The Oregonian (04/18/2003), Return of the Native
The Oregonian, April 18, 2003
Return of the native
by Marty Hughley
In the summer of 1997, when the most successful of Fleetwood Mac's many lineups went on a reunion tour, Lindsey Buckingham wasn't sure he was in for the long haul. He wasn't discounting the possibility of another full-fledged Fleetwood Mac studio album, but mostly he was anxious to finish work on his fourth solo disc. After his touring commitment ended, he told The Oregonian at that time, he'd hunker down and finish the project by spring. Meaning spring of '98.
That album never appeared. Instead -- five years late, in a sense -- comes "Say You Will," the first Fleetwood Mac album to feature Buckingham since 1987's "Tango In the Night." As with that earlier album, Buckingham sacrificed his solo material, sucked in once again by the gravity, as he's put it, of the group he'd helped make a pop institution with such '70s blockbuster records as "Rumours."
The Mac has been a fairly fractious bunch, but Buckingham's relationship to the
band has been more tenuous than the others. On one hand, he appreciates the
band's needs for his prowess as a singer, writer, guitarist and producer, as well as the commercial viability it offers him. On the other, he appears to relish being left to his own devices as a more experimental rock auteur, such as on his overlooked 1992 masterpiece, "Out of the Cradle."
It's vexing to know we'll never get to hear exactly what he had in store for a
follow-up. "Say You Will" starts brilliantly, drags a bit in its second half but overall delivers enough of Buckingham's brilliance to be among the strongest albums in Fleetwood Mac's multifarious 35-year history. Even though keyboardist Christine McVie has left the band, remaining songwriters Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came up with enough material that they considered issuing a double album. Whittled down to an 18-song single disc it still runs a healthy 76 minutes.
But Buckingham's sound and vision predominate. Recalling the esoteric approach of the similarly sprawling "Tusk," the production is dense and
imaginative, flecked with wonderfully strange touches.
McVie's absence occasions a harder-edged sound. The bedrock rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie sounds refreshingly assertive, whether crafting a grooving quasi-Arabic backdrop for Nicks' genuinely moving "Illume (9-11)" or stomping along on "Come."
Nicks' contributions are surprisingly strong. Her goat's bleat of a voice actually sounds good in tandem with Buckingham, whichever of them is taking the lead. And in the sweetly imploring title track, she's provided the album's most accessible entry point and what ought to be another Fleetwood Mac radio
Of course, Nicks has long been the band's most saleable centerpiece for her
shawl-twirling "Welsh witch" image, as well as for the emotional and melodic immediacy of her songs. Buckingham, though, is the resident genius. Nicks mostly writes fairly straightforward songs reflecting on relationships (the song "Say You Will" sounds like a nostalgic love letter and/or an attempt to woo Buckingham back into the band); Buckingham tends to come at his subject matter from several angles at once.
As an extreme example, "Murrow Turning Over in His Grave" sounds like Delta blues for the nightmare netherworld of a Tim Burton film. Its lyric is an oblique rant against corruption and avarice, turning on a chorus that simultaneously references television news pioneer Edward R. Murrow and the Southern-rock jam "Black Betty." Like the song "Tusk" grown dark and obsessive, "Come" blends intimations of sexual provocation and smoldering menace, sections of contained tension and bold explosions of sound. There may be no artist in pop who can be at once so meticulous and so wild.
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