On September 17, Lindsey Buckingham released his seventh solo studio album entitled simply Lindsey Buckingham (Rhino Records). The former Fleetwood Macster recorded the album at his home studio in LA, playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. He served as his own producer and engineer, mixing the songs with Mark Needham. Stephen Marcussen did the mastering, John Russo the photography, and Liz Hirsch the design and layout.
To say that this is Lindsey Buckingham’s best work is, of course, saying something. But I say it with absolute confidence. Buckingham’s contributions to the first two Fleetwood Mac albums after he and Stevie Nicks joined the band are extraordinary. And perhaps this album — tinged with shades of Brian Wilson’s best work — can’t match those mid-70s odes to Buddy Holly. But Lindsey only needed to contribute two or three songs on those Mac records. Compared to his prior solo albums, Lindsey has reached a new level of excellence in a way that, arguably, no fourth quarter artist has ever done. We’ve been blessed with some remarkable albums of that genre in recent years. Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways and Springsteen’s Western Stars come to mind. But in those cases, the surprise was that those artists still had it. I don’t think anyone would argue that either album rivaled their best work. In Buckingham’s case, it doesn’t just rival it. It beats it.
So enough with the plaudits. Lindsey and I go way back, figuratively speaking anyway. My high school girlfriend loved Fleetwood Mac. She tried to get me into a lot of stuff. She had me playing Dan Fogelberg, for Christ’s sake. But it took some doing for her to get me into the Mac.
Fool that I was back then, I heard the hits as middle-of-road stuff. And let’s face it, the band just seemed weird. A crazy-ass drummer who looked like Charles Manson’s giant British cousin. Some guy who always seemed like he’d rather be golfing. Two chicks, and a pretty boy who sounded more like a girl than one of the ladies, both actually.
And then there was the story of their Buckingham/Nicks pre-Mac album cover shoot. When the couple moved to LA to pursue a record deal, legend has it, Nicks supported them with waitressing jobs while Lindsey worked on his guitar technique. When they got the record deal, she saved up to buy a special blouse for the cover shoot. It cost a fortune that she didn’t have. Buckingham and the photographer made her take it off for some topless shots, making her cry, she said later. And then they used the nude cover photo anyway! It’s not that it wasn’t tasteful. But . . .
On the other hand, as the story goes, when Mick Fleetwood heard a song from the Buckingham Nicks album, he impulsively offered Lindsey the guitar player spot in Fleetwood Mac, replacing Bob Welch. Lindsey, to his credit, was ready to turn it down unless they took Nicks too. She then famously broke up with him after the band’s initial success. But then, she put her hands all over him on stage two decades later. It’s the art, not the artist. I’ve always known that. But back then, this was too much for me.
A few years later, I was living in a group house with a few guys, and HBO broadcast a Fleetwood Mac show from the Mirage tour. By this point, the on again/off again girlfriend had convinced me to pay closer attention. Things were probably off, and I wanted them to be on. With the irrationality of youth still running through my veins, I’d convinced myself that watching the concert would somehow strengthen my romantic overtures.
It was a revelation. Buckingham was no pretty boy. On the contrary, he was one bad-ass guitar player with more talent and charisma in his pickless fingers than the rest of that band had in their entire bodies. Again, I realize, I’m saying something. Like her or not, there’s no denying Stevie Nicks’s appeal as a song writer, singer, and performer. But on stage with Fleetwood Mac, she’s No. 2, which may be why she ultimately did away with No. 1. Not that she didn’t have other reasons. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about that after hearing more about the Lindsey Buckingham album.
With newfound appreciation, I’ve remained a fan. I loved Buckingham’s quirky early albums that I once heard described as rock and roll whoppee cushions. I thought the “Holiday Road” single was brilliant. Eventually, Buckingham put out Out of the Cradle, which to my ears was a stinker, and I figured he’d lost it. But 2011’s Seeds We Sow suggested otherwise. So much so that I was excited when I heard Fleetwood Mac was recording a new album.
The sad story, of course, was that Stevie Nicks refused to contribute any songs. So, they released the album as a Buckingham/Christine McVie duet. In fact, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie perform on the songs, making it a Nicks-less Fleetwood Mac album. While C. McVie’s contributions don’t do it for me, Buckingham’s songs are excellent. I think it is interesting that he was writing much of what would appear on this new solo album as the band fruitlessly sought to convince Nicks to contribute to that album.
What happened next has been widely reported. Nicks agreed to tour with Fleetwood Mac, and they scheduled dates for 2018. But Buckingham had just finished the Lindsey Buckingham album. He asked to delay the band tour for a few months so that he could tour behind his new record. Apparently, this kind of request wasn’t unusual for the band and seemed comparatively timid when set against Nicks’s jerking them around with respect to the aborted new Fleetwood Mac album.
