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Future Games: Fleetwood Mac At The Dawn Of A New Era
In Depth

Future Games: Fleetwood Mac At The Dawn Of A New Era

Danny Kirwan’s coming-of-age album, ‘Future Games’ also saw Christine McVie and Bob Welch join the constantly evolving Fleetwood Mac.

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By the time Fleetwood Mac entered London’s Advision Studios to record Future Games, their fifth studio album, in the summer of 1971, the only remaining original band members were bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. The group’s early guiding light, gifted guitarist Peter Green had left in 1970 and was swiftly followed by fellow-guitarist Jeremy Spencer. This gave the then 21-year-old lead guitarist Danny Kirwan, who’d joined Fleetwood Mac just a few years earlier, an opportunity to step up to the plate and show his worth. There were new recruits, too – keyboardist and singer Christine McVie had made uncredited contributions to the group’s 1970 album, Kiln House, and was now made an official member of the band, while US guitarist Bob Welch was added to flesh out the sound.

Listen to ‘Future Games’ here.

Spaced-out progressive beauty

The line-up changes had a marked effect. Pushing Fleetwood Mac’s earlier heavy blues influence aside in order to make way for a wider sonic palette, Future Games saw the group embrace psychedelia, dreamy West Coast folk and cosmic progressive pop. Welch brought a jazzy, R&B sensibility to his playing and songwriting, and Christine McVie’s contributions saw her establishing the irresistible polished pop sound that would bring Fleetwood Mac such enormous success in the late 70s.

Future Games’ opening track, however, shows what Danny Kirwan was capable of. The mellow and spacey Woman Of 1000 Years shares some of the spaced-out progressive acoustic beauty that was at that point winning Crosby, Stills And Nash huge audiences worldwide. A wistful, low-key way to start an album, it beckons the listener in closer, rather than bludgeoning them around the head.

Christine McVie’s first official Fleetwood Mac song, the lively, rock’n’roll-flavoured Morning Rain, immediately changes the mood with its barrelling piano and liberal use of evil-sounding fuzz wah-wah. Shifting gear several times throughout, the track shows the still-gelling group’s musical versatility. The upbeat atmosphere is maintained with the two-minute instrumental What A Shame, the closest thing Future Games has to a blues-rock song. The fade-in suggests we’re the joining group mid-jam – and, indeed, the song was apparently an off-the-cuff performance. It’s built around a funky and insistent bass figure, with fuzz wah-wah (again) and saxophone courtesy of Christine’s brother, John Perfect, piling in.

Sumptuous and musically ambitious

Next up is Future Games’ title track, Bob Welch’s first contribution to the album. An eight-minute-plus masterclass in dreamy, progressive pop, it dovetails beautifully with Kirwan’s more cosmic moments. Still, there’s a toughness here: just check out the chunky solo that enters around the three-minute mark. Meanwhile, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood show their versatility, laying down a groove on which the guitars, keys and vocals build a sumptuous and musically ambitious track

The standard is upheld with Kirwan’s Sands Of Time. Initially breezing by as folk-rock-infused beauty, the mood shifts a few minutes in, giving the song an urgent, jazzy feel which again underlines the group’s musicality. The poetic, introspective lyrics deal with the passing of time, marking Kirwan out as a more sophisticated lyricist than he’s given credit for, especially considering his age at the time.

The beginnings of unimaginable success

The bittersweet, country-tinged Sometimes follows. A more conventional Kirwan song, it suggests a different path Fleetwood Mac may have taken had the guitarist not been asked to leave the group the following year. Next, Welch’s funky, heads-down boogie-rocker Lay It All Down switches things up again, providing a rollicking tune seemingly designed to catch fire on stage. Closing the album is Christine McVie’s Show Me A Smile – another hint at what the gifted songwriter would bring to the group in the following decades. The sort of melancholic ballad that the Buckingham-Nicks line-up would turn into a sultry, wee-small-hours gem, here Kirwan and Welch’s lilting, psych-tinged guitars ensure it sounds at home on Future Games.

Released on 3 September 1970, Future Games would prove to be the finest album by this iteration of Fleetwood Mac. Though the album didn’t chart in the UK and only reached No.91 in the US, it has become a fan favourite and, with the formal introduction of Christine McVie, represents the beginnings of unimaginable success for the group.

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