Can’t the members of Fleetwood Mac ever bury their differences and forge a lasting friendship? Even in their dotage, they fall out with each other at the most terrible junctures – on the eve of tours or just after the completion of albums. At one point, it seemed as if we might get another studio album from the classic lineup. It would have been the first since 1987’s Tango in the Night. Christine McVie had finally come back into the fold. Before quitting, she had held down the fort during the troubled era of Behind the Mask (1990) and Time (1995), when first Lindsey Buckingham fled, followed by Stevie Nicks. After live reunion album, The Dance (1997), McVie retired to England, peeping out briefly to issue a so-so solo album in the early 2000s. It was left to Nicks and Buckingham to front the good-ish double-album, 2003’s Say You Will. Then, no sooner was McVie back behind the piano and ready to record, Nicks proved reluctant to enter the studio. Consequently, a 2017 studio album came out under the band-name Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, even though Mick Fleetwood and John McVie played on it.
Now it’s Buckingham’s turn to be out in the cold, and there are conflicting reports as to why. Slowly, the PR-buffed narrative about scheduling issues is giving way to one of malice, toxicity, ill will, and bad blood, of insurmountable dislike and antipathy, and Nicks giving the band a him-or-me ultimatum. A lawsuit looms while Fleetwood Mac tour with a lineup plumped out by musical everyman, Neil Finn, plus Heartbreaker, Mike Campbell. Oh dear. The sorry mess does, however, mean that Buckingham is suitably placed for touring behind and promoting this three-disc (six on vinyl) anthology and by all accounts, a solo album will follow.
Although their musical proficiency exceeds hers, it’s never been easy for either Buckingham or McVie to mount solo careers that come close to the success of Nicks’. With Stevie Nicks, you’re not just buying into the music, after all. There’s the mystique, the oblique poetry with all its hocus-pocus and romance, the beauty, the drama, the shawls and winsome gypsy-witch apparel, the wind machines. You’re buying into a whole concept. But, and I say this as someone tremendously fond of the ’69-’74 McVie/Kirwan/Welch era, there can be no doubting or overestimating the role Buckingham had in pushing Fleetwood Mac into its blockbuster era, not just because of his contributions as a singer/songwriter/instrumentalist but also because the band consented, creatively at least, to be led by him as he took a greater and greater role in production.
Buckingham brought a fierce, slightly erotic, tightly coiled, and flamboyant energy to the band’s sound and image and an instantly recognizable, intricate guitar style. It enhanced the other members. Overnight, Christine McVie’s songwriting contributions were stronger, as if her talent was expanding to match Buckingham’s. Her songs on the albums between Future Games (1970) and Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974) had certainly been amicable, but none of them had been a “You Make Loving Fun” or even a “Say You Love Me”. It’s extraordinary to think that the Rumours lineup made just five studio albums – the same number made by the Welch lineup in a small fraction of the time.
Neither the McVie nor the Buckingham persona can carry a solo album with the vigor of the Nicks persona; they’ve never been marketable video stars in quite the same way, but are more like musicians who became stars. Now, six albums into his solo career comes the first official Buckingham anthology (a promo-only retrospective was issued in the 1990s), its third disc comprising live cuts. This is an artist-approved collection, compiled by Buckingham himself (mercifully, nowhere on the package does the word ‘curated’ appear). The CD comes in a quadruple-fold presentation, with a front-cover collage that indicates just how different to Nicks he is. There’s no glamour-shot of his face, but instead close-ups of instruments, recording equipment and mixing desks – this is someone for whom the recording studio is like a personal fiefdom-cum-science lab. There’s a chilly masculinity about the artwork; it has the feel of an upmarket car parts advert or a men’s magazine layout. It goes hand in hand with the rather prosaic, no-frills title.
