By George Varga
San Diego Union Tribune
Sunday, April 6, 2003
LOS ANGELES – If personal and creative tension between band members is essential to musical success in rock ‘n’ roll, Fleetwood Mac’s new album, “Say You Will,” is already a winner.
“It hasn’t been an easy road,” said singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, who produced or co-produced all 18 songs on the album. “It had some fork-in-the-road moments, and it had some very profound bonding moments.
“Near the end it had some quite confrontational – and very pleasant – moments.”
Due out April 15, the meticulously crafted collection is the first new studio album by Buckingham, singer Stevie Nicks, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie since 1986’s “Tango in the Night.”
It is also only the group’s second album since 1970’s “Kiln House” that does not prominently feature singer-keyboardist Chistine McVie, whose songwriting credits include such Fleetwood Mac favorites as “Don’t Stop,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Say You Love Me.”
She quit after completing the enormously lucrative first leg of the quintet’s 1997 reunion tour, which then ground to a halt. Her departure came 10 years after singer-guitarist Buckingham had quit to pursue a solo career, over the heated objections of Nicks, Fleetwood and the two McVies, who were divorced in 1976 (a year after Buckingham and Nicks joined the band).
“The Fleetwood Mac world certainly can be dysfunctional at times,” Fleetwood said, with classic British understatement. “But having been in this band for what seems to me forever – since 1967 – this is one moment in time that I think the band has done something quite exceptional.”
Last month, on a day that – fittingly – was sunny one moment, cloudy the next, Buckingham, 55, Nicks, 54, and Fleetwood, 55, discussed their band’s tumultuous past and (for now) relatively peaceful present in separate interviews.
Nicks spoke at her elegant, two-level home overlooking the ocean in Pacific Palisades. Buckingham (her boyfriend until the mid-1970s) and Fleetwood (who had an affair with Nicks that same decade) took turns chatting in a luxury trailer in Culver City.
The trailer was adjacent to a massive sound stage, where Fleetwood Mac was rehearsing for its upcoming tour. At least for now, the three-month trek (which may be extended) skips San Diego in favor of a July 16 show at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
Nicks and Fleetwood agreed that, in the years since the band achieved superstardom in the mid-’70s, its fortunes have ebbed and flowed depending on Buckingham’s degree of commitment.
Buckingham, conversely, downplayed his importance to Fleetwood Mac, whose 1995 album without him and Christine McVie, “Time,” was such a commercial and artistic flop that Fleetwood and John McVie temporarily disbanded the group.
“I don’t think the weight is so much on me,” Buckingham said matter-of-factly. “And I do think this thing is bigger than all of us.”
That opinion was strongly disputed by Nicks, his former paramour.
“Fleetwood Mac never would have broken up if it had been up to me, Mick, John or Christine. So this is all Lindsey’s ballpark,” said Nicks, as she curled up in front of the fireplace in her living room, filled with state-of-the-art workout equipment.
“Lindsey either wants to be in Fleetwood Mac, or he doesn’t,” she stressed. “So he decided he wanted to do it again. And when he decides he wants to do it again, we all either say ‘No,’ or we say ‘Yes.’ Christine said ‘No,’ and the rest of us said ‘Yes, we’ll do it, we’ll give it one more run.’ And we all felt that we could do another great album, or we wouldn’t have done it.”
In fact, Christine McVie is featured on “Say You Will’s” title track (written by Nicks as an homage to McVie) and on the Buckingham-penned song “Bleed to Love Her,” both of which date back to the band’s 1997 reunion tour. The majority of the new album, however, was recorded over the last 18 months in Los Angeles.
With or without Christine McVie, this new album is the harmonious-sounding result of some of the same friction that’s fueled the group since 1977. It was then that “Rumours,” an album made in the wake of the McVies’ divorce and the Buckingham/Nicks split, made Fleetwood Mac one of the best-selling rock bands ever.
“Say You Will,” while unlikely to match the success of the 17-million-plus-selling “Rumours,” has some of Buckingham and Nicks’ best work in years. It also boasts several likely hit singles, including the just-released “Peacekeeper,” although the 18-song album would be far stronger had it been trimmed by a third.
“This was going to be a double album,” said Buckingham, who is dismayed that five songs had to be cut to contain “Say You Will” to one CD.
“We ended up – in the process of the confrontations we were having about the (songs’) running order – pulling back and making it an aggressive single CD.”
Fleetwood, who has headed the band through countless lineup changes over the decades, sounded fatherly when he weighed in on the album’s length.
“Lindsey’s mind works on what’s right for the art, and I’m not devoid of that,” Fleetwood said. “But at some point I will be at least practical.”
