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Reconsidering Lindsey Buckingham



"Not Too Late," the first track on Lindsey Buckingham's 2006 LP, Under the Skin, is as self-aware as any song you'll ever hear. Over gorgeous, elliptical fingerpicking, the Fleetwood Mac guitarist and songwriter whispers through a web of reverb about the decidedly underground nature of his solo career: "Reading the paper/ It's all review," he sings. "It said I was a visionary/ But nobody knew."

Through the rest of the number, Buckingham struggles to reconcile the praise of music critics and the near-complete popular ignorance of his eponymous material. "My children look away," he continues in the bridge. "I don't know what to say."

Buckingham, though, was part of two of the '70s' biggest LPs—Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. The latter is currently listed as 19-times Platinum, making it one of the top 10 best-selling records of all time. It's also one of the most storied albums ever, a double-whammy breakup record created in the midst of Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks' split and bassist John and keyboardist Christine McVie's divorce. Enough with the self-pity, right?

Despite Fleetwood Mac's achievements, Buckingham's own material has often been overshadowed. Nicks' solo career has dwarfed his in popular appeal. Only one of her seven solo outings has failed to reach Billboard's Top 10. Of Buckingham's six solo LPs, only 1981's Law and Order cracked the Top 40.

In recent years, a sizable contingent of elder rock statesmen have risen to renewed relevancy through their influence on young artists, particularly in indie rock: Bruce Springsteen's recent resurgence in productivity has accompanied the rise of bands such as Titus Andronicus and The Hold Steady, rabble-rousing rock acts that plunder the urban wastelands of The Boss' America. Bruce Hornsby's name has been on the lips of myriad 20-somethings who otherwise would consider him vastly uncool, thanks to Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest." Could now be the time when Buckingham also gets his due?

Buckingham is a pioneer of the producer-musician combo that's become so prevalent today. Shouldering a large share of the production work for Rumours, he helped pioneer the modern use of vocal overdubbing, or piling up multiple recordings of one singer's voice. He sat behind the boards for almost every subsequent Fleetwood Mac release, including the much-lauded 1979 double Tusk. He has produced all of his solo albums.

Bands like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear have earned attention by putting the work of '60s pop purists, namely the Beach Boys, in modern contexts. If these proto-"Good Vibrations" were an infection, Buckingham might be considered Patient Zero. His songs on Tusk forced Brian Wilson's harmony and instrumental isolation into the emerging styles of No Wave and punk. The result is roughshod, kinetic pop. Wilson's timpani-blasted melancholy gets the DIY treatment on "Save Me a Place," as Buckingham and the band harmonize beautifully over raggedly strummed guitar and shuffling trash can drumming. "That's All For Everyone" covers a swaying Beach Boys-style slow jam in a dense layer of reverb and effects, creating a nostalgic counterpoint to the song's dominant synths.

Just as Wilson can be heard in Buckingham's music, so too can Buckingham's styles be heard in the work of many current artists. The songs of The New Pornographers, particularly those of A.C. Newman, move with the buoyant energy of Buckingham's early Fleetwood Mac contributions. Strip the strings from "Moves," the opener of the Pornographers' 2010 album Together, and you arrive at a driving rock jaunt that would feel right at home on Fleetwood Mac. Listen again to Akron/Family, The Dirty Projectors and The Rosebuds, and you'll hear traces of Buckingham.

As with Springsteen, Buckingham's newfound relevance has been accompanied by a spurt of fresh output. In the last six years, Buckingham has released three LPs. It's the shortest amount of time he's taken between records in his 20-year solo career, and it's doubled the size of his catalog. On September's Seeds We Sow, he redefines his style without sacrificing what makes it great. In "Gone Too Far," an album highlight, Buckingham addresses a lover, listing indications that their relationship has overstepped its bounds. "If you wake up singing one of my songs," he intones before entering the chorus where he tells her that, as the title suggests, this has indeed gone too far. After all he's done, the real problem is that more people don't wake up doing just that.

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