September 13, 2008
It is rarely edifying to hear a multimillion-selling rock star whinge about lack of credibility. But on his previous solo album, Under the Skin, Buckingham just about got away with it. Buckingham, remember, was the man who had propelled Fleetwood Mac to their commercial zenith in the mid-1970s. And consequently, he was also one of the prime musical enemies of anyone who had invigorated their record collections with punk rock.
In the past few years, however, Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac have undergone something of a critical rehabilitation. Buckingham’s obsessive perfectionism in the studio, his occasionally deranged sonic experiments, and the excruciating emotional honesty that he shares with all his old bandmates are seen as fine things. On Under the Skin, a little bit of praise seemed to have pushed Buckingham into a doggedly solipsistic display of his leftfield chops. The album began with him noting: “Reading the paper, saw a review/ Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew,” and mainly consisted of him constructing nervy guitar loops in what may well have been his bedroom. A lovely album, but one of strategically limited appeal.
Gift of Screws is a more varied affair. There are fantastic solo workouts, such as Time Precious Time, on which Buckingham yelps harmoniously over some frantically intricate acoustic guitar. But then there are also pop songs – Love Runs Deeper and Did You Miss Me – that are blessed with the same combination of stadium thump and spiritual fragility that proved so lucrative for Fleetwood Mac.
Since that band’s venerable rhythm section – Mick Fleetwood and John McVie – contribute to Gift of Screws it is tempting to wonder why Buckingham did not save these songs for the next Fleetwood Mac album. But then an earlier solo album, also entitled Gift of Screws, was aborted, and a good few songs from that turned up on the Mac’s Say You Will in 2003. Maybe this time, Buckingham anxiously wants to prove that he can do it all himself, from avant-garde guitar noodles to fabulously airbrushed pop. The critical acclaim is in the bag these days. Now, if only he could sell millions without the Fleetwood Mac brand name.
(Reprise, TMS £12.99, call 0845 6026328)