Review Summary: A surprisingly overlooked gem of '70s pop-rock.
The Fleetwood Mac story is arguably the most compelling in the history of rock music. The band originally gained recognition and popularity as one of the archetypal British blues bands of the 1960’s while fronted by the effervescent and often-overlooked guitarist and singer Peter Green. However, Green’s spiral into schizophrenia and subsequently quitting the band set off an incredible chain of events that eventually led to Fleetwood Mac hiring guitarist/singer Lindsey Buckingham and his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks to front the band. The rest, as they say, is history. But, this is not that story.*
By hiring Buckingham and Nicks, Fleetwood Mac went from being one of the leading lights of British blues to possibly the greatest pop/rock bands of all time. They even managed to avoid the “sellout” tag by virtue of the fact that either (a). hipsters didn’t exist yet, or (b). the quality of their output with Buckingham and Nicks is simply stunning. The truth is, Mick Fleetwood (drummer/leader of Fleetwood Mac) is a veritable wizard when it comes to judging talent, and he has the beard to prove it. Legend has it that he hired Buckingham after hearing the Buckingham Nicks song, Frozen Love
. Somehow that song convinced Fleetwood that the missing link in Fleetwood Mac’s chain (pun most definitely intended) was Buckingham’s folk-influenced Californian pop-rock sound. Fleetwood’s tempestuous history with virtuosic blues guitarists possibly played a part in his souring on the art-form, because while Buckingham is clearly no slouch with the six-string, listening to Buckingham Nicks
reveals that he’s not in the same league as the likes of Peter Green and Danny Kirwan (Fleetwood Mac’s other
brilliant former-guitarist). What it does reveal, is that Buckingham is a gifted composer and has amazing chemistry with Stevie Nicks.
features the songwriting skills of both Buckingham and Nicks in equal measures, with both contributing four songs individually to the LP, one – the afore mentioned Frozen Love
– being co-written by the two, and an instrumental cover of jazz pianist John Lewis’ Django
. Buckingham and Nicks also share equal time behind the microphone, but are ably backed by their counterpart’s harmonies, and this is often where the album shines the brightest. While Buckingham has the more conventionally aesthetically pleasing voice of the two, having a clear and warm tenor, than Nicks who has a slightly scratchy and nasal alto, the two complement each other superbly. The best examples of this are on the soaring choruses of Don’t Let Me Down Again
, the interplay on Frozen Love
and the gorgeous minor key melodies of the introspective Races are Run
While both singers/songwriters are immensely talented, Nicks generally writes the better songs, or to put it more accurately, Buckingham contributes the two most forgettable songs on the album, Without a Leg To Stand On
and Lola (My Love)
. While these songs aren’t bad per se and are actually quite pleasant – the latter especially contains some very good countryified blues guitar – they both seem rather abrupt and unfinished, and while they’re briefly interesting, they are gone too soon to make a lasting impression. Meanwhile, all the Nicks-penned tracks are stunners, despite Long Distance Winner
featuring Nicks’ distinctive vibrato, which is a bit of an acquired taste. Nicks’ unconventional voice also makes it possible for the songs to stay away from saccharine sweetness in spite of the fact that the album is composed almost entirely of love songs, and the fact that Buckingham and Nicks were lovers and were no doubt writing about and singing to each other.
The other notable aspects of Buckingham Nicks
are Buckingham’s gifts for both guitar-playing and arrangement. Buckingham’s distinctive fingerpicked guitar playing and complementary acoustic and electric guitar lines are, along with Nicks’ melodies, the driving force of the album. Stephanie
showcase Buckingham’s skills with the acoustic guitar, while Long Distance Winner
and Don’t Let Me Down Again
contain some impressive electric guitar solos. While Buckingham’s fingerpicked style lends a folksy feel to the proceedings, he shows his versatility on the southern blues boogie of Don’t Let Me Down Again
and the country blues slide guitar of Lola
, which have an Allman Brothers vibe to them, as well as the Django Reinhardt-esque gypsy jazz of Django
. Buckingham’s talent for arrangement also shine through with the orchestral flourishes on Django
and Frozen Love
as well as the gorgeous chord progressions in Races are Run
The most obvious weak points of Buckingham Nicks
are evident in the underdeveloped Lola
and Without a Leg to Stand On
. At several other points on the album Buckingham tends to write extended instrumental sections into songs which occasionally sound out of place and act as placeholders rather than adding fresh musical ideas to the songs. This tendency rears its head on Frozen Love
which starts off superbly, but seemingly settles into an aimless instrumental section. However, Buckingham turns it around with an incredibly intense guitar solo leading into the final verse of the song. It's little surprise that Mick Fleetwood was so impressed with the song, because Fleetwood Mac virtually rewrote the song and turned it into the classic Rumours
track, The Chain
Buckingham’s occasional missteps aside, Buckingham Nicks
is a surprisingly overlooked album, especially considering how famous Buckingham and Nicks would soon become with Fleetwood Mac. However, for tasty slices of 70’s pop-rock, Buckingham Nicks
delivers in spades. And, even if the music is not really to your liking, the album is worth owning simply for its cover. For that reason I recommend finding it on vinyl.
*Seriously, if you don’t know the Fleetwood Mac story you need to read up on it. The only reason it isn’t a movie yet is because you can’t fit that much drama into a single movie. It’ll probably need its own mini-series.