LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac

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Well, at least this time I spelled Lindsey Buckingham’s first name correctly, with an “e” and not an “a,” with my apologies to Mr. Buckingham for screwing that spelling up in my review of the first single…

Ah, Fleetwood Mac… In the last half of the 70s, they were huge. It’s impossible to overstate this… Their music was everywhere. I can remember in the summer, as a kid, before I could drive, my mother who was eager to get us out of the house so she could dip into the cooking sherry and lay on the couch, would take us to the local swimming pool and drop us off. We’d spend all day splashing around in the pool, playing games, going off the diving board and throwing our Nerf football around. I can remember the whistles going off for the hourly “Adult Swim.” We’d jump out of the cold, clear water and flop down on the warm cement, lips practically blue from the cold water. As I lay there, warming in the sun like a sea lion I can remember hearing Fleetwood Mac. “Dreams” was almost always piping over the speakers and the rhythmic drums seem to match my heartbeat. Or you’d hear the bizarre guitar signature of “Go Your Own Way.” “Over My Head” was another tune I can remember hearing at the pool quite a bit. It’s weird how my memories are all tied to songs and music.

We all loved Fleetwood Mac. One of my early college roommates, Matthew, showed up to college with his crate of records. His collection was all metal and hard rock: Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, some Pink Floyd (which wasn’t metal, but Matthew was an herbal enthusiast). And of course, he had a couple of Fleetwood Mac albums. Hell, I even had Steve Nicks’ fine first two solo albums. Ah, Stevie, I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Other than Yes, I can’t think of a band who’ve had more lineup changes than Fleetwood Mac. Even before the Buckingham-Nicks era, they went through a string of guitarist, from founding member and former John Mayall guitarist Peter Green, to Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Christine McVie, who’s maiden name was Christine Perfect, whose been a stalwart in the band, wasn’t even an original member. She had to marry the bass player just to join. It wasn’t until everybody except Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and Christine McVie (vocals/keyboards) were left that the Mac had to recruit the dynamic duo of Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals/Wiccan imagery). Buckingham and Nicks brought an interesting chemistry to the band and they just clicked.

What was really intriguing about Fleetwood Mac during their golden era, was they had three talented singers and songwriters. Christine McVie wrote sometimes saccharine love songs, but Buckingham tended to push her into edgier material. Buckingham was ever the experimentalist. Some might say the Mac was a mellower band but I heard Lindsey say one time, “we weren’t mellow so much as melodic.” Under all his experimentalism Lindsey was a closet Beach Boys circa ‘Pet Sounds’ fan and a similar vocal harmonizing came into play in Fleetwood Mac. Then you had Stevie Nicks who brought a spacey, witchcrafty, hippy vibe to the whole affair. The push and pull of all these writers/singers was anchored by the solid rhythm section Fleetwood and McVie provided.

The success of ‘Rumors’ followed by Lindsey’s left turn on ‘Tusk,’ an album I still love to this day, put more strain on the band than even the break up of the main romantic relationships within the band and Lindsey decided to split in 1987 after ‘Tango In the Night.’ The three writers had all started solo careers by then, Steve Nicks being the most successful. The Nicks/Christine McVie version of the band brought in 2 guitarists just to replace Lindsey and recorded the awful ‘Behind The Mask.’ Eventually everybody left. It wasn’t until 1997’s live record, ‘The Dance’ that the golden-era line up reunited. The reunion was short lived when, due to massive fear of flying, Christine McVie retired to the English country side to garden. The band carried on with Buckingham and Nicks at the helm and recorded the oft overlooked LP, ‘Say You Will,’ which, while flawed, was still a great record. It was a tad overly long. And I would say, they missed Christine McVie  as a counterpoint to Buckingham and Nicks.

A few years ago, cured of her fear of flying, Christine McVie rejoined the band. They did a number of concert gigs and things looked like they might be rolling. Buckingham, McVie and the rest of the band except Stevie went into the studio. It seems Christine was sitting on a huge stockpile of songs. Gardening wasn’t the only thing she was doing out there in rural England. Buckingham always seems to have a surplus of songs. The band recorded an album’s worth of material but try as they may, they couldn’t get Stevie back in the studio. She wants to focus on her solo career. Nicks is under the deluded impression she’s going to recapture her early 80s massive popularity. She’s stated she didn’t think she’d ever record any new music with Fleetwood Mac again, which is career limiting. She says being in the studio isn’t any fun anymore. Sigh…

Buckingham and McVie decided, what the hell, we’ll release what we’ve got. Careful not to alienate Nicks, instead of calling this a Fleetwood Mac album, they are calling it Buckingham-McVie, but make no mistake this is a Fleetwood Mac album, just without Stevie. I hope Stevie comes to her senses and comes back. Her longstanding love/hate relationship with Buckingham may be a factor here. Tom Petty has said he’s tried to produce Stevie Nicks records but he never knows where she’s coming from. He went on to say, the only person who really gets what Stevie wants to do in the studio is Lindsey Buckingham. It’s like me and the Rock Chick, we finish each other’s sentences. And likely, if she left me for say, Joe Walsh, I could probably still finish her sentences. Although I doubt I’d produce her records… if she made records, but I digress.

I like this new Buckingham-McVie record. I’ve always liked the chemistry between those two. It isn’t fraught with the emotionally damaging baggage that Buckingham and Nicks have. The vocal harmonies, the beautiful guitar work is all still here. I would describe this as a great beginning of this incarnation of the band, but there are flaws here. “Love Is Here To Stay” is one of those Buckingham acoustic guitar workouts, where he speed plays his acoustic guitar and harmonizes over it. I don’t think anybody else in the band is even on the track… it should have remained a solo Buckingham song. On McVie’s end, “Game of Pretend” is so saccharine as to be diabetes inducing. It’s really cringe-worthy. It starts off well enough with just Christine and a piano, which I dig, but then they crank up the schmaltz.

Those two songs aside, there is a lot to like here. The more I’ve heard of “In My World,” the first single, the more I like it. The guitar solo that ends the album on the atmospheric “Carnival Begin” is spectacular as is the song itself. “Feel About You” is one of those quintessential poppy, catchy Christine McVie songs. It stays in your head. The opening track, “Sleeping Around the Corner” is a tune that was a bonus track on Buckingham’s last solo record, which feels like cheating, but this version is far superior and it’s obvious he reworked the track quite a bit for this incarnation. Lindsey has a tradition of reworking older tracks – “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was a Buckingham-Nicks LP track that he repurposed for the Mac 1980 live LP. “Bleed To Love Her” is another track he pulled from the live ‘The Dance’ for ‘Say You Will.’ Sometimes a tune just isn’t done right the first time.

“Lay Down For Free” is a great Lindsey track. It’s another from the catchy-as-hell category. Christine McVie, who loves to write love songs, has a great one with “Red Sun.” She sings about being in a sunny place, watching the sun go down over the water while missing someone special. I think we’ve all been there. Fleetwood Mac at their best always sang about emotions that we can all relate to. I would have liked to have heard a little more aggressive drumming from Mick Fleetwood, but then again, I’ve always dug the drums, and his drumming in particular. I was hoping for a real rocking tune, like “World Turning,” the first track Christine and Buckingham ever wrote, but the closest they come is “Too Far Gone” which rides along on a great, almost Stones-y Buckingham riff. It is the one song they uncage Fleetwood’s drumming. There are several percussive breaks in the tune. It’s the most upbeat thing here. It’ll be a fun song to hear live.

While I like this LP, at 10 songs, it certainly leaves room for two or three great Nicks tracks. I think this might have been a true classic record if Nicks had showed up. As it stands it’s not a great Fleetwood Mac album but it’s certainly a really good one. It reminds me of the oft maligned 1982 album, ‘Mirage.’ I hear echoes of “Hold Me” in some of McVie’s tracks. And for the most part Buckingham doesn’t get too far out there on the experimental side, much like ‘Mirage.’ Yes, ‘Mirage’ was an LP where these guys mostly played it safe, but damn if it doesn’t have some great songs.

If you dig Fleetwood Mac, or if you’re weird like me and you dig solo Buckingham albums, you will like this album. If your record collection is all metal, and you have one or two Mac albums, you’ll likely dig this album too. If you don’t dig the Mac, I’d probably warn you off this one. These are master songwriters practicing their craft, and that is always enjoyable. In fact, that’s how I’d describe this album – not life changing but damn enjoyable. This could be the start of a whole new Buckingham/C. McVie era in the band, and I think that would be very interesting indeed. I would say, come back Stevie, you can make it through a studio session with Lindsey. He probably still completes your sentences…

Cheers!

 

 

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