A Fleetwood Mac album in all but name, the two esteemed songwriters bring their signature tics and genius songwriting, though the rush wears thin as the album progresses.
A good chorus can put a whole lot of questions to bed—about a song, about a band, about a reason to get up in the morning, you name it. Fleetwood Mac, whose catalog is so festooned with world-bestriding hits that they can do a best-of reunion tour and leave “Sara” and “Hold Me” off the setlist, know this better than just about any other band. Their colossal pop collaborations kept them together through years of intense interpersonal turmoil and full decades of cordial détente. Like, in the grand scheme of things, is it really that big a deal if you left your bass-player husband for the light guy if the result is “You Make Loving Fun”?
Which brings us to the curious case of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, a Fleetwood Mac album in all but name—and the conspicuous absence of the third member of the band’s songwriting trinity. Ending what seemed like a permanent departure from the band, keyboardist and vocalist McVie returned to the fold in 2014 for a massive tour. After it wrapped, she and guitarist/vocalist/production whiz Buckingham headed back to the studio together for the first time in well over a decade, with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie joining them. As for Stevie Nicks, well: “What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.”
Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie feels like a retort to Nicks’ statement. For McVie, the return to the band has been creatively invigorating as well as financially lucrative (Nicks herself gets that, facetiously describing McVie’s only other alternative to heading back to the studio: “‘Now I’m just gonna go back to London and sit in my castle for two years?’ She wanted to keep working”); Buckingham’s a born striver who kills time between tours by adding guitar texture to Nine Inch Nails records. Going on the road and making money is “what we do”? The pair’s collaboration feels like a “speak for yourself” in album form. To paraphrase a Rumours classic, they’ll make recording fun!
Their self-titled album is front-loaded with jams, with the kind of choruses that dissolve doubt on first listen. “Sleeping Around the Corner,” the album’s opener, sees Buckingham all but race through the first verse, just a couple of lines sung in an affected rasp, before unleashing a big and bouncy bass-driven chorus that springs into being like an inflatable castle at a kid’s birthday party. “Lord, I don’t wanna bring you down/No, I never meant to give you a frown” he and his multi-tracked army croon. Does it matter that he could have just sang “make you frown,” which is something that people actually say, instead of “give you a frown,” which is awkward and goofy and almost childlike? Yes, but only in the sense that it’s better this way. Keep in mind, this is a dude who kicked off his band’s bestselling record with a song that invited its subject to “lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff.” His line, “We made sweet love over and over,” is refined to the point of esotericism by comparison.
McVie takes point on the following song, “Feel About You.” No songwriter in rock does infatuation better than McVie—“Feel” may not join that august company of her immortally swoony “Everywhere,” but it’s love-struck smiley fun nonetheless. Its crunchy beat and marimba hook that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Haim album, and its almost doo-woppy chorus is just a “tell me more, tell me more” away from Grease-level crowd-pleasing territory.
After the strong, finger-picked Buckingham solo feature of “In My World,” however, the rush of hearing these two pop-rock titans team up starts to wear off. You hate to play armchair-psychiatrist with a group dynamic as complex as this, but it’s hard to resist the suspicion that the easy-going, Nicks-free composition and recording process left ideas unsharpened or undeveloped. McVie’s piano ballad “Game of Pretend” opens with a gorgeous melody that evokes Roxy Music’s “Sunset,” but its lush build-up leads to a verbose chorus that lacks the economic punch and power of her own “Songbird.” Buckingham’s “On With the Show,” an ostensible paean to “stand[ing] with my band,” closes with the phrase “let’s get it on” repeated approximately 36 times in a minute and a half, making you wonder why you wouldn’t just sit back down. And Mick’s big drums on “Too Far Gone” can’t disguise the pro forma nature of its boogie-woogie rock-by-numbers. “Goin’ underground,” McVie sings in the chorus—to what, the wine cellar?
Granted, successful moments are sprinkled throughout the whole album. As writers and performers, Buckingham and McVie are simply too talented, too engaging, too endearing for it to be any other way. To be a Fleetwood Mac fan is to feel like you’ve received teary text messages from its vocalists, like estranged friends turning to you in their hour of need. The ache in McVie’s voice when she opens the mid-tempo mid-album “Red Sun” with, “I wonder where you are as I fall upon my bed” is as tangible as a late-night mattress. Buckingham concludes “Love Is Here to Stay” with a melodic cascade that’ll have you skipping down the nearest mountainside at your earliest convenience. Just hearing their vocal tics—the way McVie pronounces “night” as “nigh-eeet,” or the catlike meow vowel twist Buckingham adds everytime he sings the word “down”—is enough to delight. Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie really does make listening fun—just not fundamental.