But when the band accepted the Musicares Person of the Year Award, stuff happened. Buckingham didn’t think that the studio version of “Rhiannon” was appropriate walk-up music. And he was unable to keep that thought to himself. The camera may also have caught him smirking behind Nicks’s acceptance speech, again something not exactly unusual for this band. But Nicks took offense. One has to wonder if, at this point, she’d heard the then-unreleased Lindsay Buckingham album.
We’ll never know, of course, but we do know that Stevie decided touring in a band with Lindsay was not going to be healthy for her. That put the others in a tough spot. Tour without her, or fire Buckingham. They chose the latter. And as they’d done when Buckingham left the band voluntarily in the late-1980s, they needed two guitarists to fill his shoes.
Health and marital troubles hounded Buckingham for the next couple of years. So, his solo album remained in the can. Finally, this past summer, he released three singles and now the complete new album.
The first track “Scream” starts off with a pumping acoustic rhythm that fills out with percussion, voices, keys and the magic the just feels like Lindsey. He uses vocal arrangements that, to my ears, mimic the sound of Fleetwood Mac, particularly as it sounded in combination with Nicks’s voice. The quirky relationship nature of the song is nothing new for Buckingham. But the quality of the lyrics is. Back in the 80s he claimed not to be a poet. The lyrics, he said, were the least important thing. Here, as on the entire album, they are clever, engaging and witty.
“I Don’t Mind” is another mature on-going relationship song to which any long-term couple could relate. It sounds current and vital for anyone in their 30s, 40s, 50s, or Lindsay’s age. Finding current inspiration to write good songs has plagued song writers for centuries. Few have continued to deliver as Buckingham does here, on the verge of his 70th birthday.
“On the Wrong Side” is a coming back/making-it-through-challenges song. It’s a driving beat with more engaging lyrics. “We were young, and now we’re old, who can tell me which is worse.” But it’s not a memory song, like you might expect. It’s a life is being lived song. With a tasteful, not show-offy, guitar solo.
Next up is a disco flavored tune that may or may not be written for Stevie Nicks, “Swan Song.” An interesting song structure with verses describing the actions of the “Queen” and a chorus acknowledging that — while she hadn’t done anything that is necessarily bad — “is right to keep me waiting. Is it right to make me hold out so long.” It could be specific. But it is surely universal.
“Blind Love” is a song to a lover that may not be in love anymore. Where “Swan Song” poses the question, this one asks for an answer to a question that we’ve all asked at some point. The simple lead guitar with wordless vocal is pure beauty.
“Time,” the only non-original on the album, is a cover of the Michael Merchant song originally recorded in the mid-60s by The Pozo-Seco Singers. The version here begins with a lead guitar picking suggesting the passage of time. It fits perfectly in this collection of songs. A memory folk song that isn’t about living in the past. It’s about learning from it to deal with a vital present.
A delicate music-box-like guitar figure opens “Blue Light.” This introspection song is new for Buckingham. The point seems to be that we can’t let the uncertainties of life slow us down. “Still dreaming about hope, still hoping about dreams.” It’s a good line.
“Power Down” opens with a pumping guitar riff of the type Buckingham is known for. It’s a breakup song beginning with the intriguing lyric “lies are the only thing that keeps up alive.” Early reviews of this album marvel at how many of the songs seem to foreshadow Buckingham’s recent marital troubles. That’s possible of course. But lines like, “You said that your beginning was my end” suggest that he was writing about a breakup from the distance past rather than predicting a future one.
If “Power Down” wasn’t a direct reference to a famous breakup, it seems hard to interpret my favorite song on the album “Santa Rosa” anyway other than “Go Your Own Way” with 40 years of life to reflect on and illustrate that there are more ways to breakup than romantically. Listen to the wordless vocal solo at 2:38 and tell me it’s not. I mean . . . come on. Amazingly, Buckingham has not been playing this song in his live set. If anybody reading this has his ear, please beg him to add it for me! And tell him to play Monday Morning too! I’ll be there in San Diego.
This fabulous album ends with the haunting “Dancing.” Who do you think the dancing Raven is, the “girl with no place go”? This powerful song lyric hits so hard. But I like to think that it comes not from hate, but love. And perhaps that’s exactly what made it impossible for the real Fleetwood Mac to play together right now. And that’s why we can hope they will again some day. One line, though, I think Buckingham wrote about himself. “Love and surrender have all been and gone. Hope disappears but the memory lives on.”