Fleetwood Mac format lets its writers' songs soar

By Richard Cromelin (Los Angeles Times)
The Mercury News
Friday, July 4, 2003

Fleetwood Mac’s array of instruments, mike stands and amplifiers stretches across a Culver City stage like a miniature city, a gleaming monument to a distant era when rock was big and grand and this band turned its personal soap opera into arena-filling anthems.

Lindsey Buckingham, the key architect of that sound, walks past the silent stage, where the band has been rehearsing for the tour that will bring it to HP Pavilion on Tuesday and Oakland Coliseum Arena on July 23.

“I’m jazzed,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Buckingham says by way of introduction — not about playing with Fleetwood Mac for the first time since 1997, not about its first album of new songs in 16 years but about being interviewed.

Revival and liberation

The musician’s inordinate enthusiasm for this duty is a product of the April release of that new album, “Say You Will.” For Buckingham, it was not just a revival of his most prominent affiliation; it marked the liberation of his imprisoned music.

“I spent about seven years trying to get my material that’s on this album placed and heard,” he says. “I felt an extreme need to have it have a home and get it out so someone could hear it.”

It was Buckingham’s departure in 1987 that effectively ended Fleetwood Mac’s reign. The dynasty had begun in 1975, when a young folk-pop duo, Buckingham and his then-girlfriend, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks, joined the veteran British-born group, which had recently moved to Los Angeles and lost Californian singer-songwriter-guitarist Bob Welch.

With Buckingham emerging as a distinctive arranger with a feel for the mainstream and the experimental, their first album together, “Fleetwood Mac,” reached No. 1.

The next one, “Rumours,” went down like honey and bristled with a rare emotional charge. Many of the songs, including “Dreams,” “Chains,” “Songbird,” and “Go Your Own Way,” commented on the in-progress breakups of Buckingham and Nicks and the group’s other couple, John and Christine McVie, and the demise of drummer Mick Fleetwood’s marriage. It became a decade-defining blockbuster that put the band at the top of the pop-music hierarchy.

Minus Christine McVie

After Buckingham’s exit — he calls it a “survival move” out of the tension-filled atmosphere — Fleetwood Mac kept breathing with other players — including Dave Mason, Rick Vito and Billy Burnette — but it wasn’t until the “Rumours” unit reunited in 1997 for a tour and a mostly retrospective live album, “The Dance,” that the path toward renewed bandhood began.

The “Dance” tour ended sooner than anticipated when singer-keyboardist Christine McVie retired. Buckingham, eager to add another entry to his three-album solo discography, was happy to go back to the recordings he had set aside during that project.

Drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie had been playing on some of those sessions, which eased the songs’ transmutation into Fleetwood Mac material. Nicks entered the picture with 17 songs, ranging from “Rumours”-era compositions to works written for her 2001 solo album “Trouble in Shangri-La.” Buckingham, Fleetwood and John McVie worked five of them into finished tracks, and Nicks wrote four new tunes for what would be a new album by Fleetwood Mac, a quartet for the first time since Welch was on board.

`Aggressive’ playing

“For the musicians, just having that much more room to maneuver made for a more aggressive level of playing, I would say,” says Buckingham, noting the absence of McVie’s voice and piano. “I don’t know how you place it in terms of where it falls without other albums. But for me in many ways, it feels like a completion of something that wasn’t just from the last six or seven years but really more like something that has been subconsciously worked on for 30 years or more.”

“Say You Will” (Reprise) ranges widely, from Buckingham’s edgy sonic adventures to Nicks’ more straightforward, easy-rolling works. His caustic commentaries on the media’s power to desensitize joins with the post-Sept. 11 melancholy of Nicks’ new songs to give the album a contemporary feel.

Sense of balance

The album’s even split between Buckingham and Nicks songs suggests an effort to maintain some equilibrium.

“It’s a tenuous thing, certainly,” says Buckingham, tossing a note of caution into what’s being generally portrayed as an upbeat situation. “There are large egos flying around all over the place.”

“Lindsey and I are dramatic,” Nicks says in a separate interview. “We argue a lot; we don’t agree on a lot of things; but what we do agree on is that we love to sing together. . . . We are really trying to appreciate this opportunity that we have and not get stuck in stupid, dumb arguments that mean nothing to anybody. I’ve always been open to Fleetwood Mac whenever it is serious, whenever it wants to do something.”

Nicks is hoping the tour, which includes 36 arena dates, will continue for a year and a half, with another album to follow.

Buckingham calculates that some of the mid-’70s fans are now literally that — in their mid-70s. But he’s ready to keep this rolling.

“I hope it goes on,” he says, “because it’s been a long time getting to this, and I feel that we really got to some things on a musical level that are fresh. . . . I would be completely happy to continue with this, never to pursue anything solo again, because it’s a hell of a lot easier.”

Fleetwood Mac

When, where: 8 p.m. Tuesday, HP Pavilion at San Jose, 525 W. Santa Clara St.; 8 p.m. July 23, Oakland Coliseum Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland

Tickets: $49.50-$125

Call: (408) 998-8497, (415) 421-8497; (510) 762-2277

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