Lindsey Buckingham’s self-titled solo album, his first since being ousted from Fleetwood Mac in 2018, is due this month.Credit… Chantal Anderson for The New York Times
By Lindsay Zoladz
- Sept. 8, 2021
LOS ANGELES — One day in early February 2019, Lindsey Buckingham woke up to a wallop of a surprise: He had just had a heart attack, followed by an emergency triple bypass.
The good news was that he’d had a cardiac event at arguably the best possible time and place, while under anesthesia for a minor medical procedure. (His older brother Greg, an Olympic swimmer, dropped dead from one alone in his backyard in 1990, at 45. A similar fate befell their father at 56.)
Buckingham found out the bad news when he tried to speak and realized he couldn’t raise his voice above a hoarse whisper: Someone had been “a little rough with the breathing tube,” as he put it, and damaged his vocal cords — not just any vocal cords, but those of the onetime Fleetwood Mac yelper responsible for such modern pop standards as “Go Your Own Way,” “Second Hand News” and “Never Going Back Again.” For months, he wasn’t sure if the injury was temporary or permanent. But fortunately, from his serene California living room one Saturday afternoon in August, Buckingham can now recall it all with a full-voiced laugh.
“Somebody in the hospital was going, ‘Oops! Hope he doesn’t find me!’”
Buckingham, 71, may be playing a bit on what he knows is his prickly, self-serious reputation — as parodied, however absurdly, by Bill Hader on “Saturday Night Live” — but throughout a series of conversations he was remarkably open and quick with the occasional self-deprecating joke. As he prepares to release “Lindsey Buckingham,” his first solo album in a decade, on Sept. 17, his edges seem to have smoothed a bit in the wake of a series of perspective-shifting events: the bypass and then the pandemic, of course, but also the July 2020 death of the Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, and Buckingham’s recent separation from Kristen Messner, his wife of 21 years and the mother of his three children.
Then there was the business, three years ago, when he got kicked out of Fleetwood Mac, a beloved group known as much for its timeless song-craft as its intra-band pyrotechnics and power struggles, and then sued his former bandmates.
Many of Buckingham’s solo releases have been pressure valves for when Fleetwood Mac was feeling a little too tense or controlled. After steering the group more left of center with the edgy and eclectic “Tusk” in 1979, the drummer and (in Buckingham’s words) “vibe master” Mick Fleetwood said they would have to reorient in a more commercial direction. Buckingham told him, “OK, well, I guess I’ve got to make some solo albums.”
Buckingham was able to release his first two — the taut “Law and Order” (1981) and the angular “Go Insane” (1984) — while still in the band, but after recording Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 blockbuster “Tango in the Night,” he took a decade-long leave to fulfill himself personally and artistically. (Buckingham’s decision to step away from an environment of excessive drug use and drinking was also, as he put it, “for my own survival.”) He made one of his best albums, “Out of the Cradle” (1992), and met Messner, when she photographed him for another solo project. He returned to the Mac in 1997 for their triumphant Clinton-era victory lap, “The Dance.”
“That guy is one of the best producers on the planet,” said Rob Cavallo, a record industry executive and Grammy-winning producer who’s worked on and off with Buckingham since the mid-90s. “So much of the style and techniques from ‘Rumours’ on, so much of it is him,” he added, referring to one of the most successful and storied albums of all time.
“Lindsey Buckingham,” a blend of California-sunny power-pop and partly cloudy ballads, is perhaps the most straightforward release of his solo career. “I went into it thinking I wanted to make a pop album,” Buckingham said. While he noted that its musical reference points date back to “Rumours,” the subject matter is “family and long-term relationships.” Though he wrote and recorded the album in 2018, long before Messner filed for divorce, he now believes some of the stormiest songs were “a little bit prescient.”Sign Up for The Great Read Every weekday, we recommend one piece of exceptional writing from The Times — a narrative or essay that takes you someplace you might not expect to go. Get it sent to your inbox.
Still, these songs aren’t all emotional turbulence: Buckingham sees them as being about how “joy and pain have to coexist side by side.” Perhaps that, too, is prescient: After a period of separation, he and Messner are once again spending time together, even though he’s not yet sure what the future holds for their relationship.
A similar haze of uncertainty clouds the future of Fleetwood Mac: Even though Buckingham and some of his bandmates are once again on speaking terms, and he admitted he’d “be back like a shot” if they’d have him, his potential return is contingent upon one member in particular.
As he tells it, the latest tensions began simmering in 2017 when he asked to postpone a proposed Fleetwood Mac outing by three months so he could release and promote a solo album: “At least one person in the band” — his eternal ex Stevie Nicks, he clarified — “wasn’t very receptive to that.”
But things boiled over in January 2018 during what Fleetwood Mac fans now simply refer to as “the smirking incident.” At a New York concert where the band was the recipient of the Recording Academy’s annual philanthropic honor, the MusiCares Person of the Year, Nicks was said to have believed that Buckingham was making a face behind her while she gave a heartfelt acceptance speech. “I would doubt very much that I was smirking,” Buckingham said, while also pointing out that band members dancing or exchanging exaggerated glances when Nicks’s stage banter went on for a while was a “running gag” in the Mac.