Has Lindsey Buckingham ever had a hell of a few years. By now, his travails are well known, at least within his loyal cult following and the much larger circle of Fleetwood Mac obsessives. In early 2018 he was, infamously, kicked out of the Mac—the band he had had a considerable part in reviving not once but twice. A year later, after experiencing unexpected chest pain, he underwent emergency open-heart surgery, a procedure that caused damage to his precious vocal cords with an unknown degree of permanence. He recovered just in time for the pandemic. If tragedy and struggle breed art, Buckingham was sure to have an overflow of new material.
But, despite its definitive title, Lindsey Buckingham isn’t it. The album was recorded before the singer-songwriter’s ouster from Fleetwood Mac, before the surgery, before the pandemic. Buckingham has cited the band’s, particularly Stevie Nicks’, unwillingness to wait for him to release and tour the album as a reason for his dismissal. Suddenly able to focus entirely on his solo career, Buckingham found himself waylaid by crises both personal and universal.
Given that backstory and the nearly four-year delay, Lindsey Buckingham initially comes across as somewhat slight. Its ten songs breeze by in under 40 minutes, and together they amount to an album that is much more pop/rock-forward than the low-key navel-gazing of his previous few solo releases, the last of which was Seeds We Sow way back in 2011. When Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie, from 2017, is added to the context, though, the shift in tone makes much more sense. The material for that album, which was a Fleetwood Mac release save the absence of Stevie Nicks, was written simultaneously with what became Lindsey Buckingham and is also more forward-facing.
Pop/rock or not, at this point, Lindsey Buckingham is always going to sound like Lindsey Buckingham, and Lindsey Buckingham is no different. The arrangements are meticulous, hinging on Buckingham’s trademark layered, harmonized, cut ‘n’ paste vocals and chiming fingerpicked guitar, which often sounds like a harpsichord. Much has been made about the use of skittering drum loops on “Swan Song” and “Power Down”. While they are a new element for Buckingham and add some extra energy, they aren’t exactly revelations, merely holding the beat down in the background in the place of more traditional drum machine sounds.
Since this is a more uptempo album, those drum machine sounds are prevalent, too. Along with the general lack of low end, they emphasize the do-it-yourself nature of the recording. The net result is a bit of a paradox — immaculately produced songs that nonetheless have the general air of demos. For many, this is a large part of Buckingham’s charm. But given the more poppy nature of the songs, the effect is more pronounced, and the sonic homogeneity isn’t always a strength.
If some found Buckingham’s last few solo albums a bit claustrophobic, here he gives the songs plenty of room. And the songs themselves are generally strong. “Scream” is classic, manic, giddy Buckingham pop. His breathy vocals and minor chords give the equally catchy “I Don’t Mind” a sense of unease below the pristine surface, one of his hallmarks. Buckingham’s unique talent for merging the strange, the sensual, and the familiar is on fine display on “Swan Song”. Nervous, terse verses give way to a lush, cascading chorus whose layered vocals seem to fold in on each other, finally leading to a scorching electric guitar solo that shows Buckingham has lost none of his chops. When he says, “It isn’t right to keep me waiting”, it is hard not to think of old bandmate, former lover, and eternal sparring partner Nicks.
By contrast, “On the Wrong Side” (a new song with the same title as the gorgeous ballad Buckingham contributed to the With Honors soundtrack decades ago) is rote and underwhelming. More moody, nuanced material comes in the form of glacial album closer “Dancing” and a lovely, heartfelt cover of the Pozo-Seco Singers’ classic “Time”.
Great songwriters are at some point able to contribute compositions that sound instantly timeless, that make the listener swear they must be old-time standards they have sung at camp or church or heard on the radio or in the theater. “Blue Light” is one of those. It’s a wonderfully off-kilter jaunt with a big, sing-along chorus and a general message of good over evil. It revels in the barefoot joie de vivre that Buckingham nails from time to time a would-be children’s song made for adult ears. “Blind Love”, has a more traditional mid-tempo arrangement but similarly open-hearted chorus that will keep even the most cynical listener warm at night. These songs alone are reasons to be thankful that Buckingham is still alive and ticking, a seasoned composer at the height of his talents.
No, not all of Lindsey Buckingham measures up to those heights. “Power Down”, for example, seems to be purpose-built to see how far under the listener’s skin it can get. But that’s all part of Buckingham’s singular, carefully curated niche, to which this album is a welcome addition.