The Mac is back. Fleetwood Mac records first new studio album in 16 years — without Christine McVie
By Jim Farber
New York Daily News
Sunday, April 6, 2003
Twenty-eight years after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, they still don’t view the group the same way. The making of “Say You Will,” their first album of new material recorded with the band in 16 years, proves it.
“If I had my way, I would have started the album with the material most likely to offend as many people as possible,” Buckingham says with a giggle. “Stevie would bury all that stuff at the end.”
“I am not what you’d call an envelope-pusher,” Nicks says. “Lindsey is there to make sure our band isn’t too safe. I’m there to make sure it isn’t too nuts. It’s all about that balance between us.”
Never more so than now. “Say You Will” — in stores on Tuesday — represents the first time that songwriters Buckingham and Nicks have recorded a Fleetwood Mac album without the band’s third writer and harmonizer, piano player Christine McVie (who joined the band in 1970, five years before Nicks and Buckingham).
The result changes the Fleetwood dynamic crucially. Lacking the light touch of McVie’s sentimental pop songs, as well as her jaunty keyboard, “Say You Will” ends up a heavier, stranger and riskier work than Fleetwood Mac has made before. It’s as big a leap ahead as they made with 1979’s “Tusk,” their eccentric and unlikely followup to one of the most popular albums of all time, 1977’s “Rumors,” which sold 14 million copies.
The perception of “Say You Will” as a quirky work pleases Buckingham to no end. He says he wishes the band had kept getting weirder after “Tusk,” instead of putting out such pop-oriented ’80s albums as “Mirage” and “Tango in the Night.”
“The politics in the band at the time put the lid on that,” the 55-year-old guitarist says. “I felt like I was treading water.”
One reason for the more adventurous approach on “Say You Will” has to do with its convoluted origins as a Buckingham solo project. Back in the mid-’90s, Buckingham was making a solo album when he invited the band’s old rhythm section — drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie — to play along. They all got on so well, it led to the 1997 album “The Dance,” the first full Mac reunion since 1987.
Halfway through the roadshow to support that album, however, Christine McVie told the other members she didn’t want to tour or even be in the band.
“We spent the next eight weeks trying to change her mind,” Nicks says.
According to Buckingham, the pianist was having problems with her marriage, and longed to return to England. She wound up divorcing and moving to the outskirts of London.
The group says there are no hard feelings; Buckingham stresses that he relates to her need to flee, given his own escape from the band in the ’80s. But the band members have rarely spoken with McVie since. (The pianist wouldn’t comment.)
While Buckingham then wanted to complete the solo album he’d started before the reunion, he says the band’s record label, Warner Bros., had no interest in it. So the material he had begun recording became the basis of “Say You Will.” Nicks, who was committed to her own solo tour at the time, handed over 17 demos of her songs to the band to let them hammer them into shape.
Without McVie’s piano playing, Buckingham says, “the remaining musicians had 33-1/3 percent more room to maneuver. We were able to flex our muscles and explore a more masculine sound. It’s closer to what we’re like live.”
According to Buckingham, the absence of McVie’s songs also allowed “Stevie and I to squarely face each other and create the kind of dynamic we had before we joined the band.” In that respect, “Say You Will” recalls the solo album released by the duo before they joined Mac — 1974’s “Buckingham Nicks.”
In the lyrics to the new album, the pair make eager use of their complicated personal histo ry. Several of Nicks’ songs refer to her busted romance with Buckingham, which ended more than 25 years ago. The album closes with farewell numbers to each other. Nicks, 54, wrote hers in the ’70s. Buckingham composed his around the time of “The Dance.”
Of course, the group has been airing its dirty laundry (with hugely profitable results) ever since the “Rumors” album, which chronicled two simultaneous breakups within the band (the second being the McVies’).
Buckingham marvels that “after all this time, Stevie and I still have something to give each other.” (He has been married to Kristen Messner since 2000.) Nicks says of her relationship with Buckingham, “We can never replace each other.”
They say they understand each other far better now than they have in decades. But Nicks emphasizes that they still argue every day. “That will never change. We are very different people. Stick us in a house together for a year and trauma will come out of that. But the result is, we don’t make a blah record.”
They also don’t make a short one. “Say You Will” features 18 songs. As Nicks jokes, “You need two days to listen to this record.”
But it’s time well spent. The set features some of the fastest and most intricate guitar work to date from Buckingham, and some of the most honest lyrics from Nicks. The group wants to bring as much of that excitement as possible to its upcoming tour, which will feature several old Christine McVie songs.
But the band faces a dilemma in capturing what Buckingham calls “the spirit of the band now.”
“There are forces that would be happy just to present this as a nostalgia act,” he says. “But we want to walk a line — to be fresh and dignified and yet not alienate too much of the audience.”
No doubt, the members will argue about how to accomplish that, not just for this tour, but for as long as they continue to play.