Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bwana — Lindsey Buckingham (1981)

Is Lindsey Buckingham becoming (gasp!) a prolific solo artist as he approaches his 60s? Certainly, recent evidence suggests so. The Fleetwood Mac frontman's sixth album under his name, Gift of Screws, arrived in stores two weeks ago, just six months following the release of a concert set, Live at the Bass Performance Hall, and only two years after his previous studio outing, Under the Skin. To put that into perspective, Buckingham's solo career is now in its 27th year yet half of its output has come in the last 24 months. Perhaps fatherhood (he and his wife have three children, 10, 8 and 4) and a seemingly happy family life have tempered his notorious sonic perfectionism (which, in turn, led to protracted recording sessions and some loooong gaps between records). Then again, maybe the fact he's turning 59 on Friday is also inspiring him to pick up the pace. Whatever the reason, I'm glad to see new Buckingham music in stores on a more frequent basis: since hitting his creative stride on the Mac's 1979 opus Tusk, he has recorded some of the most inventive, challenging and deceptively dark music ever released under the banner "mainstream pop." Besides, Buckingham sounds like no one but himself and no one sounds like Buckingham. The man is an original.

Today's post is one of my favourite Buckingham moments. Bwana kicks off his first solo album, 1981's Law and Order, on which Buckingham (abetted by his trusty co-producer Richard Dashut) picks up where he left off on Tusk. It's the sound of a millionaire rock star goofing around in a posh, state-of-the-art recording studio, trying to sound amateurish but in a good way. Buckingham performs everything here, from the faux tribal drums (shades of Tusk, the song, and 1981 hitmakers Adam and the Ants) to the playful, guitar solo made to sound like a kazoo and those silly "ra-ta-ta-ta" backing vocals. On the surface, it's childlike fun, impossibly catchy and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Yet, as with many Buckingham songs, the lyrics allude to a troubled state of mind. "We all have our demons/And sometimes they escape," sings Buckingham — possibly a veiled excuse for allegedly throwing his guitar at Mac bandmate and former lover Stevie Nicks a year prior while onstage during the Tusk tour. ("I saw it coming and ducked; it would have killed me if it had hit me," Nicks told MOJO magazine in 2007.)

Buckingham would return to this lyrical theme over the years — "I go insane, like I always do" was the psychologist-baiting chorus of a 1984 single — yet Gift of Screws track Bel Air Rain suggests the musician has finally caged, if not defeated, these demons in his head. "Everyone's peace lives side by side with their war," he sings, "but eventually everyone gets tamed."

Good news is, judging from Gift of Screws, a "tamed" Buckingham is still as wildly creative as ever. The new record doesn't cohere like his best solo discs — Law and Order and 1992's Out of the Cradle, both of which I recommend without reservation — but there are plenty of superlative tracks, most of which are more fleshed out and rocking than his acoustically focused Under the Skin. One quibble, though: Like all of his post-1992 material, Buckingham's music is missing that little bit of California-pop fairydust that Dashut once sprinkled. Current co-producer Rob Cavallo is not an equitable replacement.

Bwana (link expired)

Law and Order also contained Buckingham's biggest solo hit — the sublime, soft-focus Trouble. I've unearthed its video. Immerse yourself in those silky, overdubbed harmonies; pity the fellas miming along to the song, including Mick Fleetwood. They do look terribly goofy, don't they?

Buy Law and Order here

Buy Gift of Screws here

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