Listening Booth: Lindsey Buckingham, “Gift of Screws”

Written by Listening Booth, Music

Work or play. Family or friends. Protein or carbohydrates. Life is about seeking balance. Lindsey Buckingham has been seeking balance too. In his case, the challenge is to balance his intriguing, but sometimes erratic experimental music impulses, and his undisputed mastery of the pop song form. This battle informed his flawed Fleetwood Mac masterpiece Tusk, an album Buckingham has described as “in some ways my first solo album.” Since then, he has produced two more studio albums with Fleetwood Mac, and five solo albums. Gift of Screws (Reprise) is in some ways his best album since Tusk.

The balance has been attained by blending more meditative tracks, like “Bel Air Rain” and “Time Precious Time,” with more readily accessible pop songs such as “Did You Miss Me.” “Love Runs Deeper” was co-written by Buckingham’s wife Kristen. It is one of the best tracks of the year, and brings to mind one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way,” with which “Love Runs Deeper” shares a musical spirit, according to Buckingham. Like the earlier song, it has “a steaming guitar solo and choruses that open up into a kind of lift, a sense of joy for sure,” he says.

To bring it all into focus, there are tracks on which Buckingham manages to combine the two. A good example is the album’s opener, “Great Day,” on which his son Will receives a writing credit. “There’s acoustic picking in that song, lead guitar playing, a non-traditional approach to the rhythm section, harmonies, counterpoint,” Buckingham says. “It’s all kind of convoluted together in this strange mix.” I’m sure all that’s true, but check out that fingerpicking. I’m sure I’ll get some argument here, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a guitar player with more skill in that area. Buckingham’s acoustic guitar playing is absolutely dazzling. Then check out the smoking electric guitar solo that ends the song. I don’t know of too many guitar players who can bring it like that on acoustic and electric.

Gift of Screws follows Buckingham’s 2006 effort, Under the Skin. That album was far more acoustic guitar-driven, and while it was an interesting excursion, it never quite reached the heights that Gift of Screws does. Says Buckingham, “The first one was more of a boutique kind of album. It’s almost like the opening act and then the headline act in terms of approach. Here I’m bringing to bear many more aspects of what I can do — guitar solos, just rocking a lot more in addition to the other things. It does rock more! And they do seem to complement each other.”

A couple of guys named Fleetwood and McVie grace several tracks on the album, including the title track. It’s clear that they haven’t lost a step, and that they remain one of the better rhythm sections in the history of rock. There are also contributions from drummer Walfredo Reyes, who plays in Buckingham’s touring band. Aside from those exceptions, nearly everything here was played and sung by Buckingham. The album was recorded, for the most part, in his home studio, and in hotel rooms during the Under the Skin tour.

Lindsey Buckingham long ago secured his place in the pantheon of great popular music producers and songwriters, and yet his work is as vital, or perhaps even more vital, than it ever was. He is on a musical journey that seems to have no end, and he is blessed with an adventurous spirit that apparently knows no bounds. For music fans, each new album is a cause for celebration. Gift of Screws is no exception.