The classic Fleetwood Mac lineup always was an odd bunch.
Three members—Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie—came out of the seminal Sixties British blues scene. Which means they had little in common musically with the other two members, the sunny California pop duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
But out of these disparate musical backgrounds, and often conflicting personalities, came one of the great supergroups of the Seventies. With massive hits like “Rhiannon,” “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Over My Head” and “You Make Loving Fun,” Fleetwood Mac ruled the charts throughout the decade. Their 1977 album Rumours has sold 20 million copies to date. Fleetwood Mac continue to be a huge concert draw, and will headline the massive Classic East and West Festivals in July.
Various members of Fleetwood Mac have stepped forward with solo albums and side projects over the years. Buckingham’s own body of sonically adventurous yet poppy solo discs have attracted a substantial following among guitar enthusiasts and fans of well-turned songcraft. But one combination that hasn’t been tried—until now—is pairing Buckingham with keyboardist-vocalist Christine McVie.
Simply titled Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, the new album by Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist and keyboardist—not to mention two of the band’s three vocalists—showcases two superb talents that were often overshadowed by Fleetwood Mac’s iconic singer and dreamy, mystical tunesmith Stevie Nicks. And with Mick Fleetwood’s drumming and John McVie’s bass playing featured prominently on the album, it does at times seem like an alternate reality version of one of pop music’s most iconic bands.
“We probably had a few conversations about getting Stevie involved,” says Buckingham. “But I think that kept getting countermanded by the feeling that this really wanted to be a duet album. I don’t think anyone seriously considered calling it a Fleetwood Mac album with only four out of the five band members on it. That just didn’t seem right.”
Buckingham and Christine McVie only wrote a small handful of songs together during Fleetwood Mac’s heyday. But he says he would often play a role in shaping and developing material the keyboardist had written for the band—“fashioning it into something more structured and record-like,” is how he puts it.
“I did the same kind of thing with Stevie’s songs as well. But the thing about Stevie is she’s not a musician, per se. She’s a singer and someone who will write lyrics on a page. And she doesn’t have much to do with it beyond that, in terms of the process of evolving it into a record. Christine, on the other hand, is so grounded in her musicianship, and the sensibilities that go along with that, that she and I were really able to share the whole evolution of any particular song. She appreciated and wanted to be a part of that process, and would often have things to add. So I think that’s a lot of what we have in common. It definitely helps to establish and maintain a camaraderie. It was always there, but it was never tapped into in this context.”
The combination makes for a perfect yin/yang balance of pop sensibilities on the new record, which the guitarist describes as “a very symmetrical give-and-take.” Tracks like “Sleeping Around the Corner” and “Lay Down for Free,” reaffirm Buckingham’s mastery at crafting, huge, gloriously melodic choruses that sweep you up like a wave and carry you out to an ocean of pop bliss. In contrast, McVie tracks like “Game of Pretend” and “Red Sun” are much more willowy, understated and introspective, although also imbued with a deeply seated instinct for pop melodic seduction. The pastoral quality in her work may come from the many years she spent isolated in the English countryside after leaving Fleetwood Mac in 1998.
Both Buckingham and McVie make their instrumental presence felt on the disc. But the mix is heavily grounded in Buckingham’s guitar-centric production style—juxtaposing artfully layered, fingerpicked textures with edgy, angular notched tones and the occasional burst of cranked-up rock guitar swagger. Via the convoluted logic of supergroup side-projects, the Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie album started out with some solo tracks that Buckingham put together circa 2013, enlisting the aid of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie in the studio.
“We didn’t spend too long—just a couple of weeks cutting a few things,” Buckingham narrates. “I think we put a couple of those out on the internet. But there were three or four tracks we didn’t do anything with. Then my phone rings in 2014, and Mick is saying, ‘Hey, I got this call from Christine, and she wants to come back and join the band.’ So I said, ‘Well, I better talk to her.’ We had this long conversation. I said, ‘We’d love to have you back. I think it would be a beautiful, circular, karmic thing to have you rejoin at this time. But if you do, you can’t leave again!’
“She said, ‘No, no, no.’ And then she started talking about how she missed not just the interaction with the band on a live level, but also the whole process of being in the studio. I guess she hadn’t written anything in about 10 years. When she left the band, she really burned all the bridges she had. She’d been through a divorce. She sold her house here in L.A., quit the band, went back to England and moved out to the country. Obviously there was some kind of purging—a mass cleaning of the slate that she said she needed to do.”
Amid preparations for Fleetwood Mac’s grand reunion tour with McVie in 2014, the two reacquainted band-mates began trading song demos via email. “Christine said, ‘You know, I got these rough things. I’d love to send them to you and see what you can do with them,’ ” says Buckingham. “Because that was something she and I always had going. So she sent me this stuff—she was still living in England at the time—and I thought, Wow this is really cool. So I told her, ‘Look I’ve got some things too—chord changes and melodies without words, played on guitar.’ I’ll send you those and see what you can do with them.”
The duo next got together for sessions at The Village recording studio in L.A. “We were in Studio B, where Fleetwood Mac cut [their 1979 album] Tusk,” says Buckingham. It was strangely familiar, like a time warp. It hadn’t really changed at all.”
During the high-flying Seventies, Fleetwood Mac had paid a small fortune to indulge in a bit of rock star interior decorating at the studio, installing an English pub in one room and some large, Art Nouveau screens in the main tracking room that just scream “Stevie Nicks Was Here.”
“I had nothing to do with any of that,” Buckingham says with a laugh. “If you think about it, who in their right mind would want to do that? Geordie Hormel, who owned the Village, must have been going, ‘Sure, you can come in and design a room and pay for it. Anything you want. ’Cause you’re gonna leave and I’ll have the studio. So who cares?’ ”