A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 4, 2006
My only real complaint about Under the Skin, the new album by Lindsey Buckingham, is this: What took him so dang long? The last time Buckingham released a solo album, the simple but stunning Out of the Cradle, George Bush was president.
Buckingham reportedly was working on an album sometime in the Clinton era, but that got shelved when he decided to rejoin Fleetwood Mac for one of those reunion tours. I’m not the first writer to note that this is only the fourth Buckingham solo album in 25 years.
While Fleetwood Mac generally — if sometimes unfairly — is considered the ultimate white-bread, mainstream, corporate, classic-rock band, Buckingham has been responsible for many of its darker, crazier, and more experimental moments. True, Stevie Nicks’ witchy-poo image probably has received more attention, but Buckingham — who recorded an album called Go Insane — is the one who’s truly nuts. I mean that in the best possible way. “I’m a madman out on a bad man route/Looking for paradise,” he sings in “Show You How.”
Buckingham is experimental, though in a pop-savvy way, a Brian Wilson way. I’m sure he’s tired of that comparison, but like Wilson, Buckingham has a way of capturing gorgeous melodies and irresistible hooks and, like a sonic stalker, nearly loving them to death. He addresses his critical reputation as Fleetwood Mac’s resident mad genius in the first line of the second song on Under the Skin: “Reading the paper saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew/Now that’s been a problem, feeling unseen.”
The first song, “Not Too Late,” will do nothing to dispel that reputation. The instrumental accompaniment is a hundred-mile-an-hour, Segovia-on-angel-dust flamenco-like guitar.
Basically it’s an acoustic album. Though he’s an ace electric guitarist, Buckingham’s acoustic guitar reigns supreme here. His picking style goes back to old British folk rock bands like Pentangle rather than a Delta blues groove.
And his voice. Sometimes it’s a lonely, breathless whisper, sometimes a Wilsonesque falsetto. Often it’s multitracked, creating a one-man choir. On the chorus of “It Was You,” his vocal parts create a psychedelic calliope.
This is indeed a solo album. The only help Buckingham gets is from Mac-mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who supply a rhythm section on the song “Down on the Rodeo,” and someone named David Campbell, who supplies “orchestration” on “Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind.” Don’t let the orchestration tag scare you. It’s low-key and sounds a lot more like the Memphis Horns than the Moody Blues.
Buckingham wrote all but two of the tunes on the album. He covers the obscure Rolling Stones song “I Am Waiting” (originally from Aftermath, Stones fans) and an even more obscure Donovan number called “To Try for the Sun.” But I didn’t know this until I read the liner notes. Both songs fit seamlessly with the rest of Under the Skin. Buckingham gives the Donovan song a jittery beat you don’t find much outside his productions.
So far my favorite Skin song is “Cast Away Dreams.” Buckingham’s voice is nearly a sob. Over a strumming guitar, he again raises the “visionary” thing, which he seems to view as a burden. “Lay down my visionary eyes dancing on my cast away dreams,” he sings. It’s a song about going away, not coming home, as he comes to grips with the faith he’s lost.
I just hope he doesn’t go away for another 14 years.
* In the Maybe World by Lisa Germano. Sweet Lisa reminds me of the unnamed “she” of Butch Hancock’s “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me” (“She spoke to all the shadows in her bungalow”). Germano’s talking to a lot of shadows in her latest album.
Normally I don’t care that much for sensitive-female singer-songwriters. But Germano, with her broken-wing songbird persona and lyrics so unabashedly self-absorbed they’re nearly clinical, is hard to dismiss.
And she’s almost always sonically fascinating in her lo-fi way. Often there’s a low rumble in the background or some weird discordance about to erupt. Many of the songs here are like dream fragments, featuring demented little piano lines that would be right at home in soundtracks to creepy 1960s black-and-white movies like Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
One of the prettiest melodies on this album — one of the prettiest tunes she’s ever written — is “Too Much Space.” By the end of this song about a love gone wrong, Germano is evoking a scene from Tod Browning’s infamous movie Freaks. “One of us,” she sings repeatedly, as if she’s welcoming herself into the world of the carnival’s human oddities. “One of us. One of us.” (Or maybe she’s just revealing — awkwardly — that she’s a fan of the Ramones.)
On Maybe World, the singer even encounters supernatural beings. When I saw the title “In the Land of Fairies,” I feared Germano had become a born-again New Ager. When I heard the song’s bizarre little melody, which sounds like it’s lifted from some hoary Italian folk tune, I couldn’t resist it. She’s seeing fairies, but they only annoy her. You can almost see her in some garden bickering with little creatures nobody else can see.
Speaking of arguments, in “Red Thread” she seems to be having one with herself. The refrain is a one-woman call and response that begins “Go to hell” and responds with "Fuck you."
But the song has a happy ending: “I love you,” she sings, then answers herself, “I love you too.”
Friday, November 10, 2006
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