Least favored of all his solo albums is, surprisingly, the debut, 1981’s Law and Order, represented here by just one track, the gorgeous US Top Ten hit, “Trouble”. It’s one of Buckingham’s most Mac-like songs which, in its mood and arrangement, was like a foreshadowing of “Gypsy”. In fact, as much as “Trouble” was a foretaste of the Fleetwood Mac album that followed it (Mirage), so Buckingham’s second album, Go Insane, and its title track (his second biggest hit), were a prefiguring of Tango In the Night. It’s details like this that become apparent as the anthology unfolds, providing ample evidence to support the argument that Buckingham was the chief sonic architect of the band from which he’s now been ejected.
It’s fortunate indeed that he did land a few songs from his solo albums in the Hot 100 because otherwise he might be best known for “Holiday Road”, the irritatingly ingratiating soundtrack song from National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), which uses a rather saccharine melodic phrase Buckingham eventually recycled, to far better effect, on the closing track of Tango in the Night, “You And I, Part II”. Here, it appears in both studio and live renditions. It’s a rare example of Buckingham’s gift for 1950s and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll pastiche, refashioned with up-to-date production techniques (and his trademark vocal layering), getting the better of him and coming off glib. Something about its relentless cheeriness doesn’t quite ring true; it’s a rictus grin of a song. Better by far were the songs on Buckingham’s second solo album, Go Insane, represented here by its two singles and a couple of album tracks. For “Slow Dancing”, there was a video that attempted to get some of the Stevie Nicks action, utilizing wind-swept, Gothic imagery, lots of candles and a heavily styled, rather sensual-looking Buckingham.
Buckingham’s post-Tango albums, Out of the Cradle, Under the Skin, Gift of Screws, and Seeds We Sow were all solid, critically-favored works. Cradle lends the anthology its first track, “Don’t Look Down”, which neatly introduces all the Buckingham trademarks, including the alternating of soft and bellowed vocals, the sharp, punchy rhythms, the guitar calisthenics, the air of tension and anxiety. “Surrender the Rain”, from the same album, has more of that glittery guitar style that feels like standing in a downpour of stars. And if you think you’ve heard “Doing What I Can” before, that’s because it repurposes the accompaniment of Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 hit, “Big Love”. Jumping to the second disc, in addition to one or two other bits of soundtrack work, you’ll find two previously unreleased tracks (“Hunger” and “Ride This Road), and one entry from the Buckingham McVie album.
An ace up of the sleeve of Solo Anthology is the part which, on other compilations, is so often the throwaway, tacked on to lure completists but barely listened to more than once; the live disc. In Buckingham’s case, it has several things going for it. One is the mesmerizing way he can, without the support of a band or any additional musicians, create riveting versions of songs which you might have thought wouldn’t work without all that intricate and multi-layered production. But they do. Another is the fact that its inclusion means he’s able to dip not only into the Mac songbook (“Never Going Back Again”) but also the 1973 Buckingham Nicks album (when is that reissue finally going to happen?). It also reveals something that Buckingham, like McVie, does have an advantage over Nicks; he is a self-contained musical entity, with command of musical instruments. Whereas a Stevie Nicks song only becomes viable with the intervention of other musicians, both Buckingham and McVie are fully-rounded musicians.
From his instrumental prowess to the array of different voices in which he can sing, from his production expertise to his inspiring commitment to remaining energetic and creative, there’s a great deal to admire about Lindsey Buckingham. His solo albums may not be as seductive as Nicks’ or as friendly as McVie’s, and it’s nothing short of a tragedy to see the promise of that final Fleetwood Mac studio album evaporating before our eyes, but the material assembled here, with excellent remastering from Stephen Marcussen, tells a compelling story. Buckingham has always maintained that his bandmates balked at the left-turn he steered them in for Tusk, and wrested back control from him for the far more mild-mannered Mirage.
But history has vindicated him, now that Tusk has a critical admiration it was denied at the time of its original release. Buckingham’s solo albums are where to go if you want more of that eccentricity and although sometimes his work is more interesting than it is loveable, this well-structured, non-chronological collection is a long overdue roundup of his best moments. If you’ve ever needed evidence as to why both times Buckingham has left Fleetwood Mac it’s taken two people to replace him, then you’ll find an abundance of it here.