“Let’s try to make something like a pop record and see what happens.”
When Lindsey Buckingham decided on that simple manifesto for his next recording project, little could he have known the twists and turns his own life would take along the way. In a 40-plus-year career that has yielded some of the most enduring songs in rock’n’roll history, Buckingham has never shied away from mining his most intimate experiences for soul-baring source material. Now, out of unfathomable personal and professional adversity comes his self-titled seventh solo album, a potent reminder of Buckingham’s status as one of the most inventive and electrifying musicians of his generation.
Buckingham was on a creative roll following the 2017 release of Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, a collaborative album with his longtime Fleetwood Mac bandmate. On the subsequent tour, which saw the musicians performing together as a duo for the first time, Buckingham was already tinkering with a batch of new material in hopes of releasing and touring behind it in 2018. Then came the sudden dissolution of his five-decade tenure with Fleetwood Mac, which Buckingham helped become one of the best-selling and most beloved rock groups of all time. Undaunted, the artist turned his attention to touring behind the career-spanning Solo Anthology he released in October 2018. In February 2019, just as he’d renewed work on the solo material, Buckingham underwent triple bypass heart surgery, during which his vocal cords were damaged by the insertion of a breathing tube.
“There was a period of time where I was not sure what I was going to be able to do,” the artist admits, noting that he could speak only in a barely audible whisper in the weeks following the surgery. “It became clear that whatever was going to return to normal would happen on its own. It wasn’t something I could be proactive about by exercising my vocal cords. It took six months to get to the point where I started not to worry about it.”
Indeed, Buckingham’s voice gradually returned, inspiring the artist to put the finishing touches on the 10-track Lindsey Buckingham. The album, his first solo release since 2011’s Seeds We Sow, is a welcome display of Buckingham’s instantly recognizable finger-picked guitar work and vocal layering, particularly on songs such as “Power Down,” “Scream” and “Swan Song.” Elsewhere, Buckingham pays homage to ‘60s folk group the Pozo-Seco Singers’ hit single “Time,” a song he’s admired since he was a teenager and has long intended to cover.
“I wanted to make a pop album, but I also wanted to make stops along the way with songs that resemble art more than pop,” he says. “As you age, hopefully you keep getting a little more grounded in the craft of what you’re doing. For me, getting older has probably helped to reinforce the innocence and the idealism that hopefully was always there.”
At 71, Buckingham is as enthusiastic about discovering new artists (Sylvan Esso, Su Lee and Dayglow are some of his current favorites) as most people his age are about playing golf or managing their 401k accounts. His influence remains readily apparent in current music, from his guest appearance on The Killers’ 2020 single “Caution” to a recent performance of Fleetwood Mac’s iconic “Go Your Own Way” with contestant Cassandra Coleman on “American Idol.”
To be sure, since joining Fleetwood Mac in 1975, Buckingham has developed a radical sense of experimentation and an unrivaled acumen as a producer, skills he began to hone while producing Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, the band’s innovative follow-up to the record-breaking Rumours. As a solo artist, Buckingham often plays nearly every instrument himself; his complex arrangements and inventive production choices make his solo work thrilling to experience. That has never been more true than on Lindsey Buckingham, which extends the artist’s lifelong quest for musical and creative evolution.
“If you’re playing all the instruments, which I am, everything becomes a tool for discovery,” he says. “That’s the cool part. You’re not trying to define yourself as any one thing. The recording, and the actual process of writing, starts to become indistinguishable. It’s not like you’re going in with a fully fleshed out song with lyrics and melody. You might have ideas and notions and colors and abstractions in your head, and the rest of it gets filled in in a way that would probably be much more difficult to discover in a group situation.”
That painterly approach to music-making leads to unexpected discoveries throughout the album. The sped-up electronic beats and ripping guitar solos of “Swan Song,” the pitch-bended backing vocals on the triumphant album opener “Scream” and the fat, jolly synth leads of “Blue Light” are unconventional, fresh and imminently listenable — a testament to Buckingham’s ceaseless zeal to push his music forward. Says Buckingham of “Swan Song,” “in terms of its musicality, it’s like, what the hell am I listening to? Even the solos are somewhat jarring and unsettling.”
Much like the finest work in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-career, lyrically, Lindsey Buckingham takes an unflinching look at all manner of love and relationships. First single “I Don’t Mind” is a quintessential Buckingham song about the challenges long-term couples face throughout their partnerships, and “the need to augment their initial dynamic with one of flexibility, an acceptance of each others’ flaws and a willingness to continually work on issues,” he says.
“On the Wrong Side” is about the peaks and valleys of life on the road with Fleetwood Mac, and sports the album’s most thought-provoking lyric: “We were young, now we’re old / Who can tell me which is worse?” Buckingham says the song evokes “Go Your Own Way,” in that it’s “not a happy song, subject-matter wise, but it was an ebullient song musically. This was sort of the same idea.”
The album ends on a nakedly personal note with “Dancing,” as Buckingham’s heavily treated guitar and hushed vocals chronicle the undefined spaces in between life’s major happenings. “In life, you find yourself waiting around for things to happen,” he says. “What are we doing in the meantime? Well, we’re just here dancing. We’re waiting and hoping that things are going to change. In the meantime, we have no control over what’s going on at all. It’s sort of a mourning and an acceptance of something at the same time, I think.”
Buckingham is now gearing up for his first tour in three years, which will feature several songs from the new album as well as solo and Fleetwood Mac favorites. “The normal routine in the course of a three-year cycle would keep me on my guitar a lot more, but the past three years have been anything but normal,” Buckingham says with a laugh. “My calluses are almost non-existent, but they won’t take long to build back up. I’m so excited to play this music for the fans who’ve waited so long to hear it.”