Christine McVie returns to find new (and old) magic with Lindsey Buckingham

All in the family

As badly as our friends and family may hurt us, even sparking decade-long feuds, the same spirit that once passed between you often lies dormant, awaiting rediscovery. So it was for Christine McVie and her Fleetwood Mac mates, who helped pull McVie from her funk and record a self-titled duet album with Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

McVie essentially abandoned Fleetwood Mac in 1998, shortly after their Rock Hall induction, a year after the release of their 1997 live concert reunion album, The Dance, and shows celebrating Rumours' 20th anniversary.

"She moved from Los Angeles and burned all her bridges having to do with Fleetwood Mac," says Buckingham matter-of-factly. "She really needed to make a break and wanted to completely change her life, and that was a journey she made completely on her own terms."

McVie escaped to the rolling bucolic English countryside near Kent and renovated an old manor house for four years, essentially dropping off the grid. She divorced keyboardist Eddy Quintela after more than a dozen years of marriage, and painted the heartbreak in 2004's In the Meantime, recorded with nephew-guitarist-producer Dan Perfect.

Things went downhill from there as McVie developed a phobia of flying which further isolated her. "I just actually spiraled down into I suppose it could be described as a depression and deeper isolation," McVie says in a separate interview. "And I woke up one day and thought, I have to get over this fear of flying otherwise I'm never going to go anywhere. I was feeling trapped."

McVie says she found a new psychologist, which is "where the serendipity starts happening." The psychologist asked McVie where she would like to go if she could go anywhere in the world. McVie said she would love to visit Fleetwood Mac drummer and co-founder Mick Fleetwood in Maui, and the psychologist encouraged her to buy a ticket. She bought one for a month later, which is when Fleetwood called her out of the blue.

Fleetwood Mac was doing promotion in London and Fleetwood wondered if she was about. When she told him about the ticket, he couldn't believe it, and offered to stop by and later fly back with her to Maui when they finished.

"I went back to Maui with Mick and never even felt the wheels reach the ground," McVie reports. She's not experienced any more flying fears, even on prop planes in Africa. But something else also happened.

"The long and short of it is that Mick invited me to play a couple songs in his little blues band in Maui and I got the bug again," she laughs. "I thought, 'What have I started here?' Then I asked Mick what would it be like if I asked if I could rejoin? And well, you know, his jaw dropped."

On with the show

Everyone welcomed McVie back to Fleetwood Mac, though Buckingham cautioned she couldn't leave again; she had to be committed to it. Yet that's not the end of the story, just the beginning. McVie subsequently started putting down some musical ideas and sent them to Buckingham for his opinion.

"She started sending me all these very rough ideas and suddenly I realized, 'well this is pretty cool,'" Buckingham says. "And I talked to Mick about maybe getting her into the studio before we started rehearsing for this last tour as a welcoming overture, and to try to make something a little more concrete."

He saw it as a low pressure way to help McVie get back into the swing after so long away. These sessions could be "a sort of interim kind of decompression chamber before getting into rehearsals where the politics and the pace and everything is a little bit more hectic," he says. It was also a chance to check the musical chemistry between them.

McVie noted in the past that she and Buckingham were the only ones in the band "that played more than a note at a time." Since the lineup's beginning in 1975 — with the addition to Fleetwood Mac of Buckingham and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks — they had been working off each other, yet had never considered doing an album together.

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had cut some tracks with Buckingham a few years earlier that he thought might go onto a solo album, but now seemed right for this project with McVie. They were game. But would it still work?

"He said, 'Why don't we go in there and see if there's any of the old magic left?' because you never know after such a long absence whether we had any of that magic between us," McVie remembers.

"I still didn't know how the dynamic would be when we actually got in a room together to work on it, and I thought it's very possible there won't be anything there after all this time," Buckingham says. "We sat in the room and suddenly our entire creative vocabulary came back in a flash and then some. It really kind of blew our minds."

