Lindsey Buckingham is that increasingly rare beast in the pop world; an ageing rocker who still counts. For a man who has made indescribably large amounts of money with Fleetwood Mac, and who is the author of some of the finest soft rock songs of all time, it is refreshing to find him nearing his sixties and still releasing solo albums that stand up against his late ’70s peak.
The follow-up to 2006’s largely acoustic Under The Skin, a fine album in its own right, Gift Of Screws takes its title (an Emily Dickinson reference) and several tracks from an abortive late ’90s session. Other tracks from those sessions cropped up on the Fleetwood Mac reunion album Say You Will, a 2003 release that indicated that Buckingham had relocated the songwriting genie that went temporarily absent during the previous decade.
Gift Of Screws is a thrilling album from the very first track. Great Day positively bursts out of the speakers with its aggressive acoustic guitar and daring vocal lines. Time Precious Time is even better, with rippling guitar arpeggios and a heavy echo treatment on the vocal (a common Buckingham production trick). This is challenging, thought-provoking music that you would expect from a younger artist.
Then again, this is the reclusive studio genius that unleashed the decidedly odd Tusk on the world at the height of Fleetwood Mac’s fame. Buckingham is a devil for injecting quirky elements into his glossy soft rock confections, but in such a subtle way that his efforts are routinely overlooked (he opened his previous album with the line “Reading the paper saw a review/Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew”).
Buckingham’s regular band serves him well throughout the album, although Fleetwood Mac bandmates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie also pop up on several tracks. The duo lends a healthy commercial swagger to Love Runs Deeper and The Right Place To Fade. The latter track is terrific, the stacked harmonies and killer riff sounding like they could have been lifted straight from a Rumours session.
The dependable rhythm section also guest on the title track, a crazed rocker that features Buckingham yelping like a man possessed. It sounds like a companion piece to some of the more outré moments from Tusk, notably Not That Funny and That’s Enough For Me.
Although this album is marketed as a return to a more direct rock sound Buckingham is far too smart an operator to sacrifice substance for style. Did You Miss Me is a whip-smart pop single good enough to already have landed on the US charts, and boasts one of the album’s most direct lyrical pleas for connection and understanding. The contemplative lyrics of Bel Air Rain and Treason, meanwhile, are given added weight by strong melodies and delicately layered arrangements.
Written and recorded over a lengthy period, Gift Of Screws could have been a mess. Instead, it is a glorious statement of intent from one of pop’s most misunderstood characters.