The four songs on the new Fleetwood Mac EP -- which the legendary pop-rock outfit put up for sale on iTunes on Tuesday morning with little advance warning -- arrive steeped in echoes of the past, in at least one case quite literally: “Without You,” a strummy acoustic number overlaid with harmony vocals by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, reportedly dates back to sessions for the two singers’ 1973 album as a long-haired vocal duo deeply opposed to shirts.
But the other tunes on “Extended Play,” newly composed by Buckingham and co-produced by him and L.A. studio pro Mitchell Froom, feel no less rooted in earlier iterations of this on-again/off-again institution.
“Miss Fantasy” has some of the folky back-porch guitar action of “Never Going Back Again,” while the stripped-down “It Takes Time” could be Buckingham’s version of Christine McVie’s big piano ballad, “Songbird.” And opener “Sad Angel,” which you can hear below, shimmers with the glossy textures of 1987’s “Tango in the Night.” (Incidentally, if you want to get a sense of Fleetwood Mac’s enduring influence on synthed-up young rock acts like Phoenix, go straight to “Tango” -- it looms larger these days than the vaunted “Rumours” does.)
Nothing about this self-reference surprises, of course, especially given that Fleetwood Mac is in the midst of a giant arena tour that will bring the band to the Hollywood Bowl on May 25 and Anaheim’s Honda Center on May 28. Old hits are what the members are playing onstage -- “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Silver Springs” -- so old hits are what the members are hearing in their heads.
And yet “Extended Play” -- Fleetwood Mac’s first studio output since “Say You Will” in 2003 -- doesn’t sound stale or overworked; indeed, the songs have an impressive crispness (after only a handful of spins, anyway) that makes their familiarity seem less like evidence of a tapped creative supply than like proof that this is simply the kind of music Fleetwood Mac writes.
“I remember you,” Buckingham sings over and over again near the end of “Miss Fantasy,” and he might be addressing his own melody. But it’s a good one. You’ll remember it too.
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood