain. And so, Behind the Mask
represents the very daunting task of trying to follow up such a successful album, which went on to result in something of a setback for what was left of the band.
Behind the Mask
was the first album since the band's 1975 self-titled effort without Lindsey Buckingham, and it certainly shows. Whilst the replacements in both Billy Burnette and Rick Vito didn't exactly mar the band's future career, it sure did change the sound for the worse. And the result is, to be blunt, very average. Stevie Nicks didn't sound so angelic anymore (Check her input on "Freedom" and the dreary album closer, "The Second Time"), Christine McVie ran out of ideas, and the overall musicianship sounded like it lacked that special something. Nonetheless, Fleetwood Mac's 15th studio effort had its golden moments, brief as they were. The opening two songs, "Skies the Limit" and "Love is Dangerous" both come across as very confident, uplifting pieces of pop rock which, if anything, proved the band still had a little energy left, and the clean, glossy production helped to bring Burnette and Vito's guitar work out of the shadows. However, what follows these two well-written tunes is one of the album's dullest songs, the unnecessarily long "In the Back of my Mind". Here, we have seven minutes of depressing, repetitive soft rock and doesn't even begin until two minutes of lazy ambient soundscapes and incomprehensible, ghostly voices pass. And what follows is very uninspired indeed, as it almost sounds as if Burnette didn't want to write the song to begin with, due to his vocal delivery and its lack of passion or vigour.
Of course, the rest of the album continues in this way, and that's basically the whole flaw. The patterns emerges as two songs of decent songwriting are hampered by two further songs of dull musicianship and vocal delivery. Whilst there are a few songs which do hark back to the band's more joyous, upbeat moments of yore, songs like the title track, which is more of a shell than an actual song, continue to mar the album's progress. Christine McVie's input however seems a lot more fulfilling on Behind the Mask
than Stevie Nicks, and that is the harsh truth. Whereas Nicks' voice on its own is predictably decent enough to listen to, the surrounding instrumentation never seems to fit. Yet on the songs credited to McVie, the instrumental performance from both Burnette and Vito appears a lot stronger than one would think. Evidently, "Save Me" and opener "Skies the Limit" seem to blow the likes of "Freedom" out the water, simply because there seems to be a greater use of energetic instrumentation as opposed to one-dimensional vocal ranges. There are a couple of songs contributed by both Burnette and Vito, and save for the completely lackluster "In the Back of my Mind", the replacing guitarists' songwriting efforts both prove a little interesting, if not exactly unique.
Behind the Mask
suffered in more ways than one. Following up an album as successful as Tango in the Night
would always seem like such an unmanageable task, but losing an important member of the band simply adds more salt to the wound. And it really didn't help that, for all the golden moments to be found on Fleetwood Mac's 15th studio album, there was also a lot of distinctly average input from all members of the band, something which unfortunately marks the end of a more or less glorious era. The worst thing about it is that the unfortunate loss of a vital band member didn't end here.