By Edna Gundersen
Sunday, April 27, 2003
Pop’s longest-running soap opera has been renewed for another season. Harmonious negotiations, a revised cast and a fusion of two scripts yielded Fleetwood Mac’s long-awaited studio reunion, Say You Will, which enters Billboard at No. 3 after selling 218,000 copies its first week.
Singer/songwriters Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, former lovers whose Rumours-era split left a bitter wake, each contribute nine songs, some originally destined for their solo albums. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, founding members of the storied band, returned to the fold, while keyboardist Christine McVie opted to retire.
Sturdy musical roots and fragile emotional ties make Mac both a reliable and unpredictable commodity in rock. Fans embraced the band’s lucrative comeback in 1997, yet the players retreated into uncertainty. Buckingham resumed work on a solo album, but when a Warner Bros. executive disparaged it, he shelved it in anticipation of a leadership change at the label.
“It was a lame-duck situation, so I played a waiting game,” he says. “I said to Mick, ‘Let’s cut some tracks with Stevie.’ If there was no interest in my solo album from the new regime, I figured it could morph into something else.”
Incoming chief Tom Whalley did fancy Buckingham’s songs, but it was a moot point, since a Mac homecoming was in full swing. Before Nicks left on a solo tour in July 2001, she handed Buckingham a 17-track demo containing songs dating back to 1976. On New Year’s Eve, she listened to the tracks Buckingham had polished while producing the record.
“I realized I needed to add new material,” Nicks says. “I told Lindsey, ‘I know you’ve already been waiting for me for six months, but I need 30 days.’ I told my brother, ‘Fire up the 12-track Akai,’ I got all my journals and went to work.”
She delivered four songs in four weeks. Smooth sailing? Not quite. Sparks flew when Buckingham’s desire for a two-CD set was overruled, despite his willingness to absorb any financial loss entailed in a configuration that yields less profit per track than a single disc.
“Some things conspired to force me to rethink that: politics in the band, certain things that were said,” Buckingham says. “Then we had a confrontational experience in getting a running order everyone was all right with.”
Now he’s fretting over the set list for a tour starting May 7 in Columbus, Ohio, and heading east. The tour swings to the South and Midwest in June and hits the West Coast in July.
“It’s more daunting than ever,” he says. “The new album needs to be dignified, but people with a bottom-line mentality say you can’t do too many new songs. How do you do a show that’s not too much of one thing? I’m losing sleep.”
Nicks says creative tension and her uneasy dance with Buckingham are the least of her worries.
“Mick and John could fire us and start over,” she says.