FLEETWOOD MAC – ” Future Games ” Released 3rd September 1971

Posted: May 17, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Produced by the band members themselves and engineered by the legendary Martin Rushent, “Future Games” was recorded at London’s Advision Studios between June and August 1971, and the fact that it was released on September 3rd of the same year shows just how quick the turnaround was. In addition to Kirwan, the album also stands out as being the first Fleetwood Mac album to include Christine McVie as a full member as well as the first to feature Bob Welch, but it’s also notable for being the band’s first album without Jeremy Spencer.

When Fleetwood Mac turned in Future Games, Reprise Records said that they wouldn’t release it with only seven songs, so the band popped back into the studio and laid down “What a Shame,” doing so as a jam, hence the song writing credits including every member of the band. The album’s lone single, “Sands of Time,” failed to chart in either the U.S. or the U.K., but one tune has managed to find a tremendous audience over the years: the title track, penned by Welch, which is by far the most streamed song on the album.

Future Games was poorly received by the critics of the time. Future Games is a thoroughly unsatisfactory album. It is thin and anemic-sounding and I get the impression that no one involved really put very much into it. If Fleetwood Mac have tried to make the transition from an energetic rocking British blues band to a softer more “contemporary” rock group, they have failed. If they have simply lost interest.

Critic Robert Christgau’s commentary shows how much the man admires what he perceives as his superior ability with wordplay as well as the usual pomposity and factual errors:
These white blues (and hippie rockabilly) veterans shouldn’t have to depend on new recruit Bob Welch’s deftly metallized r&b extrapolation for rock and roll, but unless you count the studio jam, they do. And if the best song on the album isn’t the slowest, that’s only because Welch also has mystagogic tendencies. It’s the simplest in any case: Christine Perfect’s ‘Show Me a Smile.’
Christine was no longer calling herself Perfect but was still good enough to qualify as McVie. Bob Welch actually contributed relatively little to Future Games: he wrote two of the songs (including the title track) and “played mostly rhythm guitar.” And to apply the term “mystagogic” to Bob Welch is completely absurd, for “A mystagogue is a person who initiates others into mystic beliefs, and an educator or person who has knowledge of the sacred mysteries of a belief system.” Neither of Welch’s songs come close to qualifying as a trip into the mystic (though Danny Kirwan’s do).

The expansion of the band’s range is established immediately in the pair of sus2 acoustic guitar chords that form the intro to Kirwan’s “Woman of 1000 Years.” Patterns of sustained and major seventh chords have an elusive, indefinite feel, calling up adjectives like “ethereal,” “dreamy” and “melancholy.” Most songwriters fail to develop chord structures to support them, leading to a vague, uncertain musical statement that lacks a sense of forward movement—songwriter and song remain suspended in a musical vacuum.

Danny Kirwan was not one of those songwriters. “Woman of 1000 Years” has one of the most beautiful and satisfying chord structures I’ve ever heard. When I reproduced the chords on my acoustic guitar, I felt myself moving into a still, reflective space where I was at one with the sheer beauty of the musical progression. I switched to piano and the progression had the same entrancing effect. The sense of movement and wonder is enhanced by subtle changes and additions along the way that keep things challenging and intensely interesting—but not once does a chord feel out-of-place. Chord charts on the Internet are often hit-or-miss (half the contributors couldn’t tell a minor chord from a major to save their lives), but I found one on Ultimate Guitar that gets it right. If you are a musician, I encourage you to head over there and explore the pattern—the improvisational opportunities are limitless.

Back to our story, the “resolution” chord is Asus2, which effectively means there is no resolution at all—the woman of a thousand years remains an indefinable mystery. Although not specifically identified as such in the lyrics, the woman is certainly a manifestation of the muse, but Kirwan doesn’t limit her role to sparking creativity in the artist. Danny Kirwan’s vocal is beautifully restrained and blends marvelously with Christine McVie’s harmonies. The first guitar solo is a gorgeous display of simplicity, completely consistent with the nature of the composition as it seems to end a bar before its time, avoiding definitive resolution; the complementary guitar fade supplies an appropriately gentle exit. While “Woman of 1000 Years” is hardly your typical album opener, it is a compelling experience nonetheless, establishing a mood for the album that asks the listener to shift gears, slow down and take some time to enjoy the magic of music.

Let us correct the record. Future Games balances the impressive song writing talents of Kirwan, Welch and Christine McVie. Each of those artists put a great deal of effort into crafting those songs, a glaring truth that is obvious to anyone who actually takes the time to listen to the record. Danny Kirwan is clearly the dominant presence, contributing the three songs most crucial to establishing the reflective mood of the album. If anything, Future Games increased Fleetwood Mac’s “promise” by extending their playing field beyond straight blues-based rock ‘n’ roll.

Future Games may not have been a gargantuan hit in America, but it did kick off a trend for a few albums where each album did better than one that preceded it, with 1972’s Bare Trees hitting and Penguin so it still furthered Fleetwood Mac’s fanbase in the States.

Even nice albums need some kick, and Future Games certainly delivers on that score. Christine McVie’s “Morning Rain” gives her a chance to warm up her piano fingers in a percussive role dedicated to reinforcing the solid rhythm established by the ever-grounded pair of Fleetwood and McVie. I love the way this song opens, lulling the listener into believing the root chord is F# before making a move to establish F# as the tension chord demanding resolution to B major. The sweet bluesy guitar licks that highlight that transition make me smile at the cleverness of the ruse as they settle into the solid groove. For a rock song, Christine’s vocal in the verses (supported by harmony) is comparatively subdued, but soon we learn that she’s been saving her vocal chords for the more enthusiastic performance in the bridge . The contrast between the two vocal styles adds to the appeal of the song, and even more excitement awaits us in the instrumental passages where the guitarists let loose. I also love the way the piece ends, with Christine and the boys reminding us of the song’s essential melodic nature with a nice round of wordless singing. “Morning Rain” is a tasty little piece promising that Future Games will cover a lot of musical ground.

