By Jeff Giles
Wait, what’s this – a new Lindsey Buckingham record, just two years after his last one? Is Fleetwood Mac’s on-and-off guitarist finally learning how to make an album without disappearing completely up his own ass or what?
Well, yes, mostly. Although Gift of Screws takes its title from the album Buckingham spent most of the ‘90s working on – and subsequently parted out for Fleetwood Mac’s last album, 2003’s Say You Will, as well as his last solo effort, 2006’s Under the Skin – it consists mostly of new songs and new recordings, and provides a more-or-less full-band complement to Skin’s heavily acoustic song structures. It sounds, in other words, pretty much like a Mac record minus Stevie Nicks’ bleating. This is not a bad thing.
Aside from Skin’s minor detour, Buckingham’s sonic template hasn’t changed much in the last couple of decades, so if you’re familiar with his work, you know what to expect here – namely acres of fingerpicked guitars, towering stacks of vocals, and lyrics that occasionally border on the darkly paranoid, with wiry needlepoint solos draped over the whole thing. It’s a sound that inspires slavish fandom as often as it provokes confusion and/or disgust; for a guy who’s been essentially absent from the Top 40 for the last 20 years, Buckingham remains a surprisingly polarizing figure.
You probably already know which side of the fence you’re on, and have no intention of changing positions. If you’re a Buckingham fan, though, consider Screws another pleasingly Byzantine, solidly entertaining addition to the catalog, with all of Lindsey’s quirks and charms on full display. The album is packed to the gills with guitars – possibly only the vocal overdubs outnumber them – and although Mick Fleetwood and John McVie appear on some songs, Buckingham produced most of the record, so the bottom end is, politely speaking, an afterthought – he’s never met a bass player he couldn’t make disappear in the mix.
Lyrically, it’s darker than Under the Skin – where that album found Buckingham in an uncharacteristically warm and domestic mood, Screws is as conflicted as its title. Here, Buckingham seems to be preoccupied with seclusion and distance – the lyrics are rife with references to being underwater, or underground – but the album’s other recurring theme is making your way back, either to someone (as on the single, “Did You Miss Me”) or from a catastrophe (“Treason”). The melodies reflect this dichotomy, balancing between sweet and expansive to dense and angular – or sometimes, as on the title track, swerving between extremes in a single song.
In the context of Buckingham’s frustratingly meager solo work, Gift of Screws falls a notch below 1992’s brilliant Out of the Cradle, and depending on your favorite side of his work, it may not be as satisfying as Under the Skin. Still, it’s apparent that at an age when many of his peers have run out of things to say, Buckingham’s artistic pace shows no signs of slowing – just the opposite, actually. That’s some Gift.