Friday, August 15, 2014

Stevie Nicks - Street Angel (1994)

The 90's were not kind to Stevie Nicks. First, Fleetwood Mac fell apart. Their 1990 album Behind the Mask was kicked-off with a successful Christine McVie single, but Nicks' work was still uneven and the album sank without a ripple. Although many critics attributed the band's fall to Lindsey Buckingham's departure, it should be kept in mind that his solo album of the same period (Out of the Cradle) fared far worse than Behind the Mask. The poor performance of both albums was due to the radically changing musical landscape of the time.

Given that context, it's not really clear why Nicks released Street Angel. Her career needed an authoritative work to reassert her relevance, and Street Angel is a mediocre album that could only appeal to her base. On the plus side, the production (by Thom Panunzio and Nicks) is clean and sassy, moving Nicks away from the overproduction of her previous two studio albums. Also, some of her lyrics are written with a clarity not seen since Bella Donna. Despite these positive changes, there's no getting around the fact that the album sounds dated and stale. Embracing the hip-hop or grunge trends of the time would not have suited Nicks at all, but resting on her laurels was not a much better alternative.

Ultimately, Street Angel stumbles due to a combination of poor songwriting (a shocking charge to level against a Nicks’ solo album) and a lack of new ideas. For example, "Blue Denim" would have been a great song in 1984 but in 1994 it just comes off as tired. "Destiny" actually recycles lyrics from "Enchanted," a song off The Wild Heart. Elsewhere "Greta", "Docklands", and "Jane" are Nicks at her most self-indulgent, and her dreadful cover of "Just Like a Woman" is painful to listen to. There are just enough solid songs to make the album passable, but many of the best ones come from outside writers. 

This brings us to another failing of Street Angel: the absence of Stevie Nicks. She sings authoritatively but few of the songs resonate with her witchy take on rock, likely because her role in the writing is relatively small compared to all of her other solo albums. This is odd given her track record as a songwriter but, when you also consider that two of the best songs on the album (the title track and "Love is Like a River") were penned solely by Nicks, her reluctance to include her own material becomes positively mysterious. No matter how strong the other material is - "Unconditional Love" and "Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind" are wonderful pop songs - there's just not enough Stevie to satisfy fans. As a result, Street Angel is easily Nicks' worst solo album.

Street Angel came and went with little notice, and is only to be purchased by Nicks' completists. Nicks rode out the rest of the decade with a hugely successful Fleetwood Mac reunion (The Dance) and a lovingly created solo boxed-set (Enchanted). These efforts cemented her status as an elder rock icon. 

Depending on how much you like Street Angel, it was either the final stop in Nicks' drawn out fall from grace or the first faltering step of her return to prominence. Whatever the case, the new millennium would find her assuming the mantle of a rock legend while at the same time producing much better work to a far more receptive public.

No comments: