[10 October 2008]
Remember the days when Fleetwood Mac was an all-boys club? Back when Peter Green led the band, Jeremy Spencer was on rhythm guitar alongside the group’s namesake, with one of the greatest rhythm sections in rock history, Mick Fleetwood on the drums and John McVie on bass? Unfortunately, unless you’re a rabid English blues rock enthusiast or one of those vinyl hounds who troll such brilliant, obsessively-knowledgeable blogger sites as ChrisGoesRocks, chances are the only incarnation of the Mac that you remember is the group’s popular 1970s lineup, featuring original members McVie and Fleetwood, along with Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie. Sure, this version of the group made some incredible music together, as any fan of Rumours and Tusk will proclaim, but the dearth of their legend was defined by the rampant drug-imbibing and wife-swapping ways of their excessive lifestyle outside of the studio… the kind of lascivious behavior that would have tabloid cockroaches at TMZ frothing at the mouth to cover.
Now, this is just a hypothetical thought, but it’s interesting to think how Fleetwood Mac would have fared had they never replaced Green and Spencer with Christine Perfect (nee McVie) in the early ‘70s. And, upon, the departure of Bare Trees guitarists Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch, only recruited Buckingham, after hearing he and Nicks’s largely overlooked slice of classic California soft rock in their sole 1973 offering, Buckingham-Nicks. After all, Buckingham, a gifted songwriter and guitarist in his own right, helmed the majority of the musical direction of all three of Fleetwood Mac’s cherished mid-to-late 1970s albums. Thus, it isn’t much of a stretch to consider the sound of the band as an all-male trio, and chances are the proverbial outcome might have been more akin to the jittery prog-pop style and cocaine flow of Tusk than the free-flowing pheromones and interpersonal conflicts of Rumours.
But at this point, why speculate, because if you pick up and have a listen to Lindsey Buckingham’s outstanding new solo album, Gift of Screws, you get exactly what was described above: Buck-era Fleetwood Mac without the chicks. That is, at least on three of the album’s tight, terse ten tracks, where the power trio of McVie, Fleetwood, and Buckingham deliver the goods with the kind of sonic musculature and showmanship that used to be the Mac’s M.O. The best of these is the album’s title cut, a propulsive rocker in the vein of the more kinetic moments of Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 masterpiece Bare Trees and the bluesy “Wait for Me”, both of which exhibit the musical synergy of McVie, Buckingham, and Fleetwood better than anything they have ever recorded together.
Elsewhere, tracks like “The Right Place to Fade” and “Did You Miss Me?” will remind fans of material from Fleetwood Mac’s surprise 2003 comeback album Say You Will, which would make sense, considering a good portion of the music from that album came from the original sessions for Gift of Screws, which initially was intended to be a double-disc set, but has since been pared down to its leaner, meaner incarnation.
Other songs here will remind you of Buckingham’s previous solo effort, 2006’s magnificent Under the Skin, which saw him utilize the Plectum-style guitar picking technique to a level of intricacy normally reserved for such living gods of the British folk movement as John Martyn and Bert Jansch. He incorporates this method of playing once again on Gift of Screws, wholly evident on tracks like “Time Precious Time” and “Bel Air Rain”. And there might not be a more poignant protest anthem in these times of bogus bailouts than “Treason”, a shimmering acoustic lament that stands out as one of the finest moments of Buckingham’s already-storied career.
If this is what Fleetwood Mac would’ve sounded like as an all-male trio, they should’ve kicked those chicks to the curb a long time ago.