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"Under the Skin"

By George Lang
The Oklahoman
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.

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