What had only meant to be a week or so of work turned into three weeks as they started cutting the basic tracks. Their efforts pushed right up against the beginning of Fleetwood Mac rehearsals, as John, Mick, Lindsey, and Christine dug in with vigor. They felt they were onto something. So much so that after spending months on tour with Fleetwood Mac, they didn't return home but instead to the studio to work on this album.

"We all felt it was powerful stuff and it wasn't finished. There were just basic tracks but the basic tracks were giving off this fantastic atmosphere," she says. "We just thought let's just make it a duet album, keep it simple, and so that's what we did. We finished within a total of about two months or three months at most."

This is of course lightspeed for a band that spent 18 months just mixing 1987's underlooked classic Tango in the Night. But Buckingham is quick to point out the importance of context in such discussions, even beyond the greater technical challenges of working with tape.

"You have to put (into perspective) the lifestyle we all embrace today versus the lifestyle that not only Fleetwood Mac was embracing [read: drug-addled] thirty years ago but the whole subculture was into," he snickers. "Let's just leave it at the observation that it didn't necessarily make for any sort of fast pace for anything."

Duet in a blend of styles

There's odd sort of symmetry to this story because like McVie, Buckingham also left Fleetwood Mac for a time, and it continued to release albums and tour without him.

After joining the band, Buckingham produced the music, bringing a vision and meticulousness to his sophisticated pop craftsmanship which has influenced countless artists from Fountains of Wayne to Sheryl Crow. But the band wasn't always comfortable with Buckingham's dramatic, time-consuming production.

It was fine when Rumours was on its way to selling 40 million copies worldwide, a commercial success that stood in stark contrast to the interpersonal dysfunction and drug abuse that wracked the band. (In his autobiography, Fleetwood recalls picking up packets of cocaine from the label, like provisions for making the album.)

"Rumours was this huge thing that was so commercially out of proportion, at some point the success of the album actually detached from the music or the content and started to become about the success," Buckingham says. "That's a place where you might start to find yourself being painted into a corner, if you were trying to chase that. Tusk was obviously sort of the undermining of that so that became a kind of an influential thing for a sort of indie sensibility."

Things came to a head after the comparative commercial failure of Tusk, with Buckingham's bandmates telling him "no more of that." The tensions boiled over again two albums later with 1987's Tango in the Night, which began as a Buckingham solo project. By then the debauchery had reached epic levels. Nicks checked into rehab and barely spent two weeks recording vocals, leaving Buckingham to essentially paste something together in the production.

It was the second-best selling album by this lineup, but Buckingham was done, and left that summer before the tour supporting the album. During his time away Buckingham worked on his craft and making music less in thrall to pop, delving into minor keys and smaller scales on 1992's Out of the Cradle.

After the millennium he returned to his solo craft with a vengeance, releasing several terrific albums in this vein — 2006's Under the Skin, 2008's Gift of Screws, and 2011's Seed We Sow — touring them in small clubs, in-between the huge Fleetwood Mac tours, and comparing the difference between a motorboat and a cruise ship. He finds them both rewarding.

"If you look at what I had done in those 15 years [McVie was away], you could make a case for saying I was doing things on my own terms as well,' Buckingham observes. "In many ways [I] maintained this balancing act between these big tours for Fleetwood Mac, aka the big machine, and the small machine, which is really where you continue to grow as an artist and continue to redefine yourself."

In this way Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie manages to bridge Fleetwood Mac's still percolating pop instincts and Buckingham's sophisticated, left-of-center songwriting, turning it into a you've-got-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter moment.

"A lot of people have said that — it sounds familiar yet new at the same time. I suppose it sounds familiar because you do have John and Mick playing bass and drums on it but there is also a freshness on it," McVie says. "Lindsey can be a bit on the edgy side and he leaned in more toward the fluffy center side of himself and I think the songs are all very listenable and it's a flowing, really great record."

