Saturday, August 9, 2014

Stevie Nicks - Rock a Little (1985)

With Fleetwood Mac's future in question, Stevie Nicks forged on with her solo career. She was clearly the most successful Mac solo artist. For example, either of her first two efforts (Bella Donna or The Wild Heart) matched the combined sales of all five other Mac solo albums released by this time (two surprisingly strong projects from Mick Fleetwood, two grating efforts from critic's darling Lindsey Buckingham, and a solid offering from songbird Christine McVie).

Nicks' success was partly due to the fact that she made her band mates look like they were standing still. While Buckingham recycled his Tusk eccentricities and McVie continued making pure pop magic, Rock a Little found Nicks experimenting with new sounds. Notably, she completely embraced the synth-pop style of the mid 80s, as well as welcomed new producers and musicians. Although the changes suit her style very well, there's definitely a more trendy sound to Rock a Little. As a result, it hasn't aged as well as her first two albums.

Keeping that in mind, Rock a Little is an outstanding effort to blend Nicks' poetic drama with the synthesizer age. "Talk to Me" and "I Can't Wait" were big hits, although Nicks was not the primary writer on either track. In fact she only wrote three songs by herself, a major change from The Wild Heart and Bella Donna, where she wrote virtually the entire album. The smaller role for her songwriting immediately makes Rock a Little less compelling. Vocally, however, she's as impressive as ever if a bit frayed around the edges.

Beyond the hits, "Sister Honey" and "If I Were You" show Nicks bending her new soundscape to fit her needs. On the other hand, she's swallowed up in the over-production of "The Nightmare." Further, the record is hurt by some lyrics that are oblique even for Stevie Nicks, and there's a general lack of musical focus ("Imperial Hotel" seems to have wandered in from some Tom Petty album). Despite the cracks showing in Nicks’ skyrocketing solo machine, she closes the album on a powerful note. "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You" is one of her most beautiful ballads.

Unlike her previous albums, Rock a Little is not a classic. It's too steeped in 80s production values to endure in that way. Taken for what it is it's a great album, although the pace of her dual career was clearly starting to take a toll.

[An interesting side note: The remix of "The Nightmare" on the "I Can't Wait" maxi-single - for which Nicks is credited with additional production and remixing - is much better than the album version.]

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