This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… Stevie Nicks, Bella Donna September 14, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
For a long time now I’d been thinking of doing a Fleetwood Mac TWIMBLT, but why stop there? Listening recently to Stevie Nicks first solo work, Bella Donna – all the way from 1981, it struck me what a strange album in a way it was for the mainstream, and what a strange singer she was and is for the mainstream. And very successfully mainstream this was too, arguably much more so than most albums we look at.
It’s not that the constituent elements of Fleetwood Mac’s sound aren’t all present and correct, a certain sort of guitar sound, descending chords, multilayered vocals abound.
And yet, on her album it’s all put together in a way that is sort of unexpected. There are gaps between the drums, unusual guitar sounds that are there for ambience rather than melody, and her voice wanders here and there, almost picking between melodies rather than fixing to them. It’s folk, rock, pop and in places very contemporary indeed whereas in others it is deeply, knowingly, traditional.
In sum this is a much more gnarly beast throwing off odd shapes and angles than the smooth adult oriented soft rock inflected creature one might expect. It’s that voice, sure, a strange crooning rasp of a thing, but it’s also the way the rest of it is put together. And this makes me think that given Lindsey Buckingham is generally feted as bringing a genuine strangeness to Fleetwood Mac, then one S. Nicks was no slouch in that department either.
As to the songs? There are outright rockers, that hardy perennial of the airwaves, ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ – the only track on the album not written by her, features Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, with Petty and Nicks duetting and duelling on vocals, their raspy voices oddly complimentary to one another. But for a rocker it’s kind of languid, which may be no harm given how much we’ve had to hear it subsequently.
And so it goes, one song after another. Is that Don Henley on ‘Leather and Lace’? It sure is, but don’t let that put you off, or not entirely put you off, though his voice is perhaps too soft to really work with Nicks, at least in the way that Petty’s voice does.
To my ears ‘Kind of Women’ was echoed, at least a little, by the Church a decade later on their song ‘Grind’ perhaps in part due to the Waddy Wachtel-led production team the latter group used in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wachtel worked with Fleetwood Mac and actually played guitar on Bella Donna. Either way, it’s a great ballad.
Joan Cusack in “School of Rock” riffed entertainingly on nostalgia and ‘Edge of Seventeen’, but the joke sort of works because it’s fundamentally true. And it’s yet another strangely constructed song from the Nicks song book. That insistent, essentially new wave, beat that propels the song forward is welded to her curiously triumphant vocals and a piano that underpins the composition.
‘After the Glitter Fades’ is a country inflected ballad, ‘How Still My Love’ perhaps less unexpectedly – follows a familiar path to any Fleetwood Mac fans, but interestingly brittle. Outside the Rain has that melancholic Fleetwood Mac sound just down. And yet it works. And as with other songs on the albums, the soft/loud dynamic is very evident. Apparently Nicks wrote all these on the piano in the years leading up to its release, and I think perhaps that shows to some extent, not least in the curiously haphazard – but effective – way they are constructed.
By the way, as regards the lyrics, having discovered that ‘Edge of Seventeen’ was written about John Lennon and an uncle of Nicks who was dying when I thought it dealt with something completely different I’ve given up on trying to understand them.
All that aside it’s important not to let the high-profile collaborations on this album, obscure the fact that this was very much her solo album infused by her very individual aesthetic, and worth remembering the simple fact that in 1981 she was already an huge star with Fleetwood Mac. Or to put it another way, however much Henley and, most particularly, Petty add to the mix, truth is this would have flown without them.
Edge of Seventeen
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
After the Glitter Fades
Outside the Rain
Kind of Woman