Under the Skin
he world is a sadder place without another “Holiday Road.” Despite a Top Ten hit in 1981 (the ethereal “Trouble”) and 30 years of renown as Fleetwood Mac’s extraordinary guitarist, producer, and arranger, Lindsey Buckingham’s audience can be forgiven for assuming that the frizzy-haired weirdo’s niggardly hoarding of dulcet trinkets is one more idiosyncrasy in a career replete with them. Under the Skin doesn’t have any songs on the level of “Holiday Road”’s determined stupidity, but, still, what a relief to enjoy the company of a fiftysomething musician whose imponderable wealth encourages him to act stupid with a bunch of stringed instruments and a mixing board, instead of buttressing a McCartney-esque complacency.
Buckingham’s fourth solo album brandishes all the familiar indulgences: the auteur’s multitracked harmonies and fingerpicked nylon guitar glissandos as hooks; lyrics no more than taglines; and an excellent taste in covers (here it’s Donovan and a lovely, limpid “I Am Waiting”). Under the Skin uses the spartan take on “Big Love” he recorded for 1997’s The Dance as a blueprint; subverting the original’s dynamic by recasting the raucous as ruminative, Buckingham captured the ardor of middle-age sex without resorting to pelvic thrusts and lumpen lyrical innuendos. Or inappropriate overdubs—as “Show You How” shows us. Thanks to low strummed notes and the merest suggestion of percussion, Buckingham delineates the intensity with which aging bodies slide into each other upon discovering that it’s only nice because it’s naughty. “You can wake up from a dream and see your better half,” he whispers with modest eloquence. “It Was You” conveys the same kind of erotic awakening, thanks to a chorus of overdubbed Lindseys belching the uncaged yawp of his id.
There isn’t another rock and roller of Buckingham’s generation with such an inflated reputation for plush arrangements when, really, he’s the only one who keeps the Mellotrons and brass bands on the top shelf of his closet. Tusk and Tango in the Night—the Fleetwood Mac albums which bear his fingerprints most prominently—are so memorable because the songs rarely dissolved into the wobbly reverbed spareness of the former and programmed textures of the latter. Asceticism like Buckingham’s can chaff and balk: it’s a dialectic of such fragility that I’m not surprised Mick Fleetwood and John McVie tiptoe into a room before asking him to rejoin the Mac. It’s a rather mundane kind of dialectic that lends “Not Too Late” its tension. How many songs combine subjects as vile as the artist’s caviling at critics’ expectations and the wonderfulness of bearing children? Avoiding psychoanalytic jargon, Buckingham undercuts his own awareness of being underrated by acknowledging that his children regard their father’s hibernal retreats into the studio as, well, fishy: “My children look away / They don’t know what to say.”
Admissions like this make me wish Buckingham was allowed to use them on Fleetwood Mac albums. As beguiling as much of Under the Skin is, these songs would benefit from the Mac’s supple, still-underrated rhythm section, not to mention the harmonies of fellow ditz Stevie Nicks and much-missed Christine McVie—as the album’s only group track “Down On Rodeo” reminds us. Studio nuts that keep their principles through marriage and childbirth are a commodity for which a band should pay any price to acquire, especially if VH1 Classic and ILM are embalming them.