Washington Post, June 21, 1992

Pop Recordings

Fleetwood Mac Alumni, on Their Own

by Geoffrey Himes

When Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, they turned a second-rank British blues band into one of the best-selling pop acts in the world. Between '75 and Buckingham's departure in '88, the band scored 17 Top 40 singles from five Top 10 albums. Despite - or, perhaps, because of - the band's commercial clout, Fleetwood Mac's artistic achievement has seldom been acknowledged. With the exception of Nicks' post-"Rumours" songs, Fleetwood Mac's recordings have held up over the years in a way the L.A. pop hits of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt haven't. Four current and former member of the band have solo albums out now, and while three of them are minor curiosities, Buckingham's "Out of the Cradle" recaptures Fleetwood Mac's best moments and is one of the best pop albums of the year.

Lindsey Buckingham

Out of the Cradle

It has been eight years since Buckingham's last solo album and five years since his last album with Fleetwood Mac; these 11 new songs on "Out of the Cradle" (Reprise) represent the best work he's ever done. It's not an innovative album; none of the songs would have sounded out of place on Fleetwood Mac's 1979 "Tusk." Nor are the lyrics especially descriptive or impressive; they merely point the listener in the right direction. The album's stories are told with music, and only Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and a handful of others have made rock-and-roll as rich and powerful as this.

The first single, "Wrong," recycles the guitar riff from "World Turning" on the "Fleetwood Mac" LP and makes it even more nervous and twitchy than it was originally. The lyrics identify the music biz as the source of the agitation, but the galloping rhythms, distorted blues guitar and jittery harmonies should speak to anyone who's had a high-pressure job. The next song, "Countdown," is built around a bouncy, attractive melody line that never seems to resolve itself, thus capturing anyone's anxious anticipation of better times that haven't quite arrived yet.

This musical theme of yearning to escape from an intolerable situation crops up again and again. The album's catchiest song, "You Do Or You Don't," is a classic exercise in musical tension and release. It's a forgotten maxim of Southern California pop that the satisfaction of the release directly corresponds to the intensity of the tension, and no one creates tension quite like Buckingham with his off-kilter, Talking Heads-like rhythms, his teasing harmony progressions and his stuttering blues guitar licks. He's also capable of gorgeous harmonic releases, and songs like "Soul Drifter" and "Surrender the Rain" boast the pleasurable elegance of pre-Elvis American pop standards (a tradition Buckingham pays tribute to with an instrumental version of "This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific").

Except for a handful of rhythm assists, Buckingham sang and played everything himself, and the album is the best showcase for his considerable guitar skills since his first two albums with the Mac. Produced in his home studio, "Out of the Cradle" has the obsessive, perfectionist qualities of projects by Stevie Wonder and Prince.

The Zoo:

Shakin' the Cage

The Zoo has been the name for drummer Mick Fleetwood's non-Fleetwood Mac projects since 1983, but the group changed dramatically when heavy-metal journeyman Billy Thorpe became the Zoo's lead singer and chief songwriter in 1990. Thorpe co-produced the Zoo's "Shakin' the Cage" (Capricorn) with Fleetwood, but Thorpe wrote eight songs by himself and co-wrote the two others, and he shares lead vocals with Ann Wilson-wannabe Bekka Bramlett, the blond siren daughter of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Thorpe's sensibility dominates the project, and what a derivative, superficial sensibility it is.

Thorpe doesn't really write songs, he writes minute after minute of shapeless music with the same primitive boogie beat, the same cliched guitar licks and the same high-pitched, screaming, tuneless vocals. The lyrics could have been written by taping 72 hours of MTV and using a computer to pick out the most commonly repeated phrases. As for Fleetwood, well, his drumming is admirable.

John McVie's 'Gotta Band'

with Lola Thomas

Just as Fleetwood's new album is really a vehicle for Thorpe, the new album by Mac bassist John McVie is a vehicle for newcomer Lola Thomas. Thomas is a young L.A. singer-songwriter whose bluesy influences inevitably recall Bonnie Raitt. Produced by Robert Cray mentor Dennis Walker, "John McVie's 'Gotta Band' with Lola Thomas" (Warner Bros.) is more interesting for what it promises than what it achieves. McVie, who two decades earlier discovered Christine Perfect and turned her into Christine McVie, has unearthed another real find - Thomas' husky alto and assertive persona are quite attractive.

To take full advantage of her talent, though, she'll have to learn to rely less on her lung power and more on her interpretive skills than she does on this debut effort. She'll also have to find better material. The songs are respectable blue-eyed soul efforts, but non is destined to become a standard.

Rick Vito:

King of Hearts

When Buckingham left Fleetwood Mac, he was replaced by Burnette and Rick Vito. Both of the substitutes were fine singers and guitarists, but neither had Buckingham's originality as a composer and arranger. That point is reinforced by Vito's new solo album, "King of Hearts" (Modern), which is expertly played and sung but utterly lacking in invention. Vito, who played with John Mayall, Bob Seger, Roger McGuinn and Bonnie Raitt before joining the big Mac, obviously knows how to assemble a credible blues-rock number; he just doesn't know how to give it that extra something that might distinguish it from a thousand similar songs.

The album's first single is "Desiree," a vocal duet with Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks that tries to marry Nicks-like mystical lyrics with an uptempo blues-rock groove. Unfortunately, the two elements cancel each other out, and a similar fate befalls "Intuition," which features Nicks on harmonies. Much better are down-to-earth rockers like the buzzing-guitar number, "Honey Love." These songs sound like decent bar-band rock, which is okay if you're dancing with a beer in one hand, but they're nothing you'd listen to on the stereo at home.

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