Lindsey Buckingham: Swan Song and the spoils of an inner war

Rob Steen

Lindsey Buckingham has pulled off quite a coup with his latest album. Emulating Sting, not to mention leaving Paul, Mick, Keef and Pete for dust, the Macca of Fleetwood Mac has finally shrugged off the shadow of the band that made his name. Or so these rapt ears hope.


That Lindsey Buckingham is his first eponymous solo offering speaks volumes. To take such a curious step at this juncture in a 38-year solo career must say something for its creator’s satisfaction. And with good reason. ‘This is me!’ it proclaims. ‘Like it or lump it.’


That my younger daughter is equally besotted with it, despite the 40-year difference in our ages, says plenty more. About Buckingham’s enduring capacity to produce an LP’s worth of toe-tingling, generation-leaping choons and grooves. About his effortless talent for twisting and turning emotional responses. About the unslakeable thirst of this multimillionaire-with-nothing-whatsoever-to-prove. About his refusal to be defined by the past. For attention and understanding, certainly, but mostly and simply, one suspects, for creative fulfilment.


Sadly, and somewhat inevitably, the background to Lindsey Buckingham is firmly in the tradition of the soapily operatic and occasionally tragic Mac saga (or should that be McSaga?). In 2018, fresh from a luscious album with Christine McVie (the highlight In My World, his most exuberant song), he was sacked by the Mac. Or, to be precise, manager Irv Azoff passed on an ultimatum from Stevie Nicks: ‘Stevie says she never wants to be on a stage with you again.’ Lawsuit and equally brisk settlement soon followed.


The year after brought a triple heart bypass and damaged vocal cords (fortunately, the album was more or less finished). Then, this June, Kristen Messner, Buckingham’s wife of 21 years and mother of their three children, sued for divorce. As he acknowledged to the New York Times, some of the new songs were ‘a little bit prescient’.

As ever, they do not suggest a chap short on scars. On the track Time, he even betrays a forgivable sense of being underappreciated:


Some folks treat me mean

Some treat me kind

Most folks just go their way

Don’t pay me any mind


Sometimes I’m satisfied

Sometimes I’m not

Sometimes my soul is cold

Sometimes it’s hot

Sunset I laugh

Sunrise I cry

At midnight, I’m in-between

And wondering why


Peter Green’s death last year spurred Buckingham to re-bond with Mick Fleetwood, who said he hoped the songwriter would rejoin the gang for a ‘proper’ farewell tour. Would that mean subbing for his own substitutes, Neil Finn and Mike Campbell? Who knows, but the move to hire four such renowned feet to fill one pair of boots had already said it all.


‘Somehow,’ Fleetwood told Rolling Stone, ‘I would love the elements that are not healed to be healed.’ Now wouldn’t that be nice. Nevertheless, the more pressing question is whether Lindsey needs his old muckers any more. Artistically or financially speaking, no. In any event, the grievances of the ex-lovers look beyond healing.


‘I would like to think there’s a better way for us to finish up than we finished up,’ he said recently. ‘Not just for Fleetwood Mac and for the legacy, but just for the two of us.’ However, given the somewhat rowdier rows that pockmark their 43-year relationship, that legacy was ‘dishonoured’, he feels, by the relatively minor fisticuffs that seemingly fuelled his exit, most publicly the so-called ‘smirking incident’. That was the one where Stevie became mightily pissed off during an award ceremony after Lindsey, as she saw it, was caught on camera belittling her. The older the grudge, the stubborner the holder.


In yours truly’s Pop-Rock Olympics, Buddy Holly takes gold in the 100 metres: has any shapeshifting canon been built so swiftly? The Beatles swan home in the 4 x 400m relay; Carole King, Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell share the laurels equally in the heptathlon; the marathon goes to Randy Newman after a fierce tussle with Neil Young, not only for conquering Hollywood in his twilight but even the tweens and teens.


As for Buckingham, the Californian, now 71, shares the decathlon bronze with Brian Wilson, trailing only the inseparable gold medallists, Stevie Wonder and Todd ‘Godd’ Rundgren. As a measure of breadth and depth of musicianship, as singer, player, composer, arranger, producer and maverick one-off, that’s not too shabby company to keep.


Indeed, dare I say it, subtract Buckingham and the greatest second act in modern musical history would never have happened. Under the leadership of the Beethoven of Bethnal Green, the multifaceted, multi-talented Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac 1.0 scaled heights of popularity unimaginable for a late 60s blues band. Ignited by Buckingham, the Bard of the Bay Area, Fleetwood Mac 2.0 scaled heights of popularity unimaginable.

