Billboard, May 23, 1992

Editorial: Music to My Ears

Lindsey Buckingham Rocks the Cradle

By Timothy White

"Themewise, the new record touches on the irony of a 42-year-old man beginning a rebirth," says Lindsey Buckingham with a chuckle, alluding to his new album, "Out Of The Cradle," which takes its name from poet Walt Whitman's 1874 memoir of childhood, "Out Of The Cradle, Endlessly Rocking." "Its title has a double meaning for me, referring to my transition from my old band, and also to the child still rocking around inside of us after we become adults."

Buckingham's old band, of course, was Fleetwood Mac, from which he departed in 1987, shortly after permitting the band to plunder his solo project-in-progress to steady its foundering "Tango In The Night" album. He gave his cohorts his four best songs, among them "Big Love" - which promptly became a top five hit. "I surrendered my own songs to the situation," he now muses, "in order to preserve our sense of family."

He then lavished his wizardry as an arranger on his cohorts' own "Tango" material. "If I had to choose my main contributing factor to the band, it wouldn't be as a guitarist, a writer, or a singer; it would be as someone who knows how to take raw material from Christine [McVie] and Stevie [Nicks] and forge that into something," Buckingham told this writer during an '87 talk in his home studio. "That's a nice gift to have, and be able to help people with."

Five years later, still holed up in the Slope, the recording workshop in his Bel Air, Calif., residence, Buckingham shows the same multilateral outlook on his musical skills. "I always perceived my role in Fleetwood Mac as being the - studied eclectic,'" he explains. "I was the band's built-in sidebar, working within the mainstream - while also delving into strange areas of experimentation in an effort to be myself. Now I have a greater confidence, and with the new record I'm just myself naturally, without taking any side trips."

"Out Of The Cradle" ultimately reminds the listener that, for two decades, Lindsey Buckingham has been one of rock'n'roll's most original musical draftsmen. His creative confidence is apparent on the new album, a dramatically cohesive work that combines his quirky virtuosity on acoustic and electric guitar with a panoramic knack for sonic collage. While tracks like "Don't Look Down" or "This Is The Time" fall well within rock's melodic tradition, they feature eccentric constructions and sudden harmonic shifts, each surprise element enhancing their overall appeal.

As "Out Of The Cradle" demonstrates, the Palo Alto-born Buckingham is both a pupil and prime inheritor of a rich California rock heritage whose atmospheric studio craft stretches from the Beach Boys through the Byrds to the 1973 "Buckingham Nicks" record (Polydor) that proved to be the stylistic foundation of Fleetwood Mac at its commercial peak. Pretty but never prissy, "Buckingham Nicks" was a tensile pastiche of folk-rock strains wholly compatible with early 70s Mac efforts like "Kiln House" and "Bare Trees." (A perfect example of Buckingham's Fleetwood Mac-friendly approach was "Monday Morning," a song meant for Buckingham Nicks that he wound up giving to the Mac when he and Nicks joined in '75.) And Lindsey's most effective arranging trait, which later helped lift the "Fleetwood Mac" and "Rumours" records into the commercial stratosphere, was an ability - "a tiny, repeating sense of event," as he terms it - to make electric music seem both warmly acoustic and utterly spontaneous.

"Out Of The Cradle" has these same qualities in profusion, the spine of each track being the alternatingly plucked and brailing guitar lines in which Buckingham specializes. On a new song like "Soul Drifter," contrasting layers of Lindsey's multitracked vocals are interwoven with various metronomic riff-sounds that constantly supplant each other before their essential sameness can be detected. The sum effect is akin to moving through a musical forest where nature has achieved an intuitive orchestration; it feels mighty eerie yet immensely satisfying.

Buckingham's background reflects the fine-tuned intensity of his art. The youngest of three competitive boys (his brother Gregg won a silver medal in swimming in the '68 Olympics), Lindsey grew up in the cultural and social environment of a college town, with Stanford Univ. as its centerpiece. The Buckinghams were coffee growers, his father's small Alta Coffee label in Daly City having emerged from the regional Keystone brand his grandfather founded in the '20s.

Buckingham's hobbies as a youth encompassed drums and guitar as well as participation with his siblings in the nationally recognized Santa Clara Swim Club. His pursuit of swimming trophies lapsed after an aunt died and left him a $12,000 inheritance, which he spent on recording equipment. Tinkering with an Ampex four-track tape deck in a back room of his dad's coffee plant, he began developing songs for a Palo Alto band called Fritz, which he joined in 1967. The group's female vocalist was one Stephanie "Stevie" Nicks. Fritz disintegrated after four modest years of Bay area gigs, although its core singing/songwriting duo of Buckingham and Nicks landed the brief Polydor recording deal that produced "Buckingham Nicks."

"A few years ago," says Lindsey, "Stevie and I bought back the rights to the 'Buckingham Nicks' album" - whose assistant engineer was Richard Dashut, still Lindsey's best friend and co-producer. "That record has become one of the most requested albums not yet on CD, and we may put it out around the same time as a Fleetwood Mac boxed set that's planned for Christmas. Incidentally, Stevie and I have agreed to go into the studio in a week or so to contribute some new stuff to the boxed set."

Despite this fondness for former alliances, Buckingham says he's looking forward to what he believes will be a permanent solo path. "I've had enough time to get my feet back on the ground careerwise," Buckingham explains. "As rock moves further away from melody, I'd like to find new ways to bring melody back ... A lot of times while working alone here at my studio, I'd take 20-minute breaks and read some Whitman and the collected works of Dylan Thomas, to get a sense of how good lyrics should sound. And while my songs are not about a specific world view, they address the current lack of idealism or the inclination to act on that emotion.

Radio gets its first state of "Out Of The Cradle" when the uptempo, feverish "Wrong" (for which a video has just been completed) is sent to album-rock stations Tuesday (19).

The Warner Bros. album will be shipped to retail June 16. Buckingham says he's eager to reconnect with his public - and to perform live for it. "All the things I've done since the late '80s have been survival moves, yet they've given me a fresh optimism. I've managed to make myself happier just by concentrating on what, for me, rings true."

Thanks to Les for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.