Lindsey Buckingham started working more than six years ago on the new Fleetwood Mac album, Say You Will, that hits stores today. He just didn’t know it at the time.
Buckingham originally thought he was making another solo album when he started recording with former band mates Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass for the first time since he left the group in 1986.
“At that point, some sort of light bulb went off somewhere,” Buckingham said, “in Mick’s head or Warner Bros.’ Probably everywhere, unbeknownst to me. People started saying ‘We got John, Mick and Lindsey in the studio maybe.’ ”
The band did reunite for a 1997 live greatest-hits album, The Dance, and sold-out tour, but Buckingham went back to his solo album. “The live album and the tour that followed was basically the result of a kind of an intervention that we had on me to sort of say ‘You’ve got to put your album down and do this,’ ” said Buckingham, a notorious obsessive who has spent years sealed away recording albums.
When he did finish the solo album, the label wasn’t all that enthusiastic. “When we got off The Dance and I got finished with it maybe a year after that, and took it to Warners, they had been bought out by AOL and they were sort of on their way out as a regime. (Warner Chairman) Russ Thyret didn’t like my stuff anyway. It was like, well, geez. And Mick and I decided to start cutting some tracks of Stevie’s and it just sort of morphed into that thing.”
“That thing,” of course, is what the Warner publicity campaign is calling the first new Fleetwood Mac studio album since the 1986 multiplatinum Tango in the Night, conveniently omitting two entirely forgettable, far less successful albums released under the franchise name with different lineups in the interim. But Warner is right in spirit — Say You Will is the second coming of the ’70s supergroup, even without keyboardist-vocalist Christine McVie, a triumphant return to form for a group that has been all but washed up for the better part of 20 years.
“We rented a house over on the west side (of Los Angeles) and we moved all of my gear over there,” Buckingham said on the phone before a rehearsal for a tour that starts May 7 (July 8 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose). “I started engineering. Probably 95 percent of the time spent in this house was really spent working on Stevie (Nicks) ’cause my stuff was pretty much completed and the other 5 percent was just opening up my tracks, recalling my mixes and getting her voices on them.”
The 76-minute CD — at one point in the session, band members pondered a two-CD set — rekindles the trademark sound with magician’s ease, simultaneously recalling such varied past efforts as Rumours, Tusk and Tango in the Night. “Certainly on the album, you do have things that fall in the category of being very familiar or very Fleetwood Mac,” said Buckingham. “Then you have things like ‘Come’ or ‘Red Rover’ or ‘Murrow Turning Over in His Grave,’ which, in many ways, are more adventuresome than anything we’ve ever done.”
Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac apparently need each other in important ways.
Not only has the group failed to produce any memorable records since Buckingham left, but Buckingham has spent countless thousands of hours crafting brilliant solo albums that are appreciated by no more than a slender handful of big Mac’s audience. After the current project changed from a Buckingham solo album to a new Fleetwood Mac record, he noticed a different attitude at the label.
“I was always seen as the troublemaker,” he said, “as someone who would shake up the status quo of what was a good thing. I was really trying to be honest to what I thought was important, which was to do your work, look into things that help you to grow. To think long term and to do it for yourself. And not run one thing into the ground because that’s what sells. There’s always been a kind of wariness between myself and the record company and vice versa and none of that helps in terms of getting the machine behind you.”
Without Christine McVie, the songwriting and vocals come down to Buckingham and Nicks, who recorded an album as Buckingham Nicks before joining Fleetwood Mac. They first met when Buckingham attended Menlo Atherton High School and they began working together seriously when they were at College of San Mateo. At this point, almost 40 years later, they blend like the seasoned collaborators they are.
“It’s that inexplicable thing that we’ve always had,” he said.
“There’s a song on there called ‘Thrown Down’ that I think she tried about three different times with three different producers and never made it anywhere. It was supposed to go on a solo album. It was just obvious to me it needed a guitar riff in the chorus. It was a fairly simple thing, for some reason. There seems to be an understanding between us as to what to do.”
Buckingham talked about “reconciling” the styles of recordings he used with Rumours, the band’s 1977 release that still ranks among the best-selling albums of all time, and Tusk, a 1979 double-record set that was a stark departure from the band’s sunny trademark sound.
“If you go back to Tusk, ” he said, “that was an album where I was trying a certain approach, you might call more of a painting approach, where I was sort of working on my own in a studio with a machine and kind of allowing things to happen. It was kind of a subconscious approach, one-on-one with the canvas, as opposed to working with the group, which is more verbal and political, more like moviemaking, probably. I had to lobby to get that album made the way it was made. Everyone was quite happy with how it turned out. In fact, Mick would tell you now it’s his favorite album, as it is mine. But at the same time, when it did not sell 16 million albums, a dictum kind of came down from the group that we’re not going to do that anymore.” Buckingham, 55, is recently married, raising a son, 4, and daughter, 2.
For someone who once groused that he would rather belong to the Clash, Buckingham has more than made his peace with Fleetwood Mac at this point.
“The subtext of all of this is really that we are here,” Buckingham said, “and, in many ways, are better than ever, maybe breaking the mold a little bit.
I know there certainly are enough ’80s Boomer acts still making music. But the fact is that we are here and still caring so much about it and, in many ways, doing the best work we’ve ever done at a point in our lives where, you know, the cliche of rock ‘n’ roll being: By the time you’re 40, you’re either burned out or tapped out. It feels very fresh and very new, and still solid. The history, it’s deep. And we’re just thrilled to be here.”
Joel Selvin / San Francisco Chronicle / Tuesday, April 15, 2003