Buckingham/McVie Is Fleetwood Mac Sans Stevie Nicks

New album sticks to Fleetwood Mac’s tried and true pop rock formula

Initially, it was supposed to become the first new studio album of the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup since 1987’s Tango In the Night, after Stevie Nicks had announced plans to work with the band on new music in 2015. Then in Sep 2016, Nicks unexpectedly revealed she was going on the road with the Pretenders in support of her last solo album 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault. So Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, who had started to work together on new material in 2014, decided to forge ahead as a duo, sort of – they did have a little help from their band mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

“I just woke up one morning and said I have two years off before Fleetwood Mac comes knocking on my door [for another tour],” Nicks told The New York Times in Sep 2016, as she was gearing up for her tour with the Pretenders. “Why would I want to sit around and do nothing?” More recently, she voiced doubts there would be another (full) Fleetwood Mac record during an interview with Rolling Stone. “I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.” Apparently, her Mac compatriots begged to differ. And the result?

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie in studio

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, which was released on June 9, pretty much sounds like a Fleetwood Mac album without Stevie Nicks. Given what a terrific songwriter she is, not to speak of her distinct voice, I was a bit skeptical what to expect. When listening to the album for the first time, I thought it sounded okay, but none of the ten tracks really stood out to me. After having listened to the record a few more times, I feel it’s solid pop rock. It doesn’t get close to Rumours, my favorite Mac album and one of the best records I know. But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison.

Buckingham/McVie saw the two artists work together on new material for the first time since 1987 – the year Fleetwood Mac released Tango In the Night. Buckingham left in Aug that year and Nicks followed him three years later. In 1997, McVie essentially retired from music after the band’s successful reunion tour with Buckingham and Nicks, which is captured on the fantastic live album The Dance. McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014. At that time, Buckingham and Nicks had returned as well, so the band’s classic lineup was finally back together.

Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie in studio 2

In a just-published Rolling Stone story, Buckingham said he noticed “within the first hour” that “it was like, ‘Holy shit, whatever we used to have” was still working. “We’ve always connected musically in Fleetwood Mac,” added McVie, referring to their respective roles as the band’s guitarist and keyboard player. “We’re the only people who play more than one note. I’m not the best pianist, but I know how to interlace around what Lindsey’s playing.”

Explaining their approach to record the new album as a duo as opposed to making an official Fleetwood Mac record, Buckingham noted, “In the context of the band, there might have been more politics.” As the Rolling Stone story pointed out, Buckingham and McVie didn’t have a previous romantic relationship, unlike Buckingham and Nicks, Fleetwood and Nicks and of course McVie’s marriage to John McVie. “We are free of baggage,” McVie added. With the band’s complicated relationship entanglements out of the way, let’s finally turn to the music!

The album kicks off with Sleeping Around the Corner, a tune Buckingham initially had included as a bonus track on his 2011 solo album Seeds We Sow. The tune starts off in a somewhat grim manner: She called to me, “Meet me at the border”/Oh, wake me up, oh, when my papers are in order. It then launches into a cheerful sounding chorus: “Lord, I don’t wanna bring you down/No, I never meant to give you a frown/I’m just sleepin’ around the corner.” The apparent disconnect between the music and the lyrics isn’t new for Fleetwood Mac. A Rolling Stone review of the album cleverly called it “California sunshine on the surface, but with a heart of darkness.” Okay, I’m not going to over-analyze it!

Next up is Feel About You, one of album’s three Buckingham/McVie co-writes. Here’s a clip from a recent performance on CBS This Morning Saturday.

In My World, the third track, is the album’s lead single. Written by Buckingham, the catchy tune sounds like hit material. Buckingham’s and McVie’ alternating “oh”, “aah”, “oh” are reminiscent of Big Love, one of the many hits from Tango In the Night. Here’s a nice clip from a recent performance on Jimmy Fallon.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Carnival Begin, one of the two songs solely credited to McVie.

Buckingham/McView was recorded at Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, the same studio Fleetwood Mac used for the 1979 album Tusk. “There was some worry about whether it was a good idea to come back here,” Fleetwood told the Los Angeles Times in early May. “Maybe it would be better to go someplace new, someplace we hadn’t worked before. But since we started working here, it couldn’t be more fantastic.” As noted at the outset, Fleetwood and John McVie were actively involved in the recording of the album, “the greatest rhythm section there is,” as Buckingham put it.

Speaking of great musicianship, I think Buckingham is an outstanding musician and one of the most underrated guitarists, both electric and acoustic. Like on many Fleetwood Mac albums, sadly, his talent on this record oftentimes gets a bit lost in the production. Perhaps the best way to experience Buckingham’s craftsmanship is to witness it live. In 2014, I saw a Fleetwood Mac show, just a few months prior to McVie rejoining the band. His performance was truly amazing. One of the highlights I still recall was his solo performance of Big Love on acoustic guitar. It was much better than the studio version on Tango In the Night and needed nothing else – no additional instruments, no additional vocals. Check out this clip!