Buckingham is clearly proud of what he brought to “Say You Will.” But he sounded peeved that, while the rest of the band went to Hawaii on vacation, he had to remain behind to complete mixing and sequencing the album.
“Well, somebody had to finish the record!” he said. “So that (process) went through a whole series of political spasms and not-very-pleasant phone conversations. But we got there.”
The album showcases the most fluid and biting guitar work of Buckingham’s career. It also features nine songs he wrote or co-wrote, and nine that Nicks wrote or co-wrote, although the two do not share any of the co-writing credits.
But Buckingham didn’t hesitate to express his disappointment that his work had yet to be praised by Nicks.
“I know she must be thrilled with the album, on one level,” he said. “And yet, she’s never said anything to me, like ‘Nice job.’ That’s just been hard for us. So, in that sense, in the way that I’m almost disgustingly warm and fuzzy, she’s probably slightly defiant. But she’s great. I think all she needs to do is find her rhythm.”
Her cosmic, hippie-dippie image to the contrary, Nicks was perfectly grounded and in sync as she spoke at her home.
“I’m my own worst critic,” she said. “But I think my material on this album is some of my best material ever. And I think that Lindsay’s material is his best material ever. So I feel that whatever it was that made us reform, there was a real reason for it. And maybe it was all this material that needed to come out.”
Buckingham regards Christine McVie’s departure as an “opportunity,” the next phase of the band’s evolution. Nicks agreed, if only to a degree.
“The good news is that, without Chris, you take out the piano influence, since none of the rest of us play piano,” she said.
“Since she’s gone and she doesn’t want to be here, and we have certainly done everything we can imagine to talk her into coming back, we have to accept that and move on. So it’s just the four of us. It’s going to be more guitar-oriented, it’s going to be more Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton and whoever the other guy (Jack Bruce) was (in Cream, rock’s proto-power-trio in the 1960s). . . .
“The bad news is that I miss her, terribly. There’s not a day that I don’t think, ‘Where is she?’ It’s more about the friendship and her humor, and her funny, funny, stupid English jokes and how she could make everything lighten up with a flick of her personality. She was a joy to be around. And she was my best friend. So as much as I think that everyone else would like to hear me say, ‘Oh, it’s much better (now),’ no, I can’t say that. Because I miss her so much.”
Ever the diplomat, Fleetwood carefully cast Christine McVie’s departure in a pragmatic light.
“I think it’s just a change, and God knows we’ve changed as a band,” said the balding, white-haired drummer. “It’s allowed a whole new chapter of Fleetwood Mac, musically, to take place.”
That new chapter should appeal to veteran fans, who made the band’s 1997 reunion one of the biggest-grossing tours of the 1990s, even without an album of new material. And Fleetwood Mac’s influence continues to be felt through the work of such admirers as the Dixie Chicks, who scored a major hit last year with their version of the Mac chestnut “Landslide.”
The key questions now are whether or not Fleetwood Mac can draw a new generation of fans, especially if pop radio shuns its new album and whether the group’s appeal will be limited to nostalgia-hungry veteran fans, and if so, does it matter?
“I think it’s always important, but it’s certainly not a tragedy if we don’t (reach new listeners),” said Fleetwood, the father of 1-year-old twin girls and, from a previous marriage, two daughters in their early 30s. “If you really want to know my opinion, I think this album is going to be huge. And I think it’s going to mutate into something that not even we can imagine.”
“You know what?” Nicks asked. “I think that Fleetwood Mac’s fans’ children love Fleetwood Mac. I do. And that is what I seem to get through all my fan mail. Everywhere I go, really young kids come up to me.”
“If I had children, of course my children would have listened to exactly what I wanted to listen to for the last 20 years,” Nicks added with a grin. “I can’t help but think that people will love this record. But who knows? It could just tank completely.”
Buckingham, the father of a 21/2-year-old daughter and a 41/2 -year-old son, is especially eager to attract younger fans. Accordingly, “Come,” one of his songs on “Say You Will,” is delivered with a musical and lyrical ferocity that should impress even the most hardcore, young industrial-rock fans.
“It’s not a matter of playing down, but you can’t play to the age group that you think is your traditional buyer,” he noted. “Nor can you be something you’re not. We’re just trying to do what we think is interesting, and to be ourselves, but still push the envelope.”
And should the members of this edition of Fleetwood Mac decide to go their own ways, will honcho Fleetwood put together a new version of the band that has been his life for nearly 40 years? Don’t count on it.
“I would venture to say that that would just not be on the cards. This is it,” he declared with finality. “This is it for how I see this. And if this can work and (we can) be happy, my hope would be to go forward. That’s how I’m approaching it.”