Even if you don’t know him by name, you’ve surely heard Lindsey Buckingham’s work in the pop era of Fleetwood Mac. While Stevie Nicks was the public face of the band, Buckingham was the architect of their sound, the studio wizard who created the lush pop textures of 1977’s Rumours and the deeper, stranger waters of 1979’s Tusk.
While nothing in his solo oeuvre has topped those 1970s landmarks in terms of cultural significance, Buckingham’s produced plenty of worthwhile material on his own. He’s a fine guitarist with a distinctive fingerpicking technique, and he’s covered ground from the synthesizer palettes of 1984’s Go Insane to the largely acoustic Under The Skin from 2006.
Buckingham’s first two albums were made while he was still a member of Fleetwood Mac. Since he initially left Fleetwood Mac in 1987, Buckingham’s solo work has been his primary outlet for new material. He wrote half of Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 album Say You Will and released a joint album with Christine McVie in 2017.
Lindsey Buckingham Album Reviews
Law and Order
Buckingham’s solo debut Law and Order comes across as a reaction to the taxing Fleetwood Mac Tusk sessions – a ramshackle, fun album with three covers. It’s recorded almost completely solo, with Buckingham playing all the instruments – one of the few exceptions is Mick Fleetwood contributing a drum loop on the single ‘Trouble’.
Despite Buckingham’s tendencies towards new wave and garage rock, Law and Order has a retro feel – the covers come from Buckingham’s father’s collection of 78s, with old chestnuts like ‘A Satisfied Mind’ and ‘September Song’, while many of Buckingham’s originals have a rock and roll flavour.
‘Bwana’ is a nice opener, with stinging guitar from Buckingham. But the focal point is the second track, the single ‘Trouble’, which finds a perfect balance between hazy dreaminess and neurotic new wave. Elsewhere, there’s a blend of retro throwbacks like ‘Mary Lee Jones’ and the pretty ‘Shadow of the West’, and nervy new wave material like ‘Johnny Stew’ and ‘That’s How We Do It In L.A.’.
Law and Order is a tight, enjoyable little album, with not enough great songs to make it essential.
After a series of experimental tunes on Tusk, Mirage, and parts of Law and Order, Buckingham created a more accessible record with Go Insane. Buckingham’s stylistic debt to Brian Wilson has never been more evident than it is here, with rich harmonies and less guitar-oriented arrangements. Simultaneously, he’s embraced 1980s technology with synthesizers and drum machines. The result is obviously dated, but it’s also creative – it’s urgent and vital, with a strong undercurrent of lust through most of the songs. Buckingham uses his guitar to flesh out the record -stinging guitar solos and aggressive riffs to provide propulsion.
The closer ‘D.W. Suite’, dedicated to Dennis Wilson, who lived with Christine McVie for a couple of years before his death, is based entirely on three traditional British folk melodies, while many of the other songs are based around their synthesiser parts, either bouncy (‘I Want You’) or atmospheric (the two-part ‘Play In The Rain’). If the stacked harmonies of ‘I Want You’ and ‘I Must Go’ are persuasive, perhaps most startling of all is ‘Loving Cup’, with its explosive lyrics; “You are the object of my desire/Open your mouth and put out the fire.” The title track is one of the record’s best songs, resurrected by Buckingham in an acoustic version for Fleetwood Mac reunions.
I consider Go Insane a better record than either of Fleetwood Mac’s 1980s albums with Buckingham – it’s an overlooked minor classic.
Out Of The Cradle
Buckingham quit Fleetwood Mac in 1987, making Out of the Cradle his first solo album since leaving the band. Like his first two records, Buckingham handles most of the instruments himself. It’s less experimental than his first two records, revolving around Buckingham’s gorgeous guitar playing, and consisting largely of mid-tempo pop/rock songs. The brash ‘Wrong’ is addressed to untruths in Mick Fleetwood’s recently released autobiography. Elsewhere Out of the Cradle is a little melancholic, dedicated to Buckingham’s recently deceased older brother Gregory, a silver medallist in swimming in the 1968 Olympics.
Buckingham displays his Brian Wilson influence in glorious pop songs like ‘Soul Drifter’, ‘Say We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘Surrender The Rain’, laced with gorgeous vocal harmonies, while ‘All My Sorrows’ and ‘Street Of Dreams’ are subdued and beautiful. ‘This Is The Time’ rocks hard, while Buckingham bristles with indignation on ‘Wrong’. There’s plenty of pretty, jangly pop on songs like ‘Countdown’ and ‘You Do Or You Don’t’.
It’s difficult to imagine Buckingham producing a better solo album than Out Of The Cradle, and it is highly recommended to any Fleetwood Mac fan.
