“Under the Skin”
Friday, October 6, 2006
“WHEN THE STAGE IS DEAD and empty,” Lindsey Buckingham asks on his new album, “. . . what’s it all about, sitting there on your own?” For the man who led Fleetwood Mac to some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest commercial and artistic triumphs, the stage has been empty for a long time.
Before this year, he had released just one solo album, one Mac-reunion live album and one Mac-reunion studio album. What was he doing on his own all those years? Well, for one thing, he was making the homemade demos that became the weird, often flawed, often exhilarating solo album “Under the Skin.”
It resembles neither the classic Fleetwood Mac albums nor anything on the radio today. It is a stripped-down production in which Buckingham plays one or two guitars against maybe a rhythm loop and his own whispery high tenor. The lyrics, which often suggest bad high school poetry, are no more than hints about the real drama that lies in the music. But that music is often magnificent, even in the claustrophobic confines of this one-man band. Like his hero Brian Wilson, Buckingham has a knack for composing captivating melodies that he can then harmonize to suggest expansive hopes or crushing frustration.
When he asks, “What’s it all about?” on the song “Show You How,” his wife answers by telling him to slow down, but she does so in a syncopated, ricocheting melody that is more dizzying than calming. The title track is an intoxicating tug-of-war between the swooning vocals and the layered strumming guitars. He similarly stretches the harmonies on two obscurities from the ’60s: the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting” and Donovan’s “Try for the Sun.”
Buckingham handles every instrument and vocal himself except on two tracks, when he is joined by his old bandmates Mick Fleetwood and/or John McVie. On one of those tracks, “Down on Rodeo,” he seems to muse on his old band: “We never took quite enough chances / We never had quite enough time.” On this album, Buckingham has taken some chances and has certainly taken his time.
— Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Monday at the State Theatre.
“Under the Skin”
By George Lang
Oct 6th, 2006
Whenever I talk or write about Lindsey Buckingham, it always requires too much explanation that borders on apology. Fleetwood Mac’ s retroactive cool quotient took an upswing thanks to Midlake’s recent musical homage, “The Trials of Van Occupanther,” but Fleetwood Mac’s hipness factor generally hovers at the level of khakis and sedans. Consequently, Buckingham’s reputation as one of popular music’s most peculiar and fascinating talents suffered when in fact he belongs on rock ‘n’ roll’s Mount Olympus.
“Reading the paper, saw a review / Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew. Now, that’s been a problem,” Buckingham sings on “Not Too Late,” the first track on his first solo disc in 14 years, “Under the Skin.” This kind of self-referential ego exploration might seem distasteful coming from other quarters, but Buckingham earned the right to wonder about this long ago. Part of the problem is the specter of his former band.
Under Buckingham’s leadership, Fleetwood Mac made complicated music that went down easy. When he joined the group in 1975, the former blues band that had been trying to find a new direction started enjoying giant commercial hits such as “Rhiannon,” “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way,” but this was not typical soft rock. Listen intently to any of Mac’s hits from 1975-87, and chord progressions, counter-melodies, bass lines and production touches leap out that barely make sense. “Go Your Own Way” is especially squirrelly for such a huge hit: The rhythm and melody seem to be fighting with each other, and given the context of the song and 1977’s “Rumours” album as a whole, that might have been the point.
As chief arranger for the group, Buckingham took fairly conventional song structures and wove counter-intuitive modalities into them. Stevie Nicks’ “Sara,” from 1979’s “Tusk,” has a pretty basic doo-wop melody for its chorus, but then Buckingham would snake some chords around it that were beautiful but off-the-charts eccentric. Buckingham seems to hear music differently than most of his peers, and that’s obvious on “Under the Skin.”
Since his last solo disc, 1992’s “Out of the Cradle,” Buckingham has supercharged the finger-picking style he employed on earlier songs such as “Never Going Back Again” — he plays unfiltered acoustic with flamenco-like speed, intricacy and fluidity on “Shut Us Down,” “Not Too Late” and his brilliant reinterpretation of Donovan’s “To Try for the Sun.” Those suspecting Buckingham of overdubbing should check YouTube for the rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” he played after George Harrison’s death. Purists might not like it, but his full capability is on display.
But what was so frustrating for Buckingham fans was the popular perception that he was simply Fleetwood Mac’s weirdest member not wearing lace shawls or bugging out his eyes behind a drum kit. When he left the band in 1987, the band had to hire two fairly great session musicians to do his job. But proficiency is not the same as invention, and Fleetwood Mac quickly fell apart. Nicks fans always thought their favorite witch was the indispensable one, but arguably, the band needed all three of its principals to sound like Fleetwood Mac: the semi-reunion, 2003’s “Say You Will,” sounded tense and shrill without the warmth of Christine McVie’s vocals to balance out the sharpness of Buckingham and Nicks.
Now that Fleetwood Mac seems to be history, it appears Buckingham has finally settled into a solo career where credit is clear and the full extent of his creativity can flourish without concerns about paying someone’s mortgage. But “Under the Skin” isn’t simply Buckingham’s attempt to recalibrate his standing in rock history — he can still make music that sounds like sunshine. On the awe-inspiring closer, “Flying Down Juniper,” he creates a piece of guileless California pop that rivals any of his most recognizable past confections.
The paper was right: Buckingham is a visionary. Perhaps now, everyone will finally know.
“Under the Skin”
Never one to rush his work, Lindsey Buckingham made sure Under the Skin was worth the wait.
By SEAN DALY
October 6, 2006
St. Petersburg Times
In between albums, fights, sex, drug binges and more fights with his bandmates in Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham has released just four solo albums in 25 years.
It’d be fun to blame former flame Stevie Nicks and her witchy spells for his stretches of solo silence. But the truth is that Buckingham is an intense studio perfectionist.
With the Mac, he’s meticulous behind the soundboard. On his own, however, the 57-year-old L.A. fixture is a freak, a beyond-ambitious artist who sweats over every acoustic pluck and dramatically layered vocal.
Parallels to Beach Boy Brian Wilson? You betcha. There’s always been a dark lining to Buckingham’s complex Golden State sunsets, especially on the new Under the Skin, an album that manages to sound both very familiar (the lush, sunset harmonies of Down on Rodeo) and extremely odd (the frantic-pluck paranoia of baroque opener Not Too Late). It’s not always easy listening, but it’s never boring.
Buckingham created most of the disc using nothing more than his voice and his guitar, one man layering and layering himself until he sounds like a chorus of world-weary thousands all trapped in a lonely, echoey room.
You won’t find catchy, quirky hits a la Go Insane, Trouble or Holiday Road on this 11-track rumination about love and aging in La-La Land. And if you’re waiting for the guitar man to shred out a searing solo, there’s no air guitar opportunities here, either.
But Under the Skin has much to like and plenty to wow at. On first single Show You How, Buckingham’s backing vocals on the chorus dart like dive-bombing birds. Playing what sounds like a lute, he turns the Rolling Stones’ I Am Waiting into a creepy-cool medieval meditation perfect for halftime at a joust.
And on album closer Flying Down Juniper, this father of three young tykes sets aside his neuroses and soundtracks his children playing silly games. The result is contentment rather than sap, a big-brained rock star trying to process, and enjoy, life as just a regular guy.
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Under the Skin