Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams

In 1973, Stevie Nicks began her career as a recording artist with the album Buckingham Nicks. That album bombed so badly, she was dropped by her label. What a far cry from her first solo album (Bella Donna) eight years later. Bella Donna hit number one, unleashed four top 40 hits, and launched her to a level of stardom reached by few rock artists: she was a member of one of rock's biggest bands and she also had a hugely successful solo career.

It's been 30 years since Bella Donna established Nicks as a force to be reckoned with in or out of Fleetwood Mac and, over the ten years since her last studio album, she seemed to be headed towards a kind of retirement: touring and releasing compilation packages. If In Your Dreams turns out to be the capstone of her career, then she's going out on a very high note. However, the album is so good that it suggests it would be a shame for Nicks to stop recording as she obviously has a lot of great music left in her. Simply put, In Your Dreams is her best album since The Wild Heart and it is the best solo effort of her career in terms of merging her mystical and rock sides.

Lyrically In Your Dreams is the most open album of Nicks' career, reminding us that Nicks is at her best when her moony mysticism and snaky incantations are married to sassy rock and roll attitude. This marriage is partly achieved by Dave Stewart's melodic and tight production. He rarely ventures into the meandering over-instrumentation that has haunted every Nicks solo album since The Wild Heart, yet he lets Nicks breath and indulge in the drama that has always formed the core of her allure. He clearly 'gets' what Stevie is all about and his production lets her be herself while deftly setting some boundaries to keep things rock and roll.

Nicks responds as she did when Jimmy Iovine pushed her this way: she gives tremendous, emotional performances. While there's no question that Nicks' voice isn't what it used to be, she seems to have accepted that her sultry vibrato is a thing of the past and is singing with what she has rather than trying to force what she used to have. I noticed this approach during her Soundstage performance as well. The result is Nicks sounds alive, energized, and happy throughout the disk, as if she's really into what she's doing and comfortable with it. In fact, I don't think she has sounded so utterly invested all the way through an album since...again, The Wild Heart.

Frankly (and I know I'm gushing now, but I've been a Stevie fan since Rumours came out when I was ten years old), In Your Dreams is the CD I have been wanting Nicks to do for decades. She's abandoned the over-production and layered instrumentation. The songs sound very direct and simple, yet the sound is still lush and full of sonic details that support the mood of the songs. As to a favorite song...sorry but I can't pick one. The songs all touch different emotions, and I love how Nicks alters her delivery for each of them. There's Nicks' always alluring overgrown romanticism ('Moonlight', 'Italian Summer'), hooky pop tunes ('Secret Love', 'New Orleans'), country twang ('For What It's Worth'), thoughtful ballads ('You May Be The One', 'Cheaper Than Free'), a dirge that verges on slowed down black metal ('Soldier's Angel'), an upbeat take on Edgar Allen Poe ('Annabel Lee'), and straight ahead rock (the title track). Even the to-be-expected loopy tracks ('Wide Sargasso Sea', 'Ghosts Are Gone') seem to work. That said, there is one song that suffers by comparison to the rest of the material: 'Everybody Loves You'. It just doesn't belong on this CD because it's clearly a Eurythmics song in need of Annie Lennox's icy cooing. Nicks hasn't got an icy note in her body, and it just sounds wrong.

As on Trouble in Shangri-La, most of the best songs are the ones Nicks writes on her own. So if I were to ding In Your Dreams, it would be for Nicks' continuing reluctance to step up the plate and write more of her own material. While I'm not crazy about her culling songs from her vaults, if she's got gems like 'Secret Love' and 'Annabel Lee' stored away, then I can't complain too much can I?

Bottom line: I have this CD in my car and just let it play over and over. I haven't given a Nicks' CD this kind of spin priority since Rock a Little. The quality and energy of this album will no doubt go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year. Nicks knocked this album out of the ballpark!

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