Fleetwood Mac are, and have always been, a bit screwed up. Like a tawdry soap opera dynasty, their story is one of intrigue, hedonism, depression and addiction. And of music this particular familys golden, if schizophrenic, child.
Formed more than thirty years ago and frequently described in their seventies and eighties heyday as the world's biggest group, Fleetwood Mac have enjoyed global album sales in excess of 100 million and registered more than 30 hit singles in the UK, more in the US.
Mick Fleetwood and John McVie ('Mac') learned their craft in England's North West in the 1960s, running the gauntlet at Twisted Wheel and the other northern soul clubs of Manchester and Liverpool. The Fleetwood Mac that the world came to know and love (and hate and then love again) was born when McVie's wife Christine joined the band and, a year or so later, Stevie Nicks. Both women brought vocal and song writing skills that gave the group immense commercial appeal.
Their self-titled 'debut' with the new line-up (Fleetwood and John McVie had already penned six albums) was one of the stories of 1970s rock. The follow-up LP, the legendary Rumours, sold more than 10 million copies but no sooner had the band achieved worldwide success than the cracks began to show. In time, John and Christine McVie separated. Eventually Lindsey Buckingham - who had joined the group when Nicks had and with whom the vocalist had an earlier relationship became uneasy at his diminishing role in the band and left.
Amidst ever shifting scenery, there were twists and turns, some more bizarre than others. Not least of which was the band sacking their manager of seven years, Clifford Davis, after he set up a rival Fleetwood Mac complete with the same name and even using some of the original band's instruments and employing former band members. The original band sued. And won.
More managers came and went and, on more than one occasion, tours were abandoned following bust-ups. Another manager was fired having conducted an affair with Mick Fleetwoods then wife. Fleetwood wore the manager's hat from then on although, at times, that appeared to do little to steady matters.
Other forces continued to rock the boat. Mick Fleetwood engaged in a brief affair with Nicks and a much longer one with brandy and cocaine; a relationship from which he is now gratefully free. But in the 1970s, as founder member, drummer and sometime manager, and clocking in at 6ft 6in tall, his addiction and associated wilfulness became a destructive central force. Yet still, as with all the best stories, the band played on.
The 'Mac' ended the seventies on a high with their album Tusk but, in truth, their best days were probably already behind them. They continued to bother the charts with some regularity into the eighties, with occasional glimpses of the shrouded brilliance of the previous decade, before eventually disintegrating amid argument and discord.
In 1993, Bill Clinton secured his first term as US President having used the band's Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) as his campaign soundtrack. Clinton's legendary skills of persuasion reunited the group for a one-off White House performance. Although it was early days, the seeds of an unlikely reformation were sewn. They worked together on the Twister movie soundtrack, formulated plans for a Rumours reunion tour and then released an album (The Dance), which sold a casual five million copies.
But the path to redemption can be a long one and it has taken another ten years or more for the reunited Fleetwood Mac to start feeling like a band again. The original line-up is restored though many of the old frictions - often the most creative forces in such families - still lurk in the shadows, with each member retaining separate management.
But they're back and touring. And to coincide, a new greatest hits collection is being released. The two-disc Very Best of Fleetwood Mac may have been digitally remastered but it is not a complete anthology - it lacks late-sixties leviathan Albatross for one. Nonetheless it is a reliable account of the band's remarkable history.
The 36 tracks, including several live recordings, chart the twist and turns and, in retrospect, write large the split personality at the group's core.
Nicks and McVie lend a trademark power-pop flavour to tracks like You Make Lovin' Fun, Go Your Own Way, Dreams and Rhiannon. Theres a twang of country in Silver Springs and Sara. The live versions of I'm So Afraid and Big Love are rich in atmosphere and signify something few modern counterparts can boast genuine presence.
Alongside the live songs, and in contrast to the pop offerings, tracks like Tusk and What Makes You Think You're The One showcase powerful rock credentials and are, at times, unrecognisable from the sounds of Gypsy, Songbird and Landslide that split personality again. And theres the watery mid-eighties pop of Little Lies and Everywhere that introduced the band to a new generation of music lovers.
The collection is not just the history of a supergroup but also a document of much more; a soundtrack to the cold war and times of great change. In the three or four decades since Fleetwood Mac began their torturous odyssey, numerous covers and various pop culture touchstones have succeeded and bestowed greatness at the same time. Instead of plundering the original as such references so often do, each has added to the value of the real thing and to the elusive Mac.
Amongst many examples, theres Clintons Democrats 93 using Dont Stop, The Corrs cover of Dreams, the ubiquitous middle-eight of The Chain that stalks all driving-related television and Eva Cassidys Songbird. All reminders of the true worth of the source material; reminders of greatness.
But nothing sounds like the original and theyre all here. Except Albatross and Black Magic Woman, each from the pre-Nicks era. The absence of both hangs over the album like, well, an albatross. Thankfully, The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac is more than enough to be going on with.