Tuesday, April 06, 1993

Review/Pop; A Musically Mad Scientist - Lindsey Buckingham

Published: April 06, 1993
The New York Times

Lindsey Buckingham might be described as the mad scientist of California pop. The singer, songwriter and guitarist who masterminded the gossamer folk-rock harmonies of Fleetwood Mac's biggest hits is a notorious perfectionist in the recording studio. And at Town Hall on Wednesday evening, in a concert that was part of his first solo tour, he worked with considerable success to recreate the layered textures that have made both his Fleetwood Mac and his solo albums models of a certain kind of meticulous craft.

Especially on his solo albums, Mr. Buckingham has applied his wizardry to the creation of tortured psychodramas in which every sigh of pleasure is balanced by a primal scream or a Gothic nightmare. His newest record, "Out of the Cradle," is an autobiographical song cycle describing a midlife crisis with many characteristics of a nervous breakdown.

In introducing songs from the album on Wednesday, the wiry, frizzy-haired singer talked about their personal associations. A brooding acoustic version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine," which he said was his father's favorite song, prefaced "Street of Dreams," a reflection in which a visit to his father's grave sets off howls of loneliness and despair.

Since Mr. Buckingham plays most of the instruments and sings most of the parts on his own recordings, even to begin duplicating what he does by himself in the studio required a nine-member band. He was joined by four guitarists doubling as backup singers, a drummer, a keyboardist, a bassist and two percussionists.

Even though the sound had an impressive clarity, there was something bizarre about finding the stage of Town Hall jampacked with tons of electronic equipment that dwarfed the performers. This sort of technological barrage befits a heavy-metal concert in which the goal is to create a sonic explosion. But it seemed excessive for an artist as quirky and introspective as Mr. Buckingham.

Pumped up to heavy metal levels, such Fleetwood Mac songs as "Go Your Own Way," "The Chain" and "Tusk" sounded overblown, although they had an undeniable visceral clout. When things quieted down, as in "Street of Dreams" and "All My Sorrows" (Mr. Buckingham's freewheeling adaptation of "All My Trials"), the layered voice, guitar and percussion found a blend that was almost as refined as the texture of the recording.

Sunday, June 21, 1992

RECORDINGS VIEW; A Studio Wizard Takes a Psychic Journey

Published: June 21, 1992
The New York Times

In "Street of Dreams," the most anguished song on Lindsey Buckingham's third solo album, "Out of the Cradle," the narrator visits the grave of his father, who has been dead for 10 years, and prays, "Will I ever stop dreaming dreams?" His father's ghost answers, "Never, never, never!" in a vengeful primal scream.

The tormented father-son dialogue, which revolves around the word "lonely," is cast in a dank, echoey setting that suggests Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" transformed into a surreal dirge. As much as any cut on "Out of the Cradle," it demonstrates Mr. Buckingham's brilliance at using the recording studio to create intricate interior dramas in which ambiance and an allusive pop sensibility matter more than the actual words and music.

The most elaborate and ambitious of Mr. Buckingham's solo recordings, "Out of the Cradle" is an album-length suite that describes a young musician's descent from innocence into a dark night of the soul and his eventual re-emergence into a slightly shaky autonomy. Mr. Buckingham plays most of the instruments on the record, which took two years to record in his home studio with his longtime collaborator and songwriting partner, Richard Dashut. His labors have produced one of the most exquisitely textured rock albums ever made.

The style that Mr. Buckingham has refined on "Out of the Cradle" is a personalized extension of the sound he devised for Fleetwood Mac in the late 1970's. The ultimate studio distillation of harmonized California folk-rock, his technique mixes carefully layered guitars and other stringed instruments with voices (both real and electronic) into a scintillating orchestral fabric. His master stroke has always been his ability to buoy these rich, three-dimensional textures with rhythms that have the feel of streamlined Celtic folk dancing. Their brisk, airy bounce keeps the productions from seeming overworked.

As the sonic architect of Fleetwood Mac, Mr. Buckingham used this studio wizardry to create the rock equivalent of a nighttime soap opera, starring the flighty, sexy Stevie Nicks and the stalwart, long-suffering Christine McVie.

The sound Mr. Buckingham has created for his solo albums employs the same ingredients but adapted to suit his passionate yet pinched vocal style. Where Fleetwood Mac's albums were glamorous comedies of manners, "Out of the Cradle" is one long, brooding interior monologue. The psychic journey begins on a note of frightened euphoria ("Don't Look Down"), takes a look at music-industry crassness ("Wrong"), then descends into despair ("All My Sorrows") and borderline insanity ("This Is the Time," "You Do or You Don't," "Street of Dreams"). With "Surrender the Rain" and "Doing What I Can," the narrator begins to recover, and the last songs, "Turn It On" and "Say We'll Meet Again," express an almost giddy affirmation.

Mr. Buckingham writes charming folkish melodies, and his best lyrics make serviceable use of archetypal symbolism, but his manipulation of instrumental atmosphere is what makes "Out of the Cradle" memorable. Mr. Buckingham's psychological changes parallel an exploration of his musical roots.

His influences range from Rodgers and Hammerstein (an acoustic instrumental rendition of "This Nearly Was Mine") to the Kingston Trio (a haunting adaptation of their version of the traditional "All My Sorrows") to rockabilly ballads ("Street of Dreams") to good-timey mid-60's folk ("Say We'll Meet Again"). "Countdown" momentarily echoes the Turtles, while "Soul Drifter," a gorgeous folk-cowboy song, ends with quotes from the Tokens' "Lion Sleeps Tonight."

The sum total of all these fragments, reflections and echoes is an impressionistic, if eccentric, memoir of his own painful loss of innocence and musical evolution.