If one phrase could sum up Fleetwood Mac, “On with the Show” does a damn fine job of explaining the storied band’s career. From their beginnings as an English blues outfit to their drug-and-romantic turmoil-induced world domination to their cherished rebirth in the late ’90s after toiling in obscurity without mad genius guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, the group never stays down for long. Because what God has joined together, no man can separate.
That’s not to say feuds, a debilitating fear of flying, and in-demand solo careers haven’t all tried to derail the Mac Attack. However, the divine pairing of Buckingham, even-keeled pianist Christine McVie, witchy singer Stevie Nicks, and the rhythmic muscle of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie remains strong, in part, due to these myriad personalities living the “On with the Show” mantra.
After a wildly successful yearlong tour of the same name wrapped up in 2015 and Nicks jetted off to promote her solo “24 Karat Gold” project, the rest of Fleetwood Mac did what they do best: carry on. Buckingham already had songs in the can with McVie and Fleetwood’s stamp on them. It was only a natural progression to include Ms. McVie, who came out of an almost 20-year retirement to join the group on the road. McVie filed ideas back and forth with Buckingham, an astute arranger with a knack for guiding basic structures into pop classics, and finally, the two entered the studio to mesh their sensibilities.
It’s a quaint idea to bill the resulting album as a Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie endeavor even though Nicks is the only one not involved. It speaks to the size of the Rhiannon-shaped hole her absence leaves behind. Without her bewitching energy, it’s just not the Fleetwood Mac brand.
Free from the weight of living up to the Grammy-winning behemoth’s history, this 40-minute collaboration shimmers and contains the cheeriest laments about unrequited love you’ll ever hear. McVie’s stately voice, especially on “Red Sun”, embraces the calm so completely that it’s hard to realize the storm is already here and you’re at the dead center of it. “Feel About You” mimics the dopamine rush of romance with glee-club flourishes while “Game of Pretend” contains all the trappings of a signature Christine piano ballad.
The album congeals on the tracks where Buckingham and McVie truly stand together as partners. Closing number “Carnival Begin” is poised to become an instant classic with McVie’s tinkling vocals casting a diversion against the undercurrent of unease brought on by the familiar churning of the rhythm section. Buckingham breaks the spell with a furious guitar solo that conjures up memories of his tour de force on 1975’s “So Afraid”.
“Too Far Gone” possesses a rhythmic energy akin to “World Turning” from the same Mac album, the first to feature the golden California kids. Buckingham’s guitar furnishes the grit while Fleetwood knocks around some kitchen-sink percussion over McVie’s strutting vocals. She could be singing about a relationship impossible to extract from or a band that calls her back like a siren. When Buckingham riffs on the notion that the Mac is a hard habit to break on “On with The Show”, his intention is blatant. He sings, “As long as I stand, I will take your hand, I will stand with my band/There’s nowhere to go, but on down the road, let’s get on with the show,” over a snappy beat.
Picking out the songs Buckingham intended for his ill-fated solo outing is an easy task. Opener “Sleeping Around the Corner” and “In My World” – complete with the synthesized orgasmic moaning first heard on “Big Love” – idealize his experimental, separatist tendencies immortalized on Tusk. “Love Is Here To Stay” serves as the antithesis to Rumours’ wounded “Never Going Back Again”. Here, under the flurry of Buckingham’s acoustic fingerpicking, the singer finds a tender peace in the realization that love – from both his familial unit and professional colleagues – remains even as time marches on.
Will we ever get another proper Fleetwood Mac album? Never say never with this crew. Until then, Buckingham and McVie make perfect allies.
Essential Tracks: “Carnival Begin” and “Love Is Here To Stay”