Of course I know how it actually came down, and I wish Charlie and Di all the best. But if capitalist fantasists on either side of the Atlantic had been on their toes, Stevie Nicks would have been signed to play at the royal ball, for starters. There, rasping out forgettable songs designed to draw attention to her incredible wardrobe and away from her lyrics, she would've whisked away noble hearts with every chiffon- clouded swirl. As the clock struck midnight, she'd have hawked out one final rock-princess fairy tune and spun herself gracefully down the palace steps, hardly noticing at all as one quilted boot dropped daintily near the limo stand. . .
Sleeping pop entrepreneurs let this ready-made media opportunity slip by, but in real life, a rock princess must occassionally reaffirm her claim to nobility, with or without the help of a Prince Charming. Stevie Nicks' "Bella Donna" may not actually accomplish the deed, but it certainly reminds us that post-hippie hocus-pocus still has a certain marketability.
Take away all the consumer-identification devices (the Fleetwood Mac penguin, the crystal ball and black crepe of "Rhiannon," the tressed-for-success fashion-consciousness of the "Tusk" tour and -- oh, Lord! -- the nodes), and Nicks could end up wearing nothing but the penal-chic stripes of a universal product code. Perhaps mindful of that, our logo-laden lady of corporate rock has heaped additional symbolic baggage onto "Bella Donna."
Draped in enough white chiffon to get your average high school through the prom season, Nicks holds up one of these symbols on the cover, a white dove. The reference point for this new mascot is "Edge of Seventeen," the album's longest and least irritating tune: ("Just like the white-winged dove sings a song / Sounds like she's singing / Ooo baby ooo said ooo," etc.). Like most of her lyrics, these are pure nonsense, but Nicks gives the song an emotional push employed sparingly elsewhere. It's a good driving tune, if not a good, driving tune.
Not so with Nicks-penned clunkers like "How Still My Love," "Outside the Rain" and "The Highwayman," whose mooning sentiments are mixed in with occasional recycled Fleetwood Mac lines ("You go your way," "Will they ever win"). These songs are built on such slight melodies that even repeated listening cannot imbed them in the memory.
The title track suffers from unbridled silliness and runaway non sequiturs:
And you say . . . I never thought it could
Bella Donna . . .
Come in out of the darkness . . .
You are in love with . . .
And I'm ready to sail Similarly, "Think About It," written in 1974 for fellow Mac muffin Christine McVie, is impaled on its own self-indulgent pointlessness ("Even when you feel like your life is fading / I know that you'll go on forever / You're that good"). It's that patronizing.
Even the duets and collaborations aren't much of an improvement. "Leather and Lace," written for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter in what appears meant to be a country vein, features some fine harmonizing by Don Henley. But even an ex-Eagle can't impose a little laid-back country passion on Nicks, who insists on dragging the notes out and overplaying the vibrato in the chorus. The song has all the rustic ambiance of an Ohio tire mill.
Speaking of the Buckeye State, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet now playing non-stop on your local FM station, might sound oddly familiar to fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Occasional cribbing of used Byrds riffs is an acceptable form of petty larceny, but the head Heartbreaker should know better than to lift entire progressions from a former rock anthem.
On the plus side, Nicks sounds more confident than she has since "Rumours." There's something touching about the way she expects her audience to be as enthralled by her airhead rock fantasies as she is herself. Furthermore, this album, unlike Fleetwood Mac's recent live effort, benefits from the miracles of modern technology as bestowed by producer Jimmy Iovine. Her famous nodes are apparently still intact (is it possible to have one's larynx Tefloned?), but Nicks' vocals have settled into a weather-ravaged but sturdy growl.
The backing musicians are fit for any rock queen, but their idle, perfunctory competence is a drawback to Nicks' gauzy romanticism. Few guitarists are more accomplished than Waddy Wachtel; it's a rare bassist who can outdo Bob Glaub in the taste department, and there's not a saner, more self-disciplined rock drummer than Russ Kunkel. But frankly, these guys need a vacation -- the session work here and on other recent albums has an alarming phoned-in quality.
One ends up liking Stevie Nicks, despite her hot-tub philosophies, her poseur prissiness and her vacuous self-hype. Some people are victimized by the glamor-rock dream, but Nicks is shrewd enough to recognize that dream as her finest gift. You might say the shoe fits.
THE ALBUM -- Stevie Nicks, "Bella Donna," Modern Records MR 38-139.