"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
The paper was right: Buckingham is a visionary. Perhaps now,
everyone will finally know.