There are a lot of melodies Buckingham needs people to hear

Fleetwood Mac's new CD, tour, give artist a music outlet

April 21, 2003|By Richard Cromelin | Richard Cromelin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Fleetwood Mac's array of instruments, mike stands and amplifiers stretches across the vast Los Angeles soundstage like a miniature city, a gleaming monument to a distant era when rock was grand and this band turned its personal soap opera into arena-filling anthems.

Lindsey Buckingham, the key architect of that sound, walks past the silent stage, where in a few hours the band will rehearse for its summer tour. "I'm jazzed," he says by way of introduction - not about playing with Fleetwood Mac for the first time since 1997, not about its first album of new songs in 16 years but about being interviewed about it.

The musician's inordinate enthusiasm for this duty is a product of the release of that album, Say You Will. For Buckingham, it's not just a revival of his most prominent affiliation. It marks the liberation of his imprisoned music.

"I spent about seven years trying to get my material that's on this album placed and heard," he says. "I felt an extreme need to have it have a home and get it out so someone could hear it.

"It's a fight out there to get anything accomplished. It was difficult for me to find interest in that solo album. If it's Fleetwood Mac, that's one thing, but Lindsey Buckingham ... is it worth it? Probably not.

"So it just sort of turned into this."

Sitting on a couch in a bungalow behind the soundstage, Buckingham, 53, sips black coffee and reviews the process of Fleetwood Mac's return with meticulous detail and exhaustive analysis - just what you might expect from someone with his reputation as an intense obsessive. He looks the part too, his wavy, swept-back hair lending a mad-scientist element to his casual-aristocrat bearing.

It was Buckingham's departure in 1987 that effectively ended Fleetwood Mac's reign. The dynasty had begun in the mid-'70s when a young folk-pop duo, Buckingham and his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, joined the veteran English group, which had recently moved to Los Angeles.

With Buckingham emerging as a distinctive producer with a feel for the mainstream and the experimental, their first album together, Fleetwood Mac, reached No. 1. The next one, Rumours, went down like honey and bristled with a rare emotional charge - many of the songs, including "Dreams" and "Go Your Own Way," commented on the in-progress breakups of Buckingham and Nicks and the group's other couple, John and Christine McVie, and the demise of drummer Mick Fleetwood's marriage. It became a decade-defining blockbuster and put the band at the top of the pop music hierarchy.

After Buckingham's exit - he terms it a "survival move" out of the tension-filled atmosphere - Fleetwood Mac kept breathing with other players, but it wasn't until the Rumours unit reunited in 1997 for a tour and a retrospective live album, The Dance, that the path toward renewed bandhood began.

Drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie had been playing on some of those sessions, which eased the songs' transmutation into Fleetwood Mac material. Nicks entered the picture with 17 songs, ranging from Rumours-era compositions to works written for her 2001 solo album Trouble in Shangri-La. Buckingham, Fleetwood and McVie worked five of them into finished tracks, and Nicks wrote four new tunes for what would be a new album by a four-piece Fleetwood Mac.

"I don't know how you place it in terms of where it falls with our other albums. But for me in many ways, it feels like a completion of something that wasn't just from the last six or seven years but really more like something that has been subconsciously worked on for 30 years or more."

Say You Will, on the Reprise label, ranges widely, from Buckingham's edgy sonic adventures to Nicks' more straightforward, easy-rolling works. His caustic commentaries on the media's power to desensitize joins with the post-Sept. 11 melancholy of Nicks' new songs to give the album a contemporary feel.

The album's even split between Buckingham and Nicks songs suggests an effort to maintain some equilibrium.

"Lindsey and I are dramatic," Nicks says in a separate interview. "We argue a lot, we don't agree on a lot of things, but what we do agree on is that we love to sing together. We are really trying to appreciate this opportunity that we have and not get stuck in stupid, dumb arguments that mean nothing to anybody."

"I hope it goes on," Buckingham says, "because it's been a long time getting to this, and I feel that we really got to some things on a musical level that are fresh. I would be completely happy to continue with this, never to pursue anything solo again. Because it's a hell of a lot easier."

Richard Cromelin writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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