As far as Lindsey Buckingham is concerned, Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" is overrated.
"I mean, it was a great album," he says, trying to fend off his listener's incredulity. "But it seemed to me that [the public reaction to the album] was more about, well, other things. And I was always uneasy with the sense that, with the 'Rumours' album, people were looking for something -- anything -- meaningful, that had just a little bit of truth to it. Just something to latch on to.
"It was unnerving to see something that became a real phenomenon, when the music itself didn't necessarily warrant it, I didn't think."
That's an odd sentiment, coming from the man who was largely responsible for the album's aural impact. After all, Buckingham not only wrote its first single, "Go Your Own Way," but his production input was instrumental in shaping the sound that made "Rumours" the third-best-selling title of all time.
Considering that this is the 20th anniversary of the album's release, you'd think Buckingham would play into the hype just a little bit -- particularly since he has rejoined Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood for a package of commemorative events including a 90-minute MTV concert (airing Tuesday at 10 p.m.), a live album drawn from that show called "The Dance" (which arrives in stores Aug. 19), and a 40-date tour starting in September (no dates announced as yet).
Hype, though, is the whole problem for him. "I mean, look at what I remember hearing when I was very young," he says. "Like Elvis, or when the Beatles came [here] -- those waves were totally spontaneous and original.
"By the time we were doing what we were doing, it was pretty much a restatement of something."
But Lindsey, that's the point. Sure, Fleetwood Mac made some amazing, daring music -- 1979's "Tusk" is full of such stuff. But just as the Beach Boys' dreamy, simplistic surf singles are more fondly remembered by the average fan than the innovations Brian Wilson built into "Pet Sounds," it's only natural that people would prefer the warm familiarity of "Rumours" over the arch invention of "Tusk."
That's because "Rumours" didn't just reflect the pop-rock sensibility of Southern California in the mid-'70s; it epitomized it. From the soft-focus throb of "Second Hand News" to the exhilarating overdrive of "Go Your Own Way," it synthesized and distilled the So-Cal rock aesthetic as effectively as Disneyland // idealized the charm of small-town America.
Musically, that played out in a variety of ways. On "The Chain," it moved from the slow stomp of stylized blues, as Buckingham's bottleneck dobro whined beneath the tightly harmonized verse, to the relentless acceleration of the jam on the final chorus. "Dreams," on the other hand, was soulful and lean, with the rhythm section kept at a steady simmer as Nicks cooed about "the sound/Of your loneliness." With "Don't Stop," we got its bright and shiny side, as Christine McVie offered an optimistic chorus over a slyly reconfigured boogie-woogie beat.
Those were the elements that got "Rumours" onto the radio and made it a fixture on millions of turntables. But in many ways, what made the album seem most compelling was the story behind the songs.
By 1977, the year "Rumours" was released, Fleetwood Mac had become rock's most unexpected success story. Although the band had been around for a decade at that point, it had spent most of that time on the sidelines. At first, Fleetwood Mac was a critically respected though commercially unsuccessful blues band, one of many spun off from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. In 1970, after the departure of guitarist Peter Green and the addition of keyboardist Christine Perfect (who would later marry bassist McVie), the band shifted gears and tried its luck as a gritty pop/rock outfit, with only marginally better results.
It wasn't until Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood and the two McVies in 1975 that the band became a hit. Thanks to the Top-20 success of the singles "Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me," "Fleetwood Mac" climbed all the way to No. 1. It looked as if things were finally going right for the group -- at least from the outside.
Within the band, however, life was an emotional shambles. Even though Fleetwood Mac appeared to have been built around two couples -- longtime lovers Buckingham and Nicks, and the married McVies -- its members were all in the process of uncoupling.
"Even when we first joined, Stevie and I were in some sort of a transition," says Buckingham, "as were John and Christine. And there was never a point where there wasn't this underpinning of psychological torment and musical soap opera."
Success only made it worse, because the momentum of the band's ascent forced the five of them to work together despite their personal problems. "Those years were very complex, in [terms of] fielding what was thrown at us and in dealing with my own emotions," says Buckingham. "Really, some of my issues with Stevie didn't get sorted out until I had left the band. And you think, 'Well, jeez, that was, what, '77? And you left in '87? Get on with it, buddy.'
"But usually, when you break up with someone, you don't have to see them five, six days a week and work with them for the next 10 years."
Reason for reunion
So what brought the band back together? It wasn't the much-hyped reunion appearance at the first Clinton inaugural. "There was no way you could really react musically, at that point, on the one song," he says.
No, what finally brought the band back together was a Lindsey Buckingham solo project, ironically enough.
