Residual indie prejudices can be tough to shake off and, for me, one lingered longer than most: a profound distrust of Fleetwood Mac. I read all the essays about them – and especially about Lindsey Buckingham – where they were extolled as great emotional confessors and discreet musical radicals. But their records always seemed to me the epitome of hollow decadence, redolent of a certain air-conditioned, blow-dried Hollywood vulgarity, the criticism of which is now every bit as clichéd as the original material.
Not for the first time, of course, I was wrong.
Interestingly, though, the record which provided me with a gateway into Fleetwood Mac was the last Lindsey Buckingham solo album, 2006’s “Under The Skin”. Mainly solo and acoustic, it foregrounded both the meticulous and slightly odd way in which Buckingham constructed songs out of pristine guitar flurries, and the emotional heft which he could still locate, even as a contented, middle-aged family man.
The opening “Not Too Late”, for instance, might be one of the more moving instances of a mulit-millionaire superstar grumbling about his lack of credibility I can recall, as he begins, “Reading the paper saw a review / Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew.” You would’ve thought that selling more records than virtually anyone else on the planet in the past 30 years might have provided some kind of consolation. But I suppose one of the reasons Buckingham is so interesting is the way he manages to juggle a desire for artistic integrity with an innate commercial imperative, and how a very heartfelt lyrical character can co-exist with an incredibly fastidious musical style that can so easily sound bloodless.
“Gift Of Screws” sees all these diverse aspects of Buckingham in full effect. The title, my little Wiki helpers inform me, was originally given to a Buckingham solo album from the late ‘90s which was never released. Songs from that have been dispersed across the last solo album and Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Will”, as well, presumably, as this one, though I’m not clear on whether they’re re-recordings.
I’m not clear because, of course, I know comparatively little about this whole business, but also because Buckingham’s music exists in such a glorious vacuum. What I can tell is that “Gift Of Screws” is the perfect next step for neophytes like me drawn in by “Under The Skin”. There are some gorgeous minimalist pieces that would have sat perfectly on that last record, most notably the rippling, systems-like acoustics and yelps of “Time Precious Time”, which presents Buckingham as an unlikely father figure to the Animal Collective.
Then there are a bunch of tracks where he’s backed up by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, that sound, by his standards huge but relatively unfussy, and betray a desire to re-engage commercially and reassert himself as a serious rocker. Consequently, “The Right Place To Fade” and “Love Runs Deeper” have big swirling Fleetwood Mac-like choruses, and also a weirdly aggressive punch, characterised by Buckingham’s flash and excitable soloing on the latter: not out of control, exactly, but at once fiery and – perhaps more menacing – utterly precise.
“Wait For You” is a sort of hygienised but still compelling cousin to “Gimme Shelter”. And the title track is a supercharged, vigorously-focused rocker – with Fleetwood and McVie again onboard – which features Buckingham repeatedly cackling like a deranged rooster. It’s very odd, and very good, too.
So anyway: I have a bunch of old Fleetwood Mac albums, I’ve a soft spot for “Tusk”, but does anyone fancy guiding me straight to the stuff I might like best?