The substitution, enforced by Green’s near-fatal dalliance with a couple of dodgy German acid peddlers, was a long time coming. A number of frogs were snogged before Mick and John found their prince. Granted, Buckingham’s yearning lungs might not quite have been what they had in mind as a like-for-like replacement for Green’s combination of existential rage and haunting soulfulness: he still sounds like a cross between Brenda and Peggy Lee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Besides, it’s not as if there was a shortage of alternative tonsils on tap.


More importantly, with axe in hand, Buckingham is nothing if not a versatile and extremely pleasant plucker. There could never be another Peter Green, but Buckingham’s own exploration of the blues is not to be sniffed at.


Genre-loose and plectrum-free, he channels the titans: Segovia, Scotty Moore and Jimmy Page, Robby Krieger, John Williams and Hendrix. Combining that inimitable Mac melodicism with the more experimental DIY noodlings of Under The Skin, the new album offers the most compelling showcase yet. Flitting fluently between moods, Buckingham delivers a string-driven masterclass. Back-porch strumming on Time; light-fantastic-tripping on I Don’t Mind; flamenco flavouring a-go-go on Blue Light. Soaring highest is the cloud-busting climax to Swan Song, of which more anon.


But inside the polymath lies that damaged heart. Untold riches and fame are all very well, but acquiring them via an album that opens one’s tortured love life to the public leer – and if ever a title lied, it was the truth-crammed Rumours – was almost begging for the bitterest of endings.


Not that Buckingham tried to mask his pain. In 1984, shortly after breaking up with Carol Ann Harris, his partner for seven years, came a second solo album, Go Insane: the title was by no means inapt. As with Go Your Own Way and Second Hand News, the title track – as he took the best part of 25 years to fess up – was all about Ms Nicks:


Two kinds of trouble in this world

Living, dying

I lost my power in this world And the rumours are flying And I go insane like I always do And I call your name, she’s a lot like you


In 1992, he opened his maiden solo gig with another growl from the heart: You Do Or You Don’t, freshly recorded for Out Of The Cradle, his third and best album prior to the latest one. He might so easily have plumped for a trusty crowd-pleaser. That he chose something so sedate and superficially middle-of-the-road was astonishingly gutsy.

Better yet, it was a sign of a high achiever with yesterday in the rear-view mirror and sights trained on tomorrow. As he introduced the show, nervy beads of sweat mixed with an affecting earnestness and a dash of blushing bluster. ‘As long as nobody yells out Go Your Own Way too soon,’ he half-grins, half-grimaces, ‘I think we’ll all get along.’ Cue giggles on either side of the spotlights.


You Do Or You Don’t is a serenade and a rallying cry for bruised souls. It lilts along serenely, even as Buckingham’s voice sighs and cracks and yowls and woahs and wails. The climax to the studio version is potent enough, but this time he really lets rip. You can see as well as hear how deeply every word is felt. At the final whistle, fury beats agony, albeit only on penalties.


Somebody’s got to see this through

All the world is laughing at you

Somebody’s got to sacrifice

If this whole thing’s gonna turn out right


You either run or you hide

Now you slip, now you slide

Now you will, now you won’t

You either do or you don’t


All of which brings us back to Swan Song. Most striking is the rhythmic vehicle: drum ‘n’ bass. Helter-skittering along at some manic rate of bpm, dancing to it is impossible without the aid of an orgasmatron. Twice Buckingham’s electric bursts out of its vibrant acoustic cocoon, unstoppable ejaculations that even outdo the screaming dizzbuster of a finale to Out Of The Cradle’s Doing What I Can. Set against such flights of fancy-dan fingering, that solo on The Chain, an institution thanks to Jezza Clarkson and the Petrolheads, sounds limper than last week’s lettuce.


Yet once again, it’s the words that burrow deepest, picking at those scabs. That the following lines capture your correspondent’s own romantic tribulations of late is not altogether unconnected with his enthusiasm:


It’s another fight

As the queen dims the lights

It’s far too late, and in the rage

It’s up to fate

It always ends up black and white


But is it right to keep me waiting?

Is it right to make me hold out so long?

Yeah, is it right to keep me waiting

In the shadow of our swan song?


For this occasional victor and frequent victim in the game of love, one can only trust that going his own way, and with such renewed and spiky zeal, will allow him to rest, eventually, in peace. For now, may that inner war carry on beguiling and bewitching.


Swansong? No chance.



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