Moth and Flame

Fleetwood Mac remains a troubled, resilient love affair

By now, it seems, there is no story about Fleetwood Mac left to tell. No snort has gone undocumented, no betrayal unchecked. They sold millions of albums to people who knew the soap opera and wanted the soundtrack; they sold tons of concert tickets to those who needed to witness the spectacle live. They were behind, beneath, around, above, inside and outside the music long before VH1 began its talking-head therapy sessions. Even your mama knew the ballad of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and John McVie and Christine McVie and Mick Fleetwood.

They were improbable partners to begin with, people "unlikely to be in the same group together," says Buckingham, who joined in 1975. "There was a bass player [McVie] who would probably describe himself somewhere between McCartney and Mingus, a drummer [Fleetwood] who's a total garage guy and a sublime primitive and a band that had been around in several incarnations and evolved from being a 12-bar blues band into many, many other things." In other words, they had no business playing together, much less staying together, yet for a while, in the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, theirs was a lucrative partnership: They made great music, which in turn made much money. Fleetwood Mac was the Clear Channel of the 1970s. They owned all of radio.

Then, in the early '90s and a little afterward, the band disappeared. They had gone their own way, more or less. Buckingham, who loved studios the way Robert Plant loved women, moved into the basement to make music for which he answered to no one. The band soldiered on without him; it had survived numerous lineup changes since the late 1960s, when Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer played psychedelic 'til snapping psychotic, so surely the body could be sustained with two men replacing one. There would be the one momentary reunion of the platinum band, at the inauguration of a president who conducted himself like a rock star, but the body only crumbled further. By 1994, with Nicks and Christine McVie spirited away, the band released an album called Time -- something Fleetwood Mac had, at last, run out of.

Older? Yes. Wiser? Perhaps -- is sober a better word?
Older? Yes. Wiser? Perhaps -- is sober a better word?

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"Evolution, I suppose, gets harder the longer you go," Buckingham says now. "You know, my own road has been so convoluted with the band. I really did have to leave and sort of take stock of what all of that had meant and try to hold onto my own idea of wanting to be creative in a long-term sense. It had gotten to the point where there had to be a pulling apart in order to do that."

Amazing but true: The tested, bruised Fleetwood Mac heart still beats. The band is minus one -- Christine, who joined again then jumped again, unable to recommit herself to a relationship that had made loving fun and rather horrible -- but in relatively good shape. It tours in support of an album that wasn't even supposed to belong to it, 'til Buckingham decided it wasn't quite right to keep it to himself.

Say You Will, released earlier this year, does not belong in the ranks of the band's immortal works. It doesn't delight like Fleetwood Mac, which, with such songs as "Monday Morning" and "Landslide" and "Say You Love Me," sounds like the first warm afternoon after a frigid winter. It doesn't resonate like Rumours; few albums in rock's history do. Nor does it dazzle like Tusk, the weirdest, most expensive pop album ever made by a band running from its own success.

Say You Willis more reminiscent of Buckingham's 1992 Out of the Cradlethan its Fleetwood Mac predecessors -- in other words, some tricky guitar shit, too noisy to be called ambient but too into itself to be considered easy listening. Buckingham, on "Red Rover," "Peacekeeper" and others, no longer sounds like the child of the Byrds and Beach Boys, heavy-felt presences on Fleetwood Macand Rumours, but a man who's spent a good chunk of time listening to the sounds in his own head and trying to find room in there for the voices of others, chief among them the woman he used to call partner and then some.

"My leaving and doing one album that allowed me to put a band together, that was more conceptual and allowed me to get my confidence back and all that led to what's going on today," Buckingham says. "A song like Red Rover' was sort of an outgrowth of a presentation of a song like Big Love' [off 1987's Tango in the Night, Buckingham's last studio album with Fleetwood Mac] onstage, where you're thinking, Oh, Jeez, one guitar and one voice played with a vengeance and with a certain complexity can really work.' It became a question of how do you expand that concept into sort of still making it a record but not losing the idea of a one-guitar performance behind drums and bass and all the other stuff, you know? That kind of song is actually what I'm the most interested in pursuing. And there are more of those, I hope, that will be on subsequent albums, whether they're . . ." He pauses. "I would like to think there will be more Fleetwood Mac albums, but being what we are, you never know."

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