Fleetwood Mac's array of instruments, mike stands and amplifiers stretches across the vast Culver City soundstage like a miniature city, a gleaming monument to a distant era when rock was big and grand and this band turned its personal soap opera into arena-filling anthems.
Lindsey Buckingham, the key architect of that sound, walks past the silent stage, where in a few hours the band will be rehearsing for its summer tour. "I'm jazzed," he says by way of introduction -- not about playing with Fleetwood Mac for the first time since 1997, not about its first album of new songs in 16 years but about being interviewed about it.
The musician's inordinate enthusiasm for this duty is a product of next week's release of that album, "Say You Will." For Buckingham, it's not just a revival of his most prominent affiliation. It marks the liberation of his imprisoned music.
"I spent about seven years trying to get my material that's on this album placed and heard," he says. "I felt an extreme need to have it have a home and get it out so someone could hear it.
"It's a fight out there to get anything accomplished.... It was difficult for me to find interest in that solo album. If it's Fleetwood Mac, that's one thing, but Lindsey Buckingham ... is it worth it? Probably not.
"So it just sort of turned into this."
Sitting on a couch in a bungalow behind the soundstage, Buckingham, 53, sips a black coffee and reviews the process of Fleetwood Mac's return with meticulous detail and exhaustive analysis -- just what you might expect from someone with his reputation as an intense obsessive. He looks the part too, his wavy, swept-back hair lending a mad-scientist element to his casual-aristocrat bearing.
It was Buckingham's departure in 1987 that effectively ended Fleetwood Mac's reign. The dynasty had begun in the mid-'70s when a young folk-pop duo, Buckingham and his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, joined the veteran English group, which had recently moved to Los Angeles.
With Buckingham emerging as a distinctive producer with a feel for the mainstream and the experimental, their first album together, "Fleetwood Mac," reached No. 1. The next one, "Rumours," went down like honey and bristled with a rare emotional charge -- many of the songs, including "Dreams" and "Go Your Own Way," commented on the in-progress break-ups of Buckingham and Nicks and the group's other couple, John and Christine McVie, and the demise of drummer Mick Fleetwood's marriage. It became a decade-defining blockbuster and put the band at the top of the pop music hierarchy.
After Buckingham's exit -- he terms it a "survival move" out of the tension-filled atmosphere -- Fleetwood Mac kept breathing with other players, but it wasn't until the "Rumours" unit reunited in 1997 for a tour and a retrospective live album, "The Dance," that the path toward renewed bandhood began.
The "Dance" tour ended sooner than anticipated when singer-keyboardist Christine McVie retired. Buckingham, eager to add another entry to his three-album solo discography, was happy to return to the recordings he had set aside during that project.
Drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie had been playing on some of those sessions, which eased the songs' transmutation into Fleetwood Mac material. Nicks entered the picture with 17 songs, ranging from "Rumours"-era compositions to works written for her 2001 solo album "Trouble in Shangri-La." Buckingham, Fleetwood and McVie worked five of them into finished tracks, and Nicks wrote four new tunes for what would be a new album by a four-piece Fleetwood Mac.
"For the musicians, just having that much more room to manoeuvre made for a more aggressive level of playing, I would say," says Buckingham, noting the absence of McVie's voice and piano.
"I don't know how you place it in terms of where it falls without other albums. But for me in many ways, it feels like a completion of something that wasn't just from the last six or seven years but really more like something that has been subconsciously worked on for 30 years or more." Say You Will," on the Reprise label, ranges widely, from Buckingham's edgy sonic adventures to Nicks' more straightforward, easy-rolling works. His caustic commentaries on the media's power to desensitize joins with the post-Sept. 11 melancholy of Nicks' new songs to give the album a contemporary feel.
As the music's producer (either solo or with various collaborators), Buckingham again found himself walking the line between his more outr� tendencies and Nicks' mainstream sensibility, often applying experimental touches to her songs with the studio techniques he likens to painting.
That line isn't new. There's always been a certain disconnect between Buckingham the eccentric, reclusive solo artist and Buckingham the anchor of a commercial pop machine.
"It is a bit schizoid, but I guess it's more reconciled than it's ever been," he says. "Slowly it became clear that these things weren't at odds with each other This album has somehow brought those two elements together in one place in a fairly cohesive way."
The album's even split between Buckingham and Nicks songs suggests an effort to maintain some equilibrium.
"It's a tenuous thing, certainly," notes Buckingham, tossing a note of caution into what's being generally portrayed as an upbeat situation. "There are large egos flying around all over the place."
"Lindsey and I are dramatic," Nicks said this week in a separate interview. "We argue a lot, we don't agree on a lot of things, but what we do agree on is that we love to sing together.... We are really trying to appreciate this opportunity that we have and not get stuck in stupid, dumb arguments that mean nothing to anybody.
"I've always been open to Fleetwood Mac whenever it is serious, whenever it wants to do something." Nicks is hoping that the tour -- booked for 36 arena dates -- will continue for a year and a half, with another album to follow.
"I was pessimistic about the prospects for the last real Fleetwood Mac tour, because Mick and John had worked under the Fleetwood Mac name for years prior to that," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the concert trade weekly Pollstar. "I proved to be dead wrong. That was a huge tour, so based on that and the fact that they have not been on the scene for a while, I would think it's going to do well."
And the album's prospects? No one's guaranteeing another "Rumours"-level mega-seller, but Jeff Ayeroff, creative director at Warner Bros./Reprise, says he was convinced as soon as he heard it. "I went, wow, they didn't lose their voices, they didn't lose their writing ability, they didn't lose their edge, it was topical to today.... You started to see the viability for a band of this stature....
"There's a whole generation of people, not young, who buy records. It's like a great old friend walking back in the room when you hear this music.... We don't expect to sell this record to a lot of 14-year-olds, but we sure know we're gonna sell it to a lot of 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds."
Buckingham calculates that some of the mid-'70s fans are now literally that -- in their mid-70s. But he's ready to keep this rolling.
"I hope it goes on," he says, "because it's been a long time getting to this, and I feel that we really got to some things on a musical level that are fresh.... I would be completely happy to continue with this, never to pursue anything solo again. Because it's a hell of a lot easier."