CD Review: Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie

What do you do when you’re two-thirds of the songwriting team that propelled your band to superstardom and created some of the biggest and most iconic hits in pop music history—“Say You Love Me”, “Go Your Own Way”, “Little Lies”, “Big Love”, “You Make Lovin’ Fun” among them—and you’re raring to make a new album, but your other third doesn’t want to? You do it without her. That’s just what Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham have done with their new album, imaginatively entitled Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie.

2014 saw McVie return to active duty in Fleetwood Mac after a 16-year retirement, joining her bandmates for the hugely successful year-long On With the Show Tour. She and Buckingham booked some studio time at Village Recorder in LA to rekindle their musical flame, and from those sessions arose nearly an album’s worth of songs.

There have been a handful of collaborations between the two singer/songwriters over the years. There’s “World Turning” on the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album (Lindsey and Stevie Nicks’ debut), a song which has remained a staple of the band’s live shows ever since. On the following album, the iconic Rumours, the pair shared lead vocals on Christine’s composition “Don’t Stop,” one of the biggest hits in the band’s impressive catalog. Almost the whole of 1987’s Tango in the Night was recorded without any involvement from Stevie, and on most of his and Christine’s songs Lindsey simulates Stevie’s voice on backing vocals through use of a Fairlight sampler. So, Fleetwood Mac doing an album without Stevie isn’t that shocking a notion.

And that’s essentially what Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie is: a Fleetwood Mac album in every way except for the lack of involvement from Stevie Nicks. In fact, with the participation of band namesakes John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, it’s curious that this wasn’t simply released as a Fleetwood Mac album. It wouldn’t be unprecedented, considering the band’s previous studio recording, 2013’s Say You Will, was recorded without Christine, 1990’s Behind the Mask lacked Buckingham, and both Buckingham and Nicks were absent from 1995’s Time. Whether you choose to think of this as a Fleetwood Mac album or not, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie definitely captures the essence of that band.

The collection of ten songs is divided equally between the two singers, the track list alternating judiciously between them, giving Lindsey the opening track and Christine the closing. Immediately upon a first listen, one senses an irrepressible exuberance from the music. This is clearly the product of two musicians who are enjoying their work immensely, as if they’re unfettered from past difficulties and stress (take that however you will). This lineup isn’t attempting to escape the legacy of the band that they’ve been so famously associated with for decades; in fact, the spirit of that band is woven into some of the songs and permeates the whole work. One of the Lindsey’s tracks, “On With the Show,” was written a few years ago; he says that the song took on a newer and broader meaning for him when Christine officially rejoined the band, and it inspired the name of the reformed lineup’s tour. Similarly, the album’s final song, Christine’s “Carnival Begin,” was one that she wrote about the emotions attached to her reentering the Mac camp.

It was Christine’s songs on this album that I was most anxious to hear, as she’d not recorded with Fleetwood Mac in quite a long time. She sounds fabulous here, like no time has passed at all. As much as I loved Say You Will, the lack of Christine’s rich, sultry alto voice and her keen observations on love were sorely missed. What we find here is a youthful, reinvigorated Christine McVie, and her songs bristle with energy. The first song of hers that we’re greeted with is the infectiously bouncy “Feel About You,” in which she celebrates a joyful relationship against a boisterous island-ish beat. “Red Sun,” a mid-tempo rocker with an incredibly catchy chorus that rivals many of her past hits, finds her attempting to sort out the good from the bad memories of a departed lover (“it’s worse for me at night, you know, when the red sun kisses the sea”). “Game of Pretend” is a trademark Christine piano ballad in which she reflects on a current love (“Was it that touch that set off the thunder?”). Mick Fleetwood even gets a chance to shine on the frenetic and drum-heavy “Too Far Gone.”

