Bella Donna (Deluxe Edition)
Rhino Entertainment Company
It was an interesting time – and very creative – for Fleetwood Mac and its members post-Rumours. The popular narrative suggests they never bettered it, but they did something much better in a way, they diversified. Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood both made solo records in 1981 – but the big noise, and news, was Stevie Nicks releasing her debut album, now reissued as a triple disc: original album, demos and leftovers and then live tracks.
It’s been easy to rave about Rumours when that was again reissued. Everyone is on side with that already anyway. Everyone. Even people that claim to not like Fleetwood Mac like Rumours, it has more cultural currency than any single compilation. It is the best business card for the band. But in the early-80s it became very clear that having a large musical personality behind the name and drums and then three distinct songwriters in Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks meant that there was going to be plenty of material and the chance to indulge solo pursuits. Besides, this all gave John McVie time to drink. Which he loved to do back then.
But Nicks’ debut was the big-hitter and the one that stands proudest when looking back on it. Songs like Edge of Seventeen are cut from the same chiffon as Silver Springs and Rhiannon, Kind of Woman and After The Glitter Fades are similar ruminations to what would become Gypsy. And then there was that killer duet with Tom Petty on Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. A Petty/Campbell composition – it really comes alive with Nicks doing her white-witch wail.
The Heartbreakers stuck around for most of the record, there’s a duet with Don Henley (Leather and Lace) and other great session players are called in including Springsteen’s E-Street pianist Roy Bittan and Stax/MG’s bass-man, Donald “Duck” Dunn.
Make no mistake though, it’s Nicks’ record. This is where she really shows she can sustain her songwriting voice across an album all on her own. Where Buckingham had massaged so many of her songs on the Rumours, Tusk and self-titled Fleetwood Mac albums, here she’s out on her own to create the ballad-steps of Think About It (feels like she’s following in some of Lindsey’s Tusk traipses however) and the magical How Still My Love.
For more on Nicks as solo star read Amanda Petrusich’s wonderful New Yorker piece. It gets to the soul of what Stevie as frontperson, solo star and singer/songwriter was offering then and there and now forever after on record.
Bella Donna is near perfect. And the demos are worth your time. Also we get to hear Blue Lamp from the movie Heavy Metal and Sleeping Angel from Fast Times at Ridgemont High). Hey and if Nicks only ever did two types of songs, the introverted ballad and the extroverted rocker so be it. She found so many ways to creates shades of variation, to alternate and to – always – allure.
The live set, in support of this album and featuring a few highlights from the Mac canon too (a kick-ass Gold Dust Woman to open, the mercurial Sara) is even better than the demo-disc jammed up with early versions. Here the songs live and breathe and stretch, and that’s what the very best Stevie Nicks songs do (cf. Silver Springs).
Great to have this again and in keeping with the Rumours, Tusk and Mirage reissues this stands up. Holds the weight of its own even.