Men of the World: The Early Years
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
In an industry where itís difficult to achieve any level of success, Fleetwood Mac has had the unusual distinction of coalescing around not one, but two highly regarded and very different sounding line-ups. The best-known of these, of course, was the enormously prosperous, California pop-imbued outfit fronted by Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie, which etched its legacy into stone with the bandís self-titled makeover in 1975 as well as its follow-up Rumours. The other collective is the psychedelic blues-rock ensemble that was forged by guitarist Peter Green, bass player John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood as an offshoot of John Mayallís Bluesbreakers. Itís this initial incarnation of Fleetwood Mac that is the subject of the recent three-disc box set Men of the World: The Early Years, but while thereís little doubt that the group made some extraordinarily dynamic music before Greenís departure, this compilation never fully manages to capture it.
Hereís the scoop: In order to highlight Fleetwood Macís formative moments, the first disc contained in Men of the World: The Early Years fuses together 15 tracks that were taken primarily from a handful of rarities-oriented outings such as Jumping at Shadows: The Blues Years; The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac: 1968 to 1970; and Show-Biz Blues: 1968 to 1970, Vol. 2. Not surprisingly, the selections, both in terms of sound quality and performance, are rough, raw, and deeply anchored in the blues, and even though Green occasionally conjures the fires of hell with his serrated delivery, the ensemble as a whole largely sounds like a bar band searching for direction. Yes, thereís an intensity to some of the material ó most notably, the emotionally charged Love that Burns, the tormented Do You Give a Damn for Me?, the smoky drone of Fast Talking Woman Blues, and the B.B. King-infused cover of Jane Featherís How Blue Can You Get? ó but in truth, thereís little here that distinguishes Fleetwood Mac from the countless other blues-rock ensembles of the 1960s.
By further delving into Fleetwood Macís exploratory forays in a recording studio, however, Men of the World: The Early Yearsí second disc fares better, largely because the band itself is more focused. The opening instrumental World in Harmony, for example, immediately highlights how the ensemble had begun to alter its approach and sculpt its own identity, while the sprawling treatments given to Underwayís serene nuances and The Madge Sessions No. 1ís thunderous rampage reveal how, much like the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead, this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac pushed its music to the absolute limit. Nevertheless, this portion of the endeavor also features its share of less interesting selections ó such as the dead-end improvisations of October Jam No. 1, October Jam No. 2, and Blues in B Flat Minor. Taken in total, this section of the outing essentially is little more than an amalgamation of material that was harvested from the same batch of previously mentioned rarities collections.
As for Men of the World: The Early Yearsí third disc, it, too, is composed of an array of already available tracks, but the difference is that, in spite of the sometimes harsh acoustics, the music is entirely potent. Indeed, on stage, Elmore Jamesí The Stranger was transformed into a violently chaotic maelstrom; Black Magic Woman exploded in a startlingly dramatic climax; Coming Your Way thrashed wildly over its percolating rhythmic groove; and with its ominously stomping overtones, The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown) went a long way towards igniting the heavy metal movement. In the end, however, there are too few highlights contained on Men of the World: The Early Years to make it terribly enticing to casual fans, while diehard followers of Peter Greenís Fleetwood Mac likely will view the set as a mere rehash of what they already own.
Men of the World: The Early Years is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box