The album indulges both aesthetics like yin and yang. The tense riff underlying "In My World" pulses like a siren tugging against the breezy California shimmy of the rhythm section, while McVie answers Buckingham's brooding ("maybe we're lost without the cost of who we used to be") with exuberance ("Bless my soul, let the night unfurl, dancin' spinnin' dreamin', singing in my world").

This balance of tug-and-pull also resides in the jangly "Love Is Here to Stay," which pulls close as though shielding against a gust in the verse as it bids farewell ("I lay this soul to rest") but doesn't let go, rising instead in a resounding chorus: "Wind blows one way, time goes, but love is here to stay."

Exploring this creative spark, the pair found new ways of working. "I would bring in whole tracks that were arranged already and had chord changes and intimations of melody played as a lead guitar player and she would sort of articulate the melody and write lyrics," Buckingham says. "That's something we'd never done."

Between the tracks that Buckingham had cut with Fleetwood and John McVie before Christine had an inkling of coming back, the work he'd done building up her rough sketches, and the collaborations in-between, they found a balance that represented them both and shared a common space.

"It really does strike this sort of ground that was, on the one hand, quite informed by the more left side of the palette, those sensibilities, and yet some of that certainly even got brought into the work I did on her songs," he says. "But there was that whole from the left coming a little more to the center and there was also the center coming a little bit more to the left from the other side.

"What we ended up doing was finding this really interesting place where there was a heart and a familiarity that does reference Fleetwood Mac in some ways," he continues, "and then there was also this edginess that references more where I'd be coming from if left to my own devices." Carnival begin

As McVie notes, the album has a wonderful flow and even seems to gather strength, closing with two of its most memorable and appropriate tunes, Buckingham's "On With the Show," and McVie's "Carnival Begin."

The former features Buckingham's trademark pragmatic perseverance — and perhaps a reference to his National Lampoon's Vacation soundtrack hit — as he sings, "There's nowhere to go, but on down the [Holiday?] road, let's get on with the show!" The latter is McVie's heartfelt meditation on her isolation and subsequent rescue by her mates, with a chorus that subtly evokes the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'."

"Not knowing where I'm going, but I know I'm gonna win, I can fly again," McVie sings. "I want it all, those sparkles and swings, a new merry-go-round, carnival begin."

The entire experience has changed McVie for the better, and she's so happy to have rediscovered her muse, which helps her work through her issues.

"There is no question it's therapeutic," she says. "I didn't know if I could write and I didn't know what my voice was going to be like either because I hadn't really sung. It was all just a revelation to me and I'm just filled with joy. It was seemingly so easy. I mean truly I can't lie: It wasn't hard work."

She's also happy to have found her way back. Even for all they've been through over the years or maybe because of it, there's a connection that goes deep, as deep as the personal hole McVie fell in, before her friends pulled her out.

"Absolutely, no question of it. Today I regard them as my musical family," she says, thinking back on their first gig back together at O2 Arena, where the British Olympic ceremonies were held. As she came out and sang "Don't Stop," her knees knocked as the enormous crowd roared back. "The whole thing was such a fantastic sensation. It's wonderful. It's a miracle really."

Meanwhile, Buckingham's been enjoying his own miracle that seemed equally improbable in his day — a happy family life with three children.

"I was just lucky enough to have that happen to me after most of that garbage had been done with. It was a great gift and it was a wonderful place to sort of reconnect with real life," he chuckles. "This is what you aspire to as an artist — to somehow live in the surreal world but also somehow connect that with real life and I think it's been helpful in seeing and constantly reminding yourself of the bigger picture and also being reminded of how small your life can be in the be."

Everybody needs some ground to plant their feet. Maybe Buckingham didn't get that back in the seventies when he was going his own way, but he does now.

"It's been helpful in terms of artistic growth which does not go with the cliché," he concludes. "Because you used to think family was death to the artist, but that's not the case as it turns out."

Buckingham and McVie perform on Sunday, July 2, at the Fox Theatre; 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-3200;; Doors at 7:30 p.m.; Tickets start at $29.50.

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