Stevie Nicks released Trouble in Shangri-La in 2001, twenty years after her debut solo album Bella Donna. A great deal had happened in music - and to Nicks – during those two decades. That Nicks’ first album of original material in seven years (and her first of new millennium) could attract interest from an A-list of young performers is an accomplishment all by itself. And, while Nicks never took her hat out of the ring in terms of recording and touring, Trouble in Shangri-La generates an aura of triumphant comeback. Nicks had survived the rock and roll gristmill and emerged on the other side as an institution, readily acknowledged as a pioneer paving the way for many rock musicians, especially women.
Of course, Nicks is no longer the "hot new thing" so to expect another Bella Donna or The Wild Heart from her is unfair and, if someone isn't a fan by now, there's not much that's going to remedy the situation. What makes Trouble in Shangri-La work is how comfortably it updates Nicks’ mystical take on rock into the current musical landscape. The album doesn’t sound like something by an old fogey, but it also doesn’t pander to trends either. Most impressive is that, while Nicks records some characteristic tunes from her backlog (“Sorcerer” and “Candlebright” are from the early seventies), the strongest songs turn out to be the ones she has written most recently. The title track is dramatic musing on the pitfalls of fame and/or love, "Love Changes" surges with hard-won hope, "Fall From Grace" is balls to wall rock that Nicks hasn't recorded since Rock a Little, and the lush ballad "Love Is" grows more emotive with every listen.
In every way, Nicks is in far better form here than she was on 1994's forgettable Street Angel. That said, she still hasn’t conquered some of her troublesome tendencies. Twangy "Too Far From Texas" is out of place amid the rest of the tracks. "That Made Me Stronger" is built around overwrought lyrics and comes off clunkity as a result. And, again, big production short-circuits the energy of otherwise solid songs (“Planets of the Universe”, “Bombay Sapphires”). As ever, Nicks shines brightest in simple surroundings (or at least surroundings that sound simple).
But this is beside the point. Nicks doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. Trouble in Shangri-La and the 2003 Fleetwood Mac studio album Say You Will both hit the top five, proving Nicks is still relevant. It’s especially notable that her songwriting on Say You Will (e.g., “Thrown Down”, “Silver Girl”, “Destiny Rules”) was one of the strongest reasons to buy the album. Where Nicks will go from here is anyone's guess. Personally, I'd love to see her go back-to-basics and cut an album of rough gems like the demos she released on Enchanted or at least stick to the low maintenance sonic surroundings Lindsey Buckingham created for her on Say You Will. Whatever she does, though, Nicks' place in the rock pantheon is guaranteed both as a member of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist in her own right.