They were improbable partners to begin with, people "unlikely to be in the same group together," says Buckingham, who joined in '75, when Fleetwood hit his head on Buckingham and Nicks' soft rock and thought it dreamy. "There was a bass player [McVie] who would probably describe himself somewhere between McCartney and Mingus, a drummer [Fleetwood] who's a total garage guy and a sublime primitive and a band that had been around in several incarnations and evolved from being a 12-bar blues band into many, many other things." In other words, they had no business playing together, much less staying together, yet for a while, in the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, theirs was a lucrative partnership: They made great music, which in turn made much money. Fleetwood Mac was the Clear Channel of the 1970s: They owned all of radio.
Then, for a while, in the early '90s and a little afterward, the band disappeared and seemed no longer to matter, and the stories seemed of a different, long-ago era--The Age of Excess, before the dinosaurs had turned to fossils. They had gone their own way, more or less. Buckingham, who loved studios the way Robert Plant loved women, moved into the basement to make music for which he answered to no one. The band soldiered on without him; it had survived numerous lineup changes since the late 1960s, when Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer played psychedelic till snapping psychotic, so surely the body could be sustained with two men replacing one. There would be the one momentary reunion of the platinum band, at the inauguration of a president who conducted himself like a rock star feasting on the tour-circuit buffet of cold cuts and hot chicks, but the body only crumbled further. By 1994, with Nicks and Christine McVie spirited away, the band released an album called Time--something Fleetwood Mac had, at last, run out of.
"Evolution, I suppose, gets harder the longer you go," Buckingham says now. "You know, my own road has been so convoluted with the band. I really did have to leave and sort of take stock of what all of that had meant and try to hold onto my own idea of wanting to be creative in a long-term sense. It had gotten to the point where there had to be a pulling apart in order to do that. We probably wouldn't be doing what we're doing now if we hadn't had such a kind of a spotted history in the late '80s and '90s."
Amazing but true: For a band broken up as lovers then busted up as collaborators, the heart still beats. The band is minus one--Christine, who joined again then jumped again, unable to recommit herself to a relationship that had made loving fun and rather horrible--but in relatively good shape, all things considered. Fleetwood Mac tours in support of an album that didn't even belong to it, till Buckingham decided it wasn't quite right to keep it to himself.
Say You Will, released earlier this year, does not belong in the ranks of the immortal works the band recorded when it was first together and breaking apart together. It doesn't delight like Fleetwood Mac, which, with such songs as "Monday Morning" and "Landslide" and "Say You Love Me," sounds like the first warm afternoon after a frigid winter. It doesn't resonate like Rumours; few albums in rock's history do, if only because few albums dared make public the private discord of men and women falling so viciously out of love. Nor does it dazzle like Tusk, the weirdest, most expensive pop album ever made by a band running from its own success.
Say You Will is more reminiscent of Buckingham's 1992 Out of the Cradle than its Fleetwood Mac predecessors--in other words, some tricky guitar shit, too noisy to be called ambient but too into itself to be considered easy listening. (And that's what the Mac was even at its best: adult-contemporary pop, with the emphasis on adult; you might have dug it as a kid, but realize only as a grown-up there's substance to what might have been deemed twee and slight way back when.) Buckingham, on such songs as "Red Rover" and "Peacekeeper," no longer sounds like the child of the Byrds and Beach Boys, heavy-felt presences on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, but a man who's spent a good chunk of time listening to the sounds in his own head and trying to find room in there for the voices of others, chief among them the woman he used to call partner and then some.