Buckingham/McVie was produced by Buckingham, Mitchell Froom and Mark Needham. Froom has produced more than 60 albums and worked with numerous other top-notch artists, such as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. He also contributed keyboards on the album. Needham’s impressive credits include Fleetwood Mac (mixing of Say You Will [2003] and Live in Boston [2004]), John Hiatt, Elton John and Stevie Nicks, among others.

Buckingham and McVie will go on the road to promote the new album. The tour, which includes 14 dates, will kick off in Atlanta on June 21 and wrap up in Denver on July 27. On July 15 & 16 and July 29 & 30, they will join their Fleetwood Mac mates for performances at the Classic West and Classic East festivals. For additional thoughts on these events, read here.  Fleetwood Mac is also planning a big tour in 2018. “We’re going to start rehearsing in March, next year,” Christine McVie told NME. “The tour is around June. It will be global.” Separately, she characterized it as a “farewell tour” during an interview with Uncut, but then appeared to caveat it: “But you take farewell tours one at a time. Somehow we always come together, this unit. We can feel it ourselves.”

Finally, here’s a nice clip about the making of Buckingham/McVie.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, YouTube, Los Angeles Times, Lindsey Buckingham web site, NME, Uncut

A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?

Desert Trip and now The Classic look like the start of a new trend in the concert business: The mega rock festival targeting an older fan base with money to spend.

Last year’s Desert Trip was a dream come true for every classic rock fan, who had the time and money to get to Southern California’s Coachella Valley. I recall reading accounts on Facebook from people who were there and absolutely blown away – if time and money wouldn’t have been an issue, I would have been there as well, no question! With ticket sales totaling $160 million, the festival was also quite lucrative. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it was not the last of its kind.

Over two weekends in October 2016, which amounted to six days altogether, Desert Trip had a spectacular line-up: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. And so will The Classic West in Los Angeles and The Classic East in New York City. Each of the two-day weekend concerts this July will feature Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Music festivals in and of itself obviously have been around for a long time. What seems to be different about this new breed of rock spectacle is that it exclusively features big-name music artists who have come of age. Many of them no longer record new music, or if they do, release new material at a much slower pace. Recently, I saw Stevie Nicks quoted in what I believe was a Rolling Stone story, who said the reward from recording a new album in this day and age is simply no longer worth the effort to spend endless hours in the studio. It’s a pretty sad statement, but there is evidence to back it up.

Last July, Billboard reported U.S. album sales during the first half of 2016 were the worst since 1991, falling by more than 13% year-over-year. Over the same period, music streaming was up close to 60%. But that’s not much of consolation for most artists who hardly make any money from streaming. By comparison, concerts are much more lucrative, especially when you appeal to an older audience that generally has more money to spend than young people. Classic rock is one of the music genres that is popular among more mature audiences.

In a New York Times story about the upcoming The Classic music events, Irving Azoff, who represents all of the six performing acts in full or in part, put it as follows: “Classic-rock radio listeners have been underserved by current festival lineups.” The big event that comes to my mind in this context is the iHeart Radio Festival, for which Azoff’s observation is certainly true.

Tickets for The Classic are only available for both days, with regular admissions ranging between $150 and $950 plus fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are also various VIP packages, with the most expensive one topping out at a whopping $2,750. Live Nation, the promoter for The Classic, clearly must be convinced that the feeling of having been underserved will open some wallets big time!

I have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects of the shows. Every artist deserves to earn a reasonable living, and it’s certainly true that with all the changes in the music business that has become a lot harder. On the other hand, I have to believe the artists performing at Desert Trip and The Classic already made their money when records were still selling well and are not exactly living in poverty.

Another way to look at this new breed of rock festival is to consider how much it would cost to see the artists in separate shows. Through that lens, a ticket price of $150, $300 and even $600 doesn’t look that outrageous. It translates to $25, $50 and $100 per act based on six artists. Most people would consider a price of $50 to see the Eagles as a bargain. In fact, when I saw them in Atlantic City in 2015, I had to dole out a lot more cash – though I have to add it was one of the most amazing shows I have seen and as such worth every cent! And that sentiment brings me to the next point.

A big part of going to see your rock & roll heroes in concert is emotional. From a strictly rational perspective it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars. But there is just nothing like being in a stadium seeing Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and screaming from the top of your lungs together with thousands of other fans. It’s rock & roll!

And as long as great rock music exists, people will keep spending a lot of money on concerts. I also have no doubt that the new breed of rock festival will continue. In fact, I just saw this story about Desert Trip 2017. The second installment will be bigger than its debut and feature 21 artists. The headliners are REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult, Styx and Supertramp. Some of the other artists include James Taylor, Foreigner and Chicago.

Here is the official video teaser for The Classic. I’m very tempted. I’ve been to great shows with all performers, except for Steely Dan, which I would love to see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, YouTube