Connoisseurs of eccentric studio mavericks think Lindsey Buckingham is slumming by playing in Fleetwood Mac. His oddball touches--layered, androgynous vocal choirs and finger-picked bluegrass-style guitars--dominated his lost 1992 solo gem, "Out of the Cradle." They're also sprinkled throughout "Say You Will" (Warner), which reunites four-fifths of Fleetwood Mac's multimillion-selling '70s lineup: Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (but not Christine McVie, who has retired). A national tour brings Mac to the Allstate Arena Thursday and Friday. In an interview, Buckingham chatted about why he had to abandon his solo album to make the reunion work:
Q. You told me in 1997 you had a solo record 90 percent done and that you did not envision your reunion tour with Fleetwood Mac at the time as a long-term deal. What changed your mind?
A. I was very anxious to get back to the solo work, but by the time I did, the climate was getting scary over at Warner Brothers, because AOL had bought Time-Warner, and the people who I had good relationships with were already gone. The people who were left didn't like my solo album, so I thought I'm not gonna put this out here now. They were more interested in me putting out an album with Fleetwood Mac. It was a tradeoff for me, because it broadens out the audience but it also broadens out the purity of the intent of the solo work. But the vibe was good, and Stevie's songs were good, so I thought, why not?
Q. What are the main differences from past incarnations of the band?
A. The obvious thing in terms of the three songwriters was that Christine was absent. I had quite an assertive guitar style on the album Stevie and I did before joining Fleetwood Mac in the '70s, but as soon as we joined the band, there was a big exercise in adapting, because John as a bass player is very melodic and fills up space, and Christine can fill up space with the keyboards, and there was not a lot of room for me to manoeuvre as a guitar player. It was an exercise in adapting down, down to even changing the type of guitar I wanted to play, because it didn't fit the sound of the band. Without Christine, everyone has 33 percent more room to manoeuvre. Another thing is that you have a different dynamic with just Stevie and myself doing the writing. You have a clearer kind of picture, this exchange of songs between the two of us, which becomes the subtext of the album, the sense of how circular this little journey has been, and now here we are at the beginning of a phase that if hopefully we keep making each other happy, there is this sense of promise. We'd like to break the cliche of rock 'n' rollers burning out by the time they're 40.
Q. The tensions within the band in the '70s produced a lot of great songs about relationships and break-ups. Now that everyone's getting along, how has that affected your creativity?
A. The tension that was going on was a musical soap opera, and became part of the appeal of us as a group. It was a kind of voyeurism that had nothing to do with the music. I'm not sure that kind of negativity and denial we had to go through was necessarily any better for the music. It certainly was better for the image, and the overall story. But we've all become better musicians and gained a certain amount of confidence that we didn't have back then, both as players and as people. For me, specifically, we're melding the more personal, eccentric "Tusk" approach with the group-minded "Rumours" approach, which feels unprecedented. There is tension, but it's a different kind. The mantra now is to build trust and to appreciate how we mesh together, even though we're all very different as people.
Q. Among the first words on the album are you singing, "You can't plant no seed/Where there's only greed." Tickets for Fleetwood Mac's tour exceed $100. Care to comment on that apparent contradiction?
A. [Laughs] I certainly don't have any say in ticket prices. I certainly haven't chosen to have any say in it.
Q. Why not?
A. Honestly, if you'd asked me six months ago what's the average price of a concert ticket, I wouldn't have been able to tell you whether it's 40 bucks or 100 bucks, because that's just not a part of my awareness. It is unfortunate how expensive it has become. The idea of that song ["What's the World Coming To"] is about the corporate trickle down that makes it more difficult to be an individual. I understand what you're saying about the equation between ticket prices and the use of the word "greed," and, yes, what we're doing is part of the corporate machinery, but I would question whether there is really a contradiction there. We are part of a large-scale band that cannot pretend it is anything other than that.