Has the Fleetwood Mac guitarist become so prolific we're starting to take him for granted?
Most of Lindsey Buckingham's career has been a study in contradiction. He was the eccentric, anti-social studio rat who was fascinated by Talking Heads and the Clash. Yet he was the featured guitarist in one of the most mainstream, popular bands in the world. When Buckingham tried to inject his restlessness into Fleetwood Mac on Tusk , the result was a million-selling album that was deemed a commercial failure and brought on the wrath of his bandmates and record company alike.
Buckingham relented, saving his more experimental work for an intermittent solo career, which he financed with his day job as musical director for the Mac. But it was always a struggle. Thanks in no small part to Warner Brothers Records' politicking, Buckingham's solo albums became Fleetwood Mac albums, first Tango in the Night, and then, after a 15-year reprieve, Say You Will.
Finally, as the 21st Century dawned, Buckingham began to come to terms with both sides of his musical existence. As he formed his own family and relationships within Fleetwood Mac became more normal and drug-free, he was able to channel his restless energy into the band, then take the momentum back into the studio for a resurgent run of solo work. Under the Skin (2006) and Gift of Screws (2008) are widely regarded as some of the best work of Buckingham's career, and for good reason. They showcase a musician and songwriter who is fully immersed in, and coming to terms with, his considerable gifts. And the two albums provide an ideal combination of the skilled melodicism and almost unhinged strangeness that have marked the different aspects of Buckingham's career.
You can consider Seeds We Sow the third in a trilogy. In terms of overall feel, it is very much of a piece with Under the Skin and Gift of Screws. Maybe too much so, for some listeners. Buckingham is now free of Warner Brothers, which means Seeds We Sow is even more of a do-it-yourself effort than the previous releases. But the close, reverb-drenched atmospheres, needling acoustic guitar arpeggios, and minimal production are familiar.
Buckingham displayed a bit more of his nervous, jittery edge on Gift of Screws, and Seeds We Sow has some even sharper, weirder moments. "One Take" starts with a sparse, tense atmosphere, as Buckingham half-raps his way through the verse. Then the chorus bursts into a multi-tracked chant. It's a dynamic Buckingham has used often, but the haywire drum programming helps turn this into his most out-there work since Tusk. "That's the Way Love Goes" applies a similar approach to a more pop-friendly melody, while the rattling "Illumination" is as close as Buckingham has come to garage rock.
Of course, Seeds We Sow has pure pop moments as well, where Buckingham's pure songcraft is given a chance to shine. "In Our Own Time" mates a reflective yet hopeful verse to a jolting chorus where Buckingham gets to jam on his acoustic. "Rock Away Blind" is a great reminder that, like his hero Brian Wilson, Buckingham has a way with sing-song, almost lullaby melodies that capture the pure innocence of rock'n'roll. On these tracks, the stripped-down production becomes a liability, though, the demo-like quality almost becoming self-sabotage.
This no-frills approach works much, much better on the reflective, slow-motion ballads that are nestled throughout Seeds We Sow. The successive "Stars Are Crazy" and "When She Comes Down" are stunning, paying homage to an unnamed, elusive goddess with a near-religious beauty and intensity. Tracks like these display a warmth that, crucially, nudges up against Seeds We Sow's more remote tendencies.
Under the Skin was inspired by Buckingham's young family, and benefited from an unprecedented lyrical directness because of it. On the new album, Buckingham is more oblique, his most overt message being something about corporate greed ruining the middle class. Thankfully, though, such rhetoric is in short supply. Much more effective is the sentiment of "End of Time", a trademark Buckingham heartwarmer in which the impeding apocalypse sounds like a welcome rest for the weary.
Indeed, Seeds We Sow could be viewed as a sort of sampler of the different directions Buckingham's ambition and brilliance can take. It could also be viewed as more of the same. But both approaches would be taking the unique quality of the songs for granted. With output as consistently strong as Buckingham's has been, that would be easy to do. A much better way to think of Seeds We Sow would be as the album where Buckingham's creative restlessness finally, completely made peace with his history with one of the biggest bands in the world.