When talking about Under the Skin, his first solo effort in 14 years, Lindsey Buckingham sounds like a man discussing a memoir.
"There is a circular tension involved, an optimistic melancholy," says Buckingham from his home in Los Angeles, a few days before beginning a national tour. "Being in the present but looking at what got you there."
Forever linked with ushering in Fleetwood Mac's most successful period in the late '70s and early '80s, Buckingham (who recently turned 57) now finds himself free from the pressures of rock stardom. And he couldn't be happier.
"As soon as my children were born, the second act of my life began," says Buckingham. "And it really is the best time of my life."
Under the Skin reflects some of the bliss and much of the melodrama associated with raising three children while coming to grips with age and career. Centered around Buckingham's impressive fingerpicking guitar style, songs such as "Not Too Late" and "Cast Away Dreams" are contemplative ruminations, compelling narratives that question the meanings of legacy and success.
"You can look at the past and the future with a certain amount of wonder and sadness," says Buckingham.
Skin also features two interesting cover choices: "I Am Waiting" from the Rolling Stones and Donovan's "Try for the Sun." Both work seamlessly into the fabric of the new disc, fitting the overall theme and even adding to the nostalgic mood.
"Those songs are little jewels from my memory," says Buckingham. "They also became a great vehicle for my style of playing."
Buckingham's playing has always been revered. Handed his first guitar at age 6 and inspired when his older brother brought home the 45 of "Heartbreak Hotel," Buckingham taught himself and ended up forming a band in high school called The Fritz with classmate Stevie Nicks. After releasing Buckingham/Nicks as a duo in 1973, Lindsey was asked by Mick Fleetwood to join Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham insisted that Nicks be included, and the rest was history.
Yet even after topping the charts with the Rumours album and such radio mainstays as "Go Your Own Way," Buckingham felt the need to change. The resulting album, Tusk, was one of the most adventurous efforts ever released by a major label. A weird, wonderfully eclectic mix of pop and art, Tusk didn't reach the mass success of Rumours and tension grew within the band over his direction. Buckingham stuck around for a few more Mac releases, but for all purposes, Tusk was his real swan song with the band. And Buckingham regrets none of it, finding a silver lining in getting kicked out of a band he helped become part of the fabric of American music.
"I would have never had the chance to make a solo record if it had not been for the negative reaction the band and the record company had to Tusk," says Buckingham.
"I love pulling the rug out from under the machinery," he says, almost giddy. "Tusk was made to be idealistic, to break new ground, and it's too bad that it was judged by the band only in terms of sales." Buckingham feels vindicated about Tusk these days as it is considered by many to be his best work.
"Even Mick and Stevie will tell you that now it's their favorite record we did," says Buckingham.
And where previous solo efforts such as Go Insane and Out of the Cradle were intriguing collections of skillfully played pop, Under the Skin actually comes closer to the sonic weirdness of Tusk. Buckingham has created a record that both embraces his success and stands wary of its effects. Many of the songs serve as direct, personal statements of life's intricacies.
"Reading the paper, saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew," sings Buckingham on "Not Too Late," one of several cuts where the lyrics read like a retirement speech. The mood lightens over the course of the effort, but the yearning spirit, that sense of coping with the inevitable, never ceases.
"There's no easy description for the music that I've made," says Buckingham. "It's not that well-appreciated or understood." Buckingham feels this new release to be the pinnacle of his efforts.
"You arrive at a place where your skills and your sense of your life happen to coincide," says Buckingham. "This new one feels authentic and is a pretty mature piece of work."
Recorded primarily solo, the new effort continues Buckingham's infamous studio obsessiveness as each song is packed with multitracked vocals and layers of echo. Buckingham has always been adept at merging such disparate artists as Brian Eno and Brian Wilson, somehow managing to maintain artistic credibility while still achieving massive popularity.
"It's a juggling act and it's not easy," says Buckingham. "You thrive on what you find interesting, and you are not afraid to evolve."
Yet even finding satisfaction within his solo work has not precluded Buckingham from participating in work with Fleetwood Mac. He returned to the band in 1997 and again in 2003, even taking songs intended for solo releases and including them on group efforts. Some might argue that Say You Will, the last Fleetwood Mac release, was a Buckingham solo effort with celebrity guest spots from Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. Buckingham disagrees.
"When you work within a group, you have to put your own conception of things aside," he says. "It's a tightrope walk, but you can make it work."
Buckingham has another solo venture in the works for 2008, and then Fleetwood Mac will regroup once again for an effort slated for release in 2009. Buckingham cherishes the hectic pace, not wanting another decade and a half to pass without making an album.
"I don't want to be known as the Terrence Malick of rock," says Buckingham, referring to the reclusive director who once went 20 years between films.
Buckingham has dutifully returned to the Fleetwood Mac fold whenever called upon, seeing the opportunity to take the band in directions they might not have been allowed to pursue 20 years ago.
"Some record companies want to keep you in a place where you really are not," says Buckingham. "I want to be a person, in and out of Fleetwood Mac, who has integrity on his own terms."
Unconcerned with the celebrity inherent in being a past and future member of one of rock's iconic groups, Buckingham is content with his image as the oddball outsider, the guy some might consider an agitator.
"I am certainly a threat to the status quo," says Buckingham.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.