Lindsey Buckingham’s contrarianism runs so deep that it subverts his much-vaunted aesthetic impulses, not to mention his common sense. The consummate weirdo who (quietly) sighs in interviews whenever he must forgo solo recordings for the sake of a certain supergroup that’s grateful, commercially and artistically, for the sacrifice, the singer/guitarist/producer of Fleetwood Mac records albums whose melodic smarts can’t compete with an asceticism so severe that it verges on apostasy. The results can be beautiful, sure: When he flexes his craft, he corrals multi-tracked vocals of himself that coast over static guitar arpeggios, like a priest who prefers to clack his rosary beads in his bedroom rather than pray aloud in a chapel with his peers. If there’s a Lord, he’s grateful for the devotion, but for eavesdroppers, it does get tedious—especially when we note how adeptly Buckingham’s talents unfold in a Top 40 context as famished for his haywire formalist submersions as his erstwhile bandmates.
In the fastest turnaround of his career, Gift of Screws comes two years after Under the Skin, and for the first couple of tracks, we want to stamp it “return to sender.” “Great Day” boasts guitar ripples we first heard on his disembowelment of “Big Love” from Fleetwood Mac’s live set The Dance, coupled with lyrics best described as verbal tags rather than coherent statements. A couple of songs exist as mere instrumentals: “Bel Air Rain” is Ottmar Liebert on Vivarin. “Did You Miss Me” comes closest to unearthing the romantic wanderlust that’s been Buckingham’s trademark since 1975’s “Monday Morning,” but as indelible as the chorus melody is, he could be directing his plaint to a mirror—or, heartbreakingly, to Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, whose harmonies would’ve reminded him (and us) of what he’s missing. The feisty title track, replete with look-at-me-now axmanship and oddball vocal effects, feels anchored to a recognizable eccentricity; it’s no surprise that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie constitute its rhythm section.
Alas, “Trouble” and the National Lampoon’s Vacation one-off “Holiday Road” excepted, not a single track in Buckingham’s solo period rivals “Go Your Own Way” for precision; he’s a human being with conflicts, lusts, and such only when he’s allowed to express them around and to other people. Here, “Underground” acknowledges the dilemma: “Say what you mean, but please don’t mean a thing” is not just a curt description of the Buckingham Problem, but a beautifully sung line from an artist capable of transcending limitations, yet content to bask in lapidary gestures. When he goes his own way, he wants it both ways—and goes nowhere at all.
Lindsey Buckingham plays the Nokia Theatre October 19