Under The Skin
It took Buckingham fourteen years to release his next solo album. He’d spent 1995-2000 working on a followup to Out of the Cradle, titled Gift of Screws, before his record company demanded that the songs be used for a new Fleetwood Mac album instead. The songs originally intended for Gift Of Screws were divided among three projects – Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 album Say You Will, this record, and Buckingham’s 2008 record, also titled Gift of Screws. Under The Skin is the least adorned solo record that Buckingham’s ever released – a lot of the time there’s little more than his guitars and voice.
For this reason, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out individual songs – when the bright, country-tinged ‘Down On Rodeo’ hits, with Fleetwood and McVie as the rhythm section, it’s like a breath of fresh air. There are a pair of 1960s covers; Buckingham’s finger-picked take on The Rolling Stones’ mantra-like ‘I Am Waiting’ is one of the album’s highlights. Elsewhere there is plenty of strong material, like the gorgeous ‘Cast Away Dreams’ and the shimmering rhythm guitars of ‘Juniper’, it just blends together into one, pretty whole.
There’s a lot to enjoy on Under The Skin, but the relative homogeneity makes it one of Buckingham’s less essential solo records.
Gift of Screws
Gift of Screws features the last of the tracks from Buckingham’s shelved 2001 album of the same name, including the title track, named after a line from an Emily Dickinson poem. The album is a family affair, with Buckingham’s wife writing lyrics for ‘Did You Miss Me’ and ‘Love Runs Deeper’, and son Will writing the melody for the opener ‘Great Day’. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are the rhythm section for some tracks, but as is often the case on Buckingham’s solo records, he plays most of the instruments himself.
Gift of Screws opens misleadingly with a pair of pieces with whispered vocals and frenzied guitar work – this conceals that the middle of the record is Buckingham at his most accessible, featuring jangly, memorable guitar pop like ‘Did You Miss Me’ and ‘The Right Place To Fade’. ‘Wait For You’ has a great bluesy riff, and the moment when Buckingham’s vocals become unhinged on the bridge is one of the highlights of his solo career. As much as the contrast between the moodier, introspective songs like ‘Bel Air Rain’ and the more upbeat material like ‘Love Runs Deeper’ enhances both, it’s the pop songs that are the most memorable. The outlier is the lusty, frenetic title track.
Gift of Screws is a well-balanced album that touches most of Buckingham’s stylistic bases, and it’s my favourite of his 21st-century records.
Seeds We Sow
As a sign of the times in the era of reduced record sales, Seeds We Sow is Buckingham’s first self-released album. For the first time, it’s a Buckingham solo album that doesn’t have a distinct identity – it’s very much a hybrid of the folksy, hushed Under The Skin and the punchier Gift Of Screws. But despite the lack of new sonic territory and the cadaverous cover image, Seeds We Sow is a very strong record for a pop musician in his seventh decade. It’s filled with pretty guitar picking, nice melodies, and the occasional hard-rocking segment.
‘That’s The Way Love Goes’ features some spiky guitar work from Buckingham, while he uses his grizzled voice to good effect in the cavernous ‘Stars Are Crazy’. ‘When She Comes Down’ is pretty and folky, reminiscent of the traditional staple ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’. The warm, harmonised ‘End of Time’ would have made a good Fleetwood Mac song.
It doesn’t break much new ground, but Seeds We Sow is a surprisingly vital late-career record that showcases Buckingham’s gifts.
Lindsey Buckingham has endured a tough few years. He was fired by Fleetwood Mac, needed open-heart surgery after a heart attack, and is facing the end of a 20-year marriage. But this record predates all of that drama – it was Buckingham’s request to delay a Fleetwood Mac tour so that he could promote this record that led to his dismissal. This new album, with sonic experimentation like the sequenced beats on ‘Swan Song’, highlights how conservative his music has been for much of his solo career. Once the maverick behind Tusk, Buckingham has largely stuck to power-pop, country, and folk over the last few decades, and some experimentation is welcome.
At the same time, Lindsey Buckingham feels light on tunes. Partly this is due to necessity – Buckingham’s vocal ability has become more limited with age, and often his guitar is carrying more melodic ideas than his voice. The solo from ‘On The Wrong Side’ recalls the majesty of ‘Go Your Own Way’, while his guitar glistens on ‘Swan Song’. ‘Blue Light’ is a 1950s throwback.
Buckingham’s perennially underrated – the genius behind Fleetwood Mac’s commercial behemoths. But this isn’t his best solo effort – I’d recommend trying 1992’s Out of the Cradle, 2008’s The Gift of Screws, or 1984’s Go Insane as entry points into his solo catalogue.
10 Best Lindsey Buckingham Songs
Wait For You
I Must Go
Down On Rodeo
You Do Or You Don’t
When She Comes Down
Love Runs Deeper
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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