50 Years: Don’t Stop Warner Bros Career-spanning but hits-heavy collection.
From the Peter Green years to the recent arrival of Neil Finn, in their half-century career Fleetwood Mac have regenerated many times, like a increasingly successful rock Doctor Who. They began as a British bluesboom band, complete with obligatory back-alley album cover shot and a repertoire of amped-up R&B numbers, evolved into a proper early-70s rock band, moved towards a more melodic repertoire, and then turned into a multiplatinum rock-pop soap opera, which they remained as pretty much for three decades, before fading gracefully into stadium nostalgia.
The 50 Years: Don’t Stop collection attempts, in strikingly truncated and biased form, to do justice to that career. It does so by devoting three CDs to the band’s 50 years in music (a single CD, reverse-tracklisted oddity is also available for people who like to hear songs in the wrong order). The first CD comprises material from Fleetwood Mac’s blues prime – Shake Your Moneymaker, Black Magic Woman and so on – to their rock era with songs such as Station Man and Sentimental Lady.
It’s a career that could have ended there, another rock band who foundered on the shores of the 1970s. But the second CD is, as it were, the money shot, with all the best material from the Buckingham and Nicks years. It’s a sudden and quite jarring break, with only the brilliance of Christine McVie as a bridge between the two eras (Mick Fleetwood and John McVie being more of a chassis than anything else in the band named after them). Suddenly everything is shiny divorce pop. By the time you’re listening to Sara and wondering if the chorus is ever going to come in, a certain sterility has set in.
Disc Three is a mixture of late hits from a more relaxed Fleetwood Mac (at least on record), plus the odd rarity and live track.
50 Years: Don’t Stop is not a comprehensive collection (how could three CDs represent the work of a band who’ve released 17 albums?), and, unsurprisingly, is heavily weighted towards the very big hits, but it’s a useful beginner’s guide to an extraordinary band. Fleetwood Mac are a group whose internal chaos and constant dissolution and re-formation are, bizarrely, the reason they’re still together.