The opening moments of the album that should be called Buckingham McVie–but which is called Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie only because it’s weird for Lindsey Buckingham to create parallels with a record where he posed naked with an ex-lover–are possibly its strangest. Lindsey Buckingham’s voice has traditionally pealed like the bell, only cracking a bit for a touch of lust-filled expressiveness. On Buckingham/McVie, expressivity often manifests itself as a troubled croak, as on “Sleeping Around the Corner”’s strangled opening, with its garbled film noir imagery: “She called to me/Meet me at the border/Wake me up when my papers are in order.”
Soon afterwards in the song, the Mac-patented dichotomy between muted, wispy verse and huge pop refrain manifests itself when an oversized, candied-apple chorus cuts in abruptly (“I never meant to bring you down/I never meant to give you a frown”). You can find contrasts this extreme through Buckingham’s tenure in Fleetwood Mac: from protoypes like “Blue Letter” and “Go Your Own Way,” to Tango in the Night’s “Caroline,” and on into his solo oeuvre (the blistering new-wave tumult of Go Crazy, for instance). It was at play, too, on the dead-eyed power chorales of Fleetwood Mac’s last, already-forgotten project, 2013’s Extended Play EP—essentially a Lindsey Buckingham solo album on which no one seemed like they were having any fun.
Christine McVie was not involved in that project. She came around to the idea of rejoining Fleetwood Mac, after a 16-year hiatus spent in the English countryside, a year later. In large part, that’s why Buckingham/McVie—a collaborative album which also features turns from Mac’s John McVie and Mick Fleetwood—succeeds where Extended Play did not. One of the most important arguments the LP makes is that Christine McVie, who was in Fleetwood Mac before anyone had heard of its spotlight-grabbing stars, has always been central to their entire charm and sound. Buckingham tends toward compressing the sound of the band into a brittle, trash-compacted unit, but McVie’s voice, harmonizing or solo, provides a crucial contrast. It instantly creates a feeling of space and open air to counterbalance Buckingham’s claustrophobic tendencies. On Buckingham/McVie, she’s the natural, playful foil to Buckingham’s consternation and self-seriousness.
This dichotomy between the album’s two bandleaders makes the album an authentically interesting listen instead of a throwaway reunion effort. Though most of the musical gestures recall snippets of old Fleetwood Mac staples, this record still takes place in its own odd musical universe, where synths, guitars, and tones seemingly produced by broken toys or found kitchen items become indistinguishable. The amalgam of past formulas and weird novelties will help engage any Mac fan who loves the band’s texturally adventurous backtracks as much as the immaculate radio hits.
In Buckingham McVie’s sonic universe, good and resourceful ideas come along with the bad, or at least, the perplexing. Perhaps the first eyebrow-arching moment on the album comes with the “Summer Nights”-ripped backing vocals on “Feel About You.” Complete with a Kidz-Bop-ready xylophone riff and auxiliary-percussion goofballs, songs like these imagine Mirage-era Mac hired as a children’s-show house band. There’s a bar for entry to be sure, and that’s not even taking into account the other head-scratchers of experiments that crop up here: say, the mismanaged buzzsaw-guitar disco of “Too Far Gone.”
Despite the premonition that the Mac veterans are now making music intended for their grandchildren, the band’s essential skill set remains at play—specifically, their decades-long formula of building a song into a monolith from a stewy brew of ruminative chords and plaintive melody. For the wider, less-Tusk-obsessed ranks of Mac fans, the pristine comfort zone established by standout team-effort tunes like “Red Sun” and “Lay Down For Free” will make the album more than worth numerous replays, even if the glow doesn’t last past the summer. The Fleetwood Mac that most fans fall in love with is here, almost in full force.