“What a Shame” was added at the last minute because the album submitted by the band contained only seven tracks and the record company wanted eight. The band responded with a single key jam with heavy bass featuring Christine’s brother John on saxophone. I’m glad John picked up a few bucks in the process, but other than executing the piece with due professionalism, the band doesn’t sound particularly interested. If they had to include it on the album, it might have been better to move it back into the fourth slot to serve as a brief intermission between “Future Games” and “Sands of Time.” It’s sufficiently low-key so as not to disturb the nice album vibes.

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Moving onto Bob Welch’s Fleetwood Mac début, “Future Games” makes use of the sustained and major seventh chords we heard in “Woman of a 1000 Years,” in this case producing a slight drone effect with the unifying B-note (Em, Cmaj7, Asus2, B7). However, Welch’s piece features clearer resolution to E minor in the verses and G major in the chorus, hinting at a more definitive theme in the lyrics. Despite the unknowable nature of the future, Welch pulls it off by universalizing the message: playing out future possibilities is something everyone does, whether it’s speculating on the afterlife, the possibility of a relationship with this person or that person, or worrying about disasters that may come our way. “I know I’m not the only one to ever spend my life sitting playing “Future Games”.  Musically, “Future Games” complements Kirwan’s contributions to the album with its pensive mood and restraint. The band passes up the opportunity to go big in the instrumental passage featuring the guitar solo, using that passage to reinforce the melody before easing into the third verse. Though I think they could have shortened the fade a bit, “Future Games” works on multiple levels, and demonstrates Bob Welch’s gift for melody that would later result in “Sentimental Lady.”

The flow of Danny Kirwan’s “Sands of Time” is as gentle and mesmerizing as the flow of a mountain stream. The music here alternates between G major and its E minor complement, spiced with a delightful variety of guitar fills, cascading arpeggios and some nifty cymbal work from Mick Fleetwood. The lyrics involve the interplay of darkness and light, as expressed in the verse that opens and closes the song.

In a stunning turn of events, Danny seems to go full country in the introduction to “Sometimes,” with Christine McVie’s down-home piano and sweetly picked guitar leading the way. Danny inserts a minor chord into the mix and John McVie fills the empty spaces with deep, penetrating bass. Danny then steps into the role of jilted lover, remembering the good times while throwing his aching back into his work to help push the emotional pain to the sidelines. The song straddles the line between classic sad song and defiance of sadness, expressed both in the lyrics and in the surprisingly muscular guitar fills. Although not as deep or complex as his other two contributions, don’t let its subtlety fool you: “Sometimes” is first-rate song writing by a very talented songwriter.

The one contribution on the album I could have done without is Bob Welch’s “Lay It All Down,” a rather pedestrian attempt at blues-influenced gospel with the usual “just like the good book said” crapola. Thematically it’s a weak fit; I suppose one could argue that it maintains the connection with the earlier model of Fleetwood Mac, but that was then, this was now, and this song flat-out sucks.

Fortunately, Future Games ends on a high note with Christine McVie’s “Show Me a Smile.” Songs written by parents for their children generally don’t grab me because of the latent sentimentality, but there’s one verse that lifts this song out of the maudlin and into the reality that a child’s future is likely to result in disappointment. Christine captured that dynamic beautifully, carefully balancing her vocal so that she never goes too soft or over the top. The music is equally supportive of that balance, with luscious arpeggiated guitar, lead guitar fills and splashes of piano guiding us gently through the verses, and John McVie delivering serious punch with his bass during the louder passages. “Show Me a Smile” ends Future Games by underscoring the album’s essential beauty.

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    • The only constant members are drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. That’s where the band’s name comes from, and they won a lawsuit to prove it.
    • Fleetwood Mac began life as a blues band during the peak years of the British blues movement. Their first album is officially titled Fleetwood Mac, but nearly everyone refers to it as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, referring to the band’s lead guitarist and singer. This début album was a smashing success, and remains one of the most enjoyable blues records of the era. Jeremy Spencer contributed slide guitar and some vocals. As was true for so many British musicians of the era,  Peter Green developed his chops in John Mayall’s band.
    • Peter Green stayed with the band  through the third studio album, Then Play Onthe first album with Danny Kirwan. Kirwan would emerge as sort of co-leader with Jeremy Spencer on the fourth album Kiln House. Spencer left the band shortly thereafter. Christine Perfect, aka Christine McVie, who had appeared occasionally on earlier albums, became a full-time member after Kiln House, the name change reflecting her marriage to John McVie.
    • Prior to Future Games, an American musician by the name of Bob Welch joined the band, sharing guitar duties with Kirwan. This relationship ended after the follow-up album Bare Trees when Kirwan’s drinking and temper led to some serious altercations with Welch, which in turn led to Kirwan’s dismissal. Welch contributed to five studio albums, and the period from Future Games to Heroes Are Hard to Find are colloquially referred to as the Bob Welch Era or similar designation.
    • In 1975, Christine McVie pushed hard for a more radio-friendly music to pad her bank account. Welch thought he’d be better off going solo and left the band. Fleetwood Mac replaced him with Americans Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
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