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"Under the Skin"

Friday, October 6, 2006
Washington Post

"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.


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