Review: It’s “Not Too Late” for Lindsey Buckingham
Buckingham’s eponymous album is a melodic success and his tour is full of energy.
As of this past Sunday, Lindsey Buckingham is seventy-two years old; however, audience members at any of his recent concerts would agree that he seems to be doing better than ever. On Sept. 3, Buckingham took a moment to address the audience, including me, gathered in Prior Lake, Minnesota for the second concert of his 2021 tour. Buckingham had not provided commentary between songs for most of the concert, allowing his chosen tunes to speak for themselves. Yet, he paused to preface one of the last songs of the set, “Time,” a cover of Michael Merchant’s mournful ballad, by recalling that the song was the first he recorded for his new album, “Lindsey Buckingham,” nearly three years ago. Buckingham stated that the song has “taken on a more visceral meaning” after the “twists and turns” that delayed the album’s release.
These twists, though not mentioned explicitly, surely include his forced departure from Fleetwood Mac, his open heart surgery in early 2019, and, of course, the pandemic. To say the last few years were difficult for Buckingham would be an understatement. Still, despite these challenges and his age, Buckingham’s presence during this tour is one of unbelievable energy and passion. The experience of seeing Buckingham live on tour, in his element after so long, enhanced my appreciation for the catchy and inspired “Lindsey Buckingham.”
One can hardly imagine that a little more than two years ago, Buckingham sustained vocal cord damage from the insertion of a breathing tube during the heart surgery that left him questioning his ability to sing on stage again. On Sept. 16, I sat in the front row of his concert at The Town Hall in New York City for my second experience of his tour. I was amazed to find Buckingham’s voice stronger than ever. He was clearly ecstatic to be back on tour. His onstage presence has always brought out his youthful side, as Buckingham has been known to jump and dance in displays of stamina that sometimes border on being intentionally ridiculous, but endearingly so. This tour is no exception, with his boundless energy and triumphant shouts, sometimes even raising his guitar over his head following some of the most energetic songs of the set.
Buckingham fed off the energy of the New York City audience and seemed comfortable interacting with fans, even leaning down and allowing them to strum his guitar during “Go Your Own Way” — a tradition in Fleetwood Mac concerts of the past. The highlight of the set was “Stars are Crazy,” a track from his last solo venture, “Seeds We Sow." Buckingham’s vocal strength and passion were on full display as he stood before the starry sky of small lights dotting the stage backdrop. The song’s focus on heartache also clearly aligns with the lovelorn, frustrated and almost mournful tone of much of his new material.
If anything, Buckingham’s eponymous album has showcased his unrelenting creative force. In addition to the aforementioned “Time,” the setlist included four new songs: “Scream,” “On the Wrong Side,” “I Don't Mind” and “Swan Song.” “Scream” starts the album off with a sweet, simple melody, dotted with little chimes of the triangle and playfully sexy lyrics. “I Don't Mind,” the first single released in early June, seems to delve a little deeper as the hopeful and unbothered lyrics hint at troubles to be overcome. These lyrics are placed against a muted, but still bouncy, melody — a combination that clearly recalls many of the songs on Buckingham's 1992 masterpiece, “Out of the Cradle.” “On the Wrong Side” is perhaps the fiercest song on the album, and Buckingham continues to feel the lyrics keenly, shown in his emphatic enunciation of the lyrics “love goes riding in a hearse” during his live performances.
“Swan Song” and “Power Down,” two of the best tracks on “Lindsey Buckingham,” are sonically similar in their blending of Buckingham’s more acoustic-sounding strumming style and electronic elements. Buckingham has been faced with the critique that his music is overproduced, perhaps a symptom of the one-man-show aspect of his solo albums as he often writes, plays and produces the entire thing himself. Criticism aside, these two songs demonstrate Buckingham’s mastery as he seamlessly integrates vocal layers and electronic elements with his classic, more acoustic sound.
My personal favorite track on the album, “Blind Love,” croons of troubled love with the sway of sixties pop, opening with the cutting lyrics, “You feel love/But you never give it to me/You steal love/When you’re looking right through me.” The subject of lost love and broken relationships features heavily on Buckingham's self-titled album. This is unsurprising, given the unexpected dissolution of his tumultuous, almost-lifelong professional and personal partnership with Stevie Nicks in 2018 and recent marital problems with his wife of two decades, Kristen Messner.
Meanwhile, “Blue Light” is something of an outlier with an almost twangy, bopping melody and abstract lyrics. “Santa Rosa” is a lyrically beautiful, if straightforward, plea to his wife not to move the family to the remote area of Santa Rosa, as Buckingham has explained in recent interviews. With an almost ethereally echoed whisper, he ends the album on an intentionally slowed, deeply sad and almost grieving note with “Dancing.” “All those who love her just wait for the dawn,” another lyrical highlight of the album, feels reminiscent of the desperate poetic lyrics of Buckingham's songs — e.g. “It Takes Time” and “Miss Fantasy” — about Nicks from the 2013 Fleetwood Mac EP.
While the pain and turmoil Buckingham has experienced in the past few years on a personal and professional level are clear, this album is nevertheless a victory for the famous guitarist whose solo works have so often been overlooked for their experimental qualities and his continued refusal to bow to commercialism over artistry. “Lindsey Buckingham” peaked at #13 on Billboard for album sales, the highest yet of his solo studio albums. While Fleetwood Mac fans, and Buckingham himself, still hold out for a swan song from Buckingham Nicks, Buckingham’s latest solo venture is nothing less than a creative triumph that reminds Fleetwood Mac of exactly what it had and what it lost.