Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie

Linsdey Buckingham / Christine McVie

Atlantic, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The real curiosity here is, why isn’t this billed as Fleetwood Mac album? After all, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie made an album as Fleetwood Mac without Christine McVie (2003’s Say You Will). The only real difference with this album, which grew out of initial band sessions dating back to late 2014 / early 2015, is that the band’s five-person “classic” lineup is still technically together, whereas Christine McVie was temporarily retired from music at the time Say You Will was issued. (Perhaps there’s something in play regarding the ownership of the band name, which CM presumably surrendered her share of when she retired, and recouped when she returned… but who really knows.)

The genesis of the album is widely known by now; four-fifths of Fleetwood Mac—all save Nicks, who’s had the most successful solo career of any of the band—were ready to go into the studio and make a new album. Nicks wavered and waffled and eventually bowed out, saying she wanted to focus on solo work for the next couple of years. The end result was that the rest of the band decided to go ahead and make an album without her.

You might think the absence of the one band member who doesn’t play an instrument, and who only writes and sings a third of their songs, wouldn’t make all that much difference in the end. Instead this album, rather like Say You Will, emerges as further proof of the inscrutable magic at work in the musical interplay and tension between the big three fronting Fleetwood Mac: Buckingham, McVie, and Nicks. One difference that manifests itself almost immediately is the diminished dynamic range of these tunes as compared to classic Mac; these songs, as a group, tend to be a little more straightforward, a little less precious or melodramatic as compared to when Nicks is in the mix. It’s still very identifiably Mac music, and bears all the hallmarks of Buckingham’s distinctive production approach (dense layers, quirky background vocal choices, shiny guitars), but it doesn’t take long at all to feel like something important is missing.

First-rate craftspeople that they are, of course, Buckingham and McVie almost can’t help but deliver several superb tracks, and wise merchants of their own work that they are, they front-load the best. The trio of “Sleeping Around The Corner” (Buckingham), “Feel About You” (McVie) and “In My World “ (Buckingham) opens the album in fine form, with catchy chorus following intense verse, their two voices complementing and supporting one another wonderfully. (You even get familiar touches like that synth sound that sounds like someone banging on a pipe on the typically intense “In My World.”) None of these tunes is likely to make you forget classic Mac, but they’re solid, appealing songs with strong hooks.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From there Buckingham and McVie alternate lead vocals down the track list, though Buckingham takes co-writing credit on several of the McVie written-and-sung tunes, as well as being credited as producer/co-producer and mixer/co-mixer on every track. (It all makes you wonder what might have happened if someone had suggested they call this project Christine McVie Lindsey Buckingham? Whatever diplomatic excuses were offered, it seems fairly obvious why Nicks might choose solo work over months in the studio with her ex Buckingham; the laboriously detailed credits fairly scream “I’m a controlling bastard!”)

Back to the music, though; after that strong opening trio, the highlights grow increasingly fleeting. “Red Sun” finds McVie singing of her nostalgia for an old lover, which naturally makes you wonder which one as ex-husband John plunks away on his bass in the background. McVie’s “Too Far Gone” is another snappy number with plenty of sexual tension in it, strong presence from Fleetwood behind the drum kit… and Buckingham’s guitar dominating McVie’s keys in the mix. (Sigh.)

The vocals are a common strong point, with McVie’s lush harmonies softening up Buckingham’s lead voice on tunes like “Lay Down For Free,” to very nice affect, while Buckingham’s harmonies add an edge to McVie’s typically warm delivery. (Buckingham also sings in a lower register more often here than in the past, typically double-tracking his voice rather than pushing it, likely a strategic concession to age.)

For all that, once you get past the halfway mark these songs start to feel a bit colorless and samey, and missteps begin to creep in. For example: McVie’s “Game Of Pretend” is pretty enough, but the lyric, which seems intended to be sweet, instead plays out like a textbook case of corrosive co-dependence: “You are the reason for my happiness and I am so blessed to find you / You take away the emptiness and I will follow, follow behind you.” (Eek.) Buckingham’s throwaway “On With The Show” feels like a half-hearted dig at Nicks, expressing his devotion to the band and the road before devolving into a repetitive, extended outro that pads this half-a-song out to 3:47. Finally, closer “Carnival Begin” slumbers along for nearly four minutes before Buckingham cuts in with a sparkling, emphatic guitar solo that finishes the album off on a (literal) high note.

One of the advantages the full classic lineup of Fleetwood Mac has always enjoyed is that with three songwriters and three lead voices, there’s only room for the best of the best from each individual. The songs that make up the second half of Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie feel like they probably wouldn’t have made the cut for a Fleetwood Mac album that had to hold room open for contributions from Nicks; they’re B- and C-level work from talents with a pretty fierce A game.

Besides the absence of any songwriting or vocal contributions from Nicks, what’s missing on Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie is any real sense of creative friction, the very thing that drove and perhaps at times even tortured Fleetwood Mac into creating its best work. There’s nothing here with the ferocity of “Go Your Own Way,” the bliss of “Over My Head,” the deep longing of “Dreams” or the sheer terror of “I’m So Afraid.” It’s an album that never feels like it has big emotional stakes and never ranges far from the safe and comfortable middle, an album whose sessions have been described as having a “positive and relaxed vibe.” Maybe too relaxed.

Rating: B-

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