Stevie Nicks inhabits a world of sprites, gnomes, fairies and handsome princes. The songs she writes and sings all seem to be set in an evergreen glade where unicorns peep around trees and rainbows shade the sky.
To say that Nicks is a romantic is putting it mildly. She’s the Swinburne of rock, and her music is laden with the thick, melodramatic beauty that effective romanticism can convey.
Her detractors think she’s a flake, while many of her admirers seem to worship the platform boots she teeters upon. Nicks inspires strong feelings, which is one sure indication that she’s not a fake or a sham.
As one-fifth of the superstar group Fleetwood Mac, Nicks has often had her engaging spaciness held in check by the verve and pop-song discipline of the rest of the band. Anyone who has attended a Fleetwood Mac performance knows that Nicks is both essential to this group and totally disconnected from it.
Her cool, reedy voice complements the hot, dense guitar-and-drum sound of the band perfectly, but it often seems as if the band’s tales of difficult love affairs fly over Nicks’ head. In the midst of Fleetwood Mac’s realism, she twirls around the stage in wispy dresses and pulls at a stray lock of hair, listening to the voices in her head.
Two years ago Nicks released a solo album, Bella Donna, that surprised many people both for its resolute levelheadedness and its spectacular commercial success. Bella Donna sold millions of records and contained one of the strongest, angriest pop songs in years, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” a duet with rocker Tom Petty.
Now comes Nicks’ long-awaited second album, The Wild Heart (Modern), and it’s a very pleasurable, if more problematic, piece of work. Working again with producer Jimmy Iovine, Nicks has fashioned a dense, lustrous sound that is an apt metaphor for her lyrics. Sandy Stewart on synthesizer and Roy Bittan, pianist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, provide Nicks with icy sheets of keyboards that drench the music in the kind of splashy emotion the singer revels in.
By contrast, however, old-pro Los Angeles guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Toto’s Steve Lukather play terse, ringing melody lines that prevent the songs from becoming unduly sentimental. This tension between keyboards and guitars gives The Wild Heart the sort of stormy, crackling background that suits Nicks’ tales of dark romance -the musical equivalent of the misty, moody atmospherics of Wuthering Heights.
A recent review of The Wild Heart in Rolling Stone magazine condemned the album for the incoherence of its lyrics, but that’s silly. The whole point of Nicks’ act is that she has become completely addled by love, left gibbering about how her wild heart has been broken beyond repair.
To look for clear-eyed lucidity in her lyrics is as foolish as hoping to find feminist polemic in the words of Ozzy Ozbourne’s songs. It’s much more rewarding to listen to Nicks’ songs without pondering the lyric sheet that accompanies the album. That way, odd fragments of phrases float up out of the musical ether, and you are left free to appreciate her voice, which can sound hoarse and plaintive one moment, ethereal and commanding the next.
If the best songs on The Wild Heart are the tough-sounding ones — the snappish hit single Stand Back” and her duet with Tom Petty, I Will Run to You” — the album also builds to a logically grandiose climax, “Beauty and the Beast,” a seven-minute epic dedicated to the surreal Jean Cocteau film classic of the same name.
Backed by a 22-piece string section and featuring her most delirious vocals, “Beauty and the Beast” is a triumph of campy pop in its woozy, excessive, decadent fun.
Anyone who can plan an album as cagily as Nicks has overseen The Wild Heart isn’t the flibbertigibbet she likes to seem; she’s crazy like a fox.
Knight-Ridder News Service / Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) / July 5, 1983