Most songwriters have slush piles of songs that didn’t make the cut. As tantalising as the prospect of lost albums and lost songs are to most fans, these tracks usually go unrecorded and get forgotten for good reason. For Stevie Nicks a different story unfolds.
The majority of the songs on 24 Karat Gold were written between 1969 and 1987 and in most cases, although unreleased they have appeared as rough demos and in recent times online. Indeed, so well known are Stevie’s unreleased recordings that it will come as a surprise to some that such well-known tracks as the awesome Space Needle have been left off.
Here then is her dip into her vaults – she has chosen songs whose lyrics resonate with the times in which they were written – Belle Fleur bristling with the hippie dreams of Laurel Canyon’s ‘mountain women’, Mabel Normand (written in the mid 80s) using the metaphor of a silent movie star’s fall from grace to echo her own regrets, the title track a reference to Mick Fleetwood’s early 70s unbuttoned demeanour and penchant for bling.
Although the past and in particular her past is embedded in the songs, she’s also chosen tracks which work in 2014. Today, of course, she is a very different person to the woman of the 60s, 70s and 80s – she’s come through the other side of rock’n’roll’s greatest soap opera and survived, not without consequences. To the listener the biggest difference is her voice – whether it’s age, cocaine or cigarettes her vocal range today is much reduced from the agile voice of Rumours et al.
But compare her voice on the demo versions of 24 Karat Gold’s tracklist and 2014 Stevie hold up pretty well – in part that’s down to skilful arrangements, but also to the emotional depth these songs carry. This is no slush pile, these are orphans who’ve finally come home.
The timing of this album could not be better – not just because another Fleetwood Mac reunion is upon us but also because Nicks’s influence on modern pop has never been more apparent. On The Dealer she has a radio-friendly tune that casts her correctly as the matriarch of newcomers such as Haim, while the magnificent Blue Water employs Lady Antebellum as backing vocalists as if to remind everyone that she nailed the whole pop/country/rock crossover deal three decades ago.
Sadly, sentimentality has allowed into this collection a couple of tracks (such as Cathouse Blues) that would have been boxed as filler in unkinder times. Regardless, as a project and as a reminder of a hugely talented lyricist this is a treat.