Lindsey is rightly thought of as brilliant guitarist and studio technician, but I think it’s sometimes overlooked what a master pop songwriter he is. “In My World,” the album’s first single, shows him in a forlorn mood, possibly missing someone now gone and the regrets associated with that (“In my world everybody stays, nobody wishes for words they couldn’t say”). In the album’s opener, “Sleeping Around the Corner,” he warns a lover “If you want me to stay, you’ve got to let me go.” Sadly, an element that’s missing here is any of the impassioned guitar wailing that marks songs like “I’m So Afraid” or “Tango in the Night,” and there’s none of the experimentalism that exemplified crunchy, post-punk songs like “Tusk” or “Not That Funny.” That’s not to say that there aren’t sparks of guitar brilliance sprinkled throughout the album, but I don’t think guitar flash is the vibe that he’s going for here. Instead, he’s happy to deliver five punchy “slice of life” snapshots that refrain from over-indulgence.

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie is a portrait of two old souls finding joy in reconnecting. It’s a celebration of friendship that both honors a musical legacy and reaches beyond it. Unlike Say You Will which, at 18 songs, was bloated with a few throwaway tracks, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie This is some of the catchiest, most straightforward material the pair has ever recorded. The songs are short and to the point, most of them clocking in at under the 3:30 mark and reaching their hook-heavy choruses in under a minute. This is Pop Songcraft 101. It doesn’t quite transport you back to the summer of 1977, cruising around LA with the convertible top down, but it comes awfully close.

Fleetwood Mac at Phillips Arena Dec. 17

Photos by Chuck Holloway

Even an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, Atlanta’s massive Phillips Arena was already packed. Women in top hats and scarves were everywhere, members of the Stevie Nicks coven. A huge crowd surrounded the merch table, eagerly forking over $45-$50 for a single T-shirt. Any crowd this large is going to be loud, hundreds of people chattering at once, but there was a distinct buzz in this mob. Excitement, anticipation.

One gets only a few opportunities to see legendary bands, especially bands with members pushing seventy and known for internal strife. That’s why Fleetwood Mac’s “On With the Show” tour sold out Phillips Arena. Everyone wanted to see the classic lineup of Mick, Lindsey, Stevie, John and Christine, the lineup responsible for Rumors and Tusk, at least once.

The show was supposed to start at 8 p.m., but most of those in attendance didn’t find their seat and settle down until just before 8:30 p.m. when the lights finally started to dim. Nicks’ phoned-in performance of “Rhiannon” on last year’s season of “American Horror Story” may have left some fans apprehensive about the concert, and it’s even more surprising that Nicks gave a big shout out to the television show onstage considering her lackluster appearance. But any misgivings were quickly put to bed once the music started.

The excitement of Christine McVie’s return filtered into the stage performance and the entire band brought its A-game. Fleetwood Mac ran through all of its most popular songs, adding the Christine-centric numbers like “Songbird” and “Little Lies” back to its repertoire. Nicks’ Wonder Woman spin may have slowed a little over the years and her vocal register is a little lower now, but her voice has only grown huskier and bluesier. On signature songs like “Landslide,” she didn’t hesitate to go big. Even more impressive is the ferocity with which Mick Fleetwood still attacks his drums. The stubby white ends of his drumsticks looked more like mallets from the stage as the man hammered his kit mercilessly. Even in the cheap seats, every hit could be felt in the gut. Lindsey Buckingham only ever left the stage once during the two-plus hour show and his hands were blurs during his frenzied “Big Love” performance.

The stage setup was impressive. A massive video screen dominated the back of the stage and the lighting rig included three smaller video screens that could be individually lowered. These screens added an extra dimension to the stage, projected out toward the audience and occasionally dropped so low that they hung just above the heads of the band members, bathing them in light. The backing musician had their own little raised platform toward the back of the stage, causing them to be silhouetted against the video display.

Buckingham and Nicks were fond of introducing songs with little stories about themselves and/or the song. These introductions were interesting, though often digressive. During one such story by Nicks late in the show, the impish Fleetwood pranced up behind her wearing a shawl with bright red boots and top hat. He spun around in circles and pantomimed behind her. “I can get away with it,” he said. “She knows I love her.”

The “On With the Show” tour is a love letter to the fans. From content to quality, the show felt tailor made to please the audience. This is a rare chance to see an eminent band deliver an outstanding performance. It is absolutely a must see concert. New dates have recently been announced and Fleetwood Mac will be returning to Phillips Arena on March 25. Get tickets while you still can.

Gallery – Fleetwood Mac at The Phillips Arena 2014

Photos by Chuck Holloway