Over past few decades, a couple of would-be Lindsey Buckingham albums have been co-opted into Fleetwood Mac albums. Tango in the Night (1987) and Say You Will (2003) both began as Buckingham solo projects, but fate, not to mention the record company, intervened. This time, though, things have worked out the other way around, sort of.
Since Christine McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014 after a 16-year absence, the band have talked excitedly about a new era and a new album, and have been recording new material. All of them except Stevie Nicks that is. Nicks has been doing Fleetwood Mac and solo tours but apparently, has little interest in recording.
Apparently, the rest of the band got tired of waiting for her. Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie also features the Mick Fleetwood/John McVie rhythm section. So that’s four-fifths of Fleetwood Mac. Though Buckingham and McVie have claimed their album was not intended as a Fleetwood Mac record, that’s only because Nicks precluded the idea. It is safe to say that any new Fleetwood Mac album would have featured much of the material on Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie. All this makes it difficult to listen to Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie without thinking of it as a companion piece to Say You Will, which featured all involved save McVie.
Even after all these years, it’s never simple with Fleetwood Mac.
Still, Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie commands some attention in its own right. McVie has not released anything since her 2004 solo album. Save a low-key Mac EP, Buckingham has not been heard from since 2011. Do the pair, who between them have written some of the most enduring radio hits of the last 40 years, still have it? Do they, at their ages (Buckingham is 67; McVie turns 74 this year), have anything new to say, and can they still sing, even?
This is a “duet” album, which is not to be mistaken for a “duets album”. Each of the ten songs alternates between a Buckingham vocal and a McVie vocal. There are no duets. Not surprisingly, Buckingham fairly dominates affairs, writing or co-writing nearly all the tracks and co-producing with Mitchell Froom. The sound is crisp, clean, and slightly DIY, in the manner of Buckingham’s last several solo albums.
And the songs?
Buckingham still has it, because he never really lost it. He still has a way with an incisive-yet-catchy, quirky-yet-charismatic melody and arrangement. He is more straightforward here than on his solo releases, keeping his trademark fingerpicking filigree at a minimum and his eccentricities in check. His “Sleeping Around the Corner”, a years-old, remodeled solo outtake, has one of those classic, giddy choruses he is so good at, and it would be a great opener on any album. Single “In My World” is nearly as good, with Fleetwood and John McVie laying down their trademark, rock-solid, less-is-more groove. In fact, one of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie‘s true pleasures is Fleetwood’s drumming, deft as ever.
“Love Is Here to Stay” is a breezy, fingerpicked ray of sunlight. All the effortless “Lay Down For Free” is missing is some Nicks harmonies. “On With the Show” seems to address her absence, with Buckingham proclaiming, “I will stand with my band / There’ll come a day / When we all feel the same.”
As for McVie, well, her method has not changed much, either. She still deals in sweet, guileless romance. She has lost something, though. Time has taken a substantial toll on both singers’ voices, but McVie seems to struggle just to sound like herself. More importantly, often there is not enough of a pure pop rush to make up for her simplistic lyrics and phrasing. “Red Sun” gets some good vibes out of her familiar rolling piano sound, and the hard-boogying “Too Far Gone” just barely manages to avoid being an embarrassment. Only the beautifully stark piano ballad “Game of Pretend” stands on its own without the production propping it up.
A curious album to be sure, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie could just as well have been released as two separate EPs. In particular, it is difficult to hear McVie in the Buckingham-fronted songs. Still, in the end, an almost-Fleetwood Mac album turns out to be a pretty good Fleetwood Mac album, especially this late in the game.