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Fleetwood Mac regroups for new episode
NEW YORK -- Seven years ago when guitarist Lindsey Buckingham began working on a solo album, he was confronted by a cold reality: His record company had no interest in a Lindsey Buckingham solo album.
A Fleetwood Mac album, however, was a different story.
The company got its wish. One of rock 'n' roll's brand names -- and longest-running soap operas -- has been revived this spring with four-fifths of its most famous lineup.
A new album, "Say You Will," is the first project with all-new material for Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie since 1987. Missing is retired keyboard player Christine McVie, making this edition more muscular and guitar-oriented.
"All of us in this band, every time it comes around and happens again, are surprised and delighted, because we never think it is going to happen again," Nicks says.
The classic lineup -- with Christine McVie included -- had reunited for a nostalgia tour and live album in the late 1990s. But becoming a creative unit again was another thing entirely.
Even before the tour, Buckingham had invited the band's old rhythm section to work with him on his solo album. But Buckingham's solo work has never sold very well and Warner Bros. was disinterested. Realizing it was the only way to get the music out, and after years of work, the three men decided to invite Nicks to join them in the summer of 2001.
She was just about to leave for a long concert tour to support her own solo album. So she sent a disc of 17 songs she had written over several years -- but never released -- to Buckingham, Fleetwood and John McVie, who were working in a California studio.
Buckingham, the band's producer, saw Nicks' gift as a test. And the Fleetwood Mac soap opera began a new installment.
"Her involvement emotionally came in stages," he says. "She had sent stuff over, but I don't think she had a lot invested in what she sent over."
Not so, Nicks says.
"I didn't feel like I was dipping in my toe," she says. "I had to go on this tour because Warner Bros. had just released my record. ... I gave them the CD and said, 'I'll be back as soon as I can."'
Buckingham and Nicks with different interpretations of the same event?
There's a shock. Even cursory fans know their history: The couple's romantic breakup fueled the mega-selling album "Rumours," and they've danced delicately around each other's psyches ever since.
"All of that is never going to be behind us," says Nicks, as she gazes at the ocean from her California home. "Our destinies are so entwined. We fight a lot. We have a lot of arguments. But in the long run, we've worked it all out."
Buckingham is now a married father of two. Nicks is single, and has spoken candidly about how hard it is to mix relationships and her career -- the new song "Silver Girl" is a big-sisterly ode to friend Sheryl Crow, who is confronting the same issues.
Nicks was pleased with the work Fleetwood, McVie and Buckingham did on her songs, and she asked for a month to write fresh material and then joined them in the studio.
"Stevie and I were just checking each other out for a long time when she showed up," Buckingham says. "What's going to happen? Is it all going to explode and degrade to what it used to be or have we truly grown and can we truly elevate this beyond what it used to be?"
Join us next week on "As Fleetwood Mac Turns."
"It was only after going through some major traumas and coming out the other side are Stevie and I treating each other differently," Buckingham says.
The soap operas (Christine and John McVie worked together for years as divorced partners) may be a secret weapon for Fleetwood Mac. Fans feel they know these personalities, and the stories lend resonance to the work.
Seeing Buckingham and Fleetwood, now grizzled and gray, in a Manhattan hotel room is a reminder that a quarter-century has gone by since they were on top of the rock world.
The two men are planning for an early-morning television appearance the next day. Hmmm. A 4:30 a.m. wakeup call. That's 1:30, California time. Should we just stay up?
There was some discussion during the making of "Say You Will" that Christine McVie, who quit and moved back to England because she was sick of traveling, might participate. She's even listed as a side musician for some keyboard work.
But Nicks says it wouldn't work to have McVie contribute songs but not go on tour. Suppose one of her songs was a hit. Who would sing it?
"For years, we thought we can't do this again because Chris was gone," Nicks says. "Five years went by and we thought, maybe it's OK, because it's not like Fleetwood Mac hasn't made changes before. And it's not like there weren't 25 guitar players in this band before Lindsey and I joined."
She misses McVie personally, saying there's a new dynamic to the band.
"It's a boy's club now," she says. "That's been a little hard for me. But from a musical standpoint, it was really kind of fun to go back to a more guitar-oriented genre." Buckingham's guitar is now the lead instrument, as opposed to sharing space with McVie's keyboards, which makes for a tougher sound.
And, of course, there's more room for Buckingham and Nicks' material now that there are two writers, instead of three. The freedom nearly got the best of them. They recorded 23 songs but could only cut five, and Nicks concedes the resulting 76 minutes of music is too much.
Buckingham says the new album combines his esoteric instincts -- "Tusk" was largely his idea -- and the pop classicism of "Rumours."
"That's a great place to be in terms of a style for an album," he says. "I think this is the best work we've ever done."
Oh, and don't pine for the lost Lindsey Buckingham solo album. The nine songs he wrote for it are all on "Say You Will."