Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stevie Nicks - The Other Side of the Mirror (1989)

In the first half of the 1980's Stevie Nicks established herself as a rock and roll double threat. A powerful contributor to Fleetwood Mac's monstrous success, she also built an equally credible solo career on her own. However, after her third solo album (Rock a Little), she seemed to be in some kind of free fall due to drama in Fleetwood Mac and her own widely publicized drug problems. Whatever the issue, her output slowed and the quality of what was produced dropped radically. Her songwriting contributions to Fleetwood Mac's sleek 1987 album Tango in the Night, for example, were flat out embarrassments to both herself and her band mates.

On The Other Side of the Mirror it feels as if Nicks is struggling to regain her footing, and it may be that Rupert Hines was not the best producer for her to work with at such a time. I say this despite the fact that it could have been a magical collaboration at another time, as there are definite strengths on Mirror. Most of Stevie's songs are well-written, she produced an enthralling hit in "Rooms on Fire", and the overall sound of the album steps back from the synth-heaviness of Rock a Little. Vocally, Nicks sounds fresher and in better shape (perhaps a benefit of having kicked cocaine). 

However, there are also several recurring weaknesses that undercut the album: many of the tracks are self-indulgent and lyrically off the deep end. A generally over-produced feel ultimately creates a listless sound, which blunts Nicks' usual strengths as a writer and performer. Examples are plentiful.
"Two Kinds of Love" is a great duet with Bruce Hornsby, but it lacks a direct emotional connection that she usually delivers on such songs (e.g., "Leather and Lace"). "Whole Lotta Trouble" is a horn-blazing rocker that never manages to evoke high drama (a la "Edge of Seventeen"). "Juliet" rocks and
"Alice" menaces, but both are ultimately too unfocused to hold together for anyone other than a die-hard Stevie Nicks fan. Her lyrics on "Long Way to Go" - an otherwise propulsive track with fierce vocal commitment - are so oddly phrased that she sounds like she's imitating Jedi Master Yoda. The nadir is "Fire Burning," a mess of a song that takes three minutes to go nowhere.

Leading up to this release, Nicks may have been spending more energy exorcising her demons than writing songs. From that standpoint, Mirror would be a remarkably solid album. A certified fan will no doubt enjoy it (as I did), but it’s hard to imagine anyone not noticing there’s just less electricity in the wiring this time out. Her next release, the aptly titled Timespace, would be a "best of" effort. Its release may have been a stopgap as Nicks tried to regain career momentum.

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