THE ALBUM -- Fleetwood Mac "Live," Warner 2WB 3500.

No group has enjoyed quite as cozy a relationship with the rock press as Fleetwood Mac. Like the Eagles, Jackson Browne and other purveyors of L.A. sensibilities, they have built an international reputation -- as well as a corporate empire -- on catchy pop hits with hummable, no-risk hooks. The difference is that no matter how many times they trot out the same old assembly-line boogie-burger, critics and fans line up to pour on the accolades like so much special sauce.

Part of the reason for this fast-funk phenomenon is that the members of Fleetwood Mac have a canny instinct for what sells -- not only in terms of pop songs, but also press copy. Thus we have witnessed, ad nauseam, the evolution of Stevie Nick's stage persona to that of witch Rhiannon, the better to sell more copies of the single by the same name; and thus we have been made privy to the most intimate details of the Buckingham/Nicks, McVie/McVie romantic breakups -- a personal space behind which "Rumours" went multi-platinum.

Now Fleetwood Mac has released a double live album that, since the group has threatened not to do any major tours for "a long time," purports to do it all for you. Contained in the 18 songs, three of which are new, is some of the most exquisitely awful singing and the sloppiest playing ever pressed onto vinyl. But in all fairness, this collection is truer to the band's live performances than most concert records.

It doesn't seem fair to pick on Stevie Nick's vocals in light of the much-publicized nodes that plague her vocal chords (never mind that most rock singers suffer this occupational hazard at one time or another). But the fact is that whenever she takes the microphone, the result is akin to the sound of two automobiles in slow-motion side-swipe. Although she manages to stay in one key on "Sara," she does little more than croak her way through old warhorses like "Landslide" and "Rhiannon."

The rest of the band, armed with fewer excuses, is at least down to Nick's standards, particularly on "Go Your Own Way," which is exactly what each vocal and instrumental component does, making it nearly impossible to decipher any tonal pattern. That this disaster has been released as a single is testament either to the band's total cynicism as regards its adoring audience, or to the perils of hearing loss after standing too long to near the rock amplifiers. Never has a band sounded so much like the Association backing up Patti Smith.

Naturally, in an album of this quality, there are high points, most notably Christine McVie's "Say You Love Me" and former member Peter Green's "Oh Well." And, as mentioned earlier, the musical atrocities herein, though appalling on vinyl, will come as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed this group onstage. Mick Fleetwood describes the band's live work as "stretching out," even though it more closely resembles being laid to rest.

Other than the hint that they may not be performing together much in the future and other promises in the dark, this album is attended by less than the usual amount of hype. There is, however, a detailed listing on the inner sleeve of the concert dates played on Fleetwood's 1979-80 tour, complete with attendance figures.

To its everlasting credit, the band does not go so far as to list ticket prices or concession sales. Still, one keeps looking for a tag line hidden away in a corner -- something on the order of "20 million sold."