Buckingham was at work on his fourth solo album and decided to have Fleetwood play drums on a couple of songs. "Mick and I started out cutting tracks, and that didn't necessarily have any great signature to it," he says. "Just he and I, guitar and drums. Then we started with another bass player, and that didn't work out. Suddenly, he said, 'Why don't you, why don't we bring John in and see how that works.' " He laughs. "That was when it started to move back into something.
"So, we got John down, and that had worked out really well. Then we ended up getting Christine down, and suddenly, a great deal of the sound that makes [Fleetwood Mac] up is there. And at that point, I think some kind of light bulb went off over at Warner Bros."
That Warner Bros. would want to see the group get back together to commemorate its best-selling album is hardly a shock. What was surprising was that the other band members wanted a reunion as well. Only Buckingham hesitated. It wasn't TC because he worried about revisiting the ghosts of his past. Quite the contrary. As he sees it, the reunion finally gives the band "a really healthy" sense of closure.
"I mean, Stevie and I are getting along really well," he says. "Everyone's approaching the conflicts that will inevitably come up, and they're approaching them differently, you know? There are no camps. It's all done from much more of an adult standpoint now.
"I think everyone's enjoying it. Maybe more than ever, really."
Instead, he worried that spending time with Fleetwood Mac would keep him from finishing his solo album -- the project that started it all. "I guess when you've been working on something for a couple of years," he says, "and you're very close to being done " His voice trails off.
"But everyone thought there wasn't a lot of down-side to this. I mean, when you make an album every four years or so, it's almost like starting over every time, and so it would not hurt [to have] the machinery a little more stoked by the time the solo record did come out."
As to whether the Fleetwood Mac reunion will be a continuing project or just a one-time affair, Buckingham can only answer, "We'll see."
"I know Mick would love that, and probably everyone would like to see that," he says. "But, um, I don't know. Jeez."
Buckingham is willing to take a wait-and-see attitude, though. "A lot of things have changed for me in the last year or so," he says. "I've been able to draw a line between what was baggage, in terms of people in my life, cut that loose, and get on with some other things. So it's a good time. It is."
A discography: Albums with the five original voices
Over the last two decades, Fleetwood Mac has released 18 albums with a variety of lineups (its 19th album, "The Dance," will arrive in stores Aug. 19). But for many fans, the Fleetwood Mac that matters most is the one consisting of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. Here's an overview of thealbums those five made:
* "Fleetwood Mac" (Reprise), 1975: The album that started it all. With its dreamy sound and hauntingly melancholy material, it firmly established the band as California rockers. But as strong as some of the songs are -- particularly "Rhiannon," "Say You Love Me" and "Landslide" -- the production and arrangements lack the sparkle and wit that would mark the band's best work.
* "Rumours" (Warner Bros.), 1977: A massive hit and deservedly so, for this album not only defined the band's sound, but captured the ebullience and unease of America in the late '70s. There's no denying such singles as "Go Your Own Way" and the sultry, hypnotic "Dreams," but it's the rest of the album that makes this a classic, from the buoyant "Never Going Back Again" to the haunting "Gold Dust Woman."
* "Tusk" (Warner Bros.), 1979: Although in many ways a reaction against the massive popularity of "Rumours," this quirky, audacious double album includes some of the band's sharpest material. Don't just go by the singles; as good as "Sara" and the title tune are, it's the sonic ingenuity of such tracks as "Walk a Thin Line" and "That's All for Everyone" that makes the album worth hearing.
* "Fleetwood Mac Live" (Warner Bros.), 1982: Largely a recap of the three previous albums, "Live" was released more to capitalize on the band's popularity than to prove what it could do outside the studio. Ragged and unfocused, it hardly shows the band at its best.
* "Mirage" (Warner Bros.), 1982: As the individual personalities within the band grow more divergent, it gets harder to maintain a sense of what, exactly, Fleetwood Mac has become. Still, such tracks as "Empire State" or "Oh Diane" would be remarkable regardless of the source. But apart from "Hold Me" and "Gypsy," there's little Fleetwood Mac gold here.
* "Tango in the Night" (Warner Bros.), 1987: Lindsey Buckingham's swan song with the band is so stunning at points that it seems a shame the lineup didn't linger longer. In particular, the richly textured "Big Love" is the band's most remarkable single since "Dreams," while "Family Man" and the drop-dead gorgeous "Everywhere" offer an impressive blend of ear-candy and catchy choruses.
* "The Dance" (Reprise), 1997: Most of the time, reunion albums are cheered if they manage to make the old stuff sound almost as good as it did originally, but on "The Dance," most of these songs actually sound better. Among the highlights are a breathless, solo version of "Big Love" by Buckingham, a stately reading of "Silver Springs," and a sizzling rendition of "The Chain."
Pub Date: 8/10/97