Under The Skin

Lindsey Buckingham

Reprise, 2006


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Welcome to Lindsey Buckingham's midlife crisis.

The title of his latest disc, his first in 14 years, is a hint as to what's inside. Instead of love songs or rockers, Buckingham inhabits Stevie Nicks' body for these 11 songs and takes a hippie-meets-Brian-Wilson look at his own life.

By that, I mean Buckingham employs his studio sheen to these tracks, double tracking his voice and adding all kinds of guitars and ethereal sounds. He then sings every song in a kind of high whisper; when singing these songs on stage, he would only need a scarf to look like Nicks as he sways around the stage.

This is not the man who belted out "Big Love" during the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour The Dance, nor are any of the guitars on Under The Skin that forceful. Like many songwriters and middle-aged men, Buckingham opts to examine his past and his present through exploration, and in his case the tools are an acoustic guitar and some sparse percussion. It's a breezy and ethereal album, Enya with testosterone, but it's one of the most beautiful pop records you'll hear this year.

"Not Too Late" was not the wisest choice to kick off the disc, though. Why Buckingham chose to frantically whisper the choruses and employ only a picked acoustic guitar while singing such a personal song is beyond me; "What am I doing anyway / Telling myself it's not too late / I'm not a young man but I'm a child in my soul / I feel there's room for a man who is whole," he sings, and such personal lyrics and gorgeous guitar work gel very well. Still, had Buckingham sung the whole song like he sings the chorus, it would have had the emotional impact he desires, though in his defense the song's sparseness makes it somewhat haunting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Show You How" has a late-60s psychedelic pop appeal, carried only by a beat box and Buckingham's multi-tracked vocals about learning to slow down and enjoy life instead of racing through it. The title track is a true winner, though, a shimmering acoustic-driven love song about providing comfort: "And you feel so small, where do you belong / When your soul falls out and you're filled with doubt / And the silhouettes shout 'where do you belong?' / Lay your head down no one will see / Cry me a river of new dreams." I don't know when Buckingham turned into early Paul Simon, but it happens here.

A couple of well-chosen covers pepper the release, the best one being the forgotten Stones classic "I Am Waiting" that is turned into a whispering folk tune, fitting both the sound and the personal lyrics about waiting to find a loved one. A take on Donovan's "To Try For The Sun" is pleasant, though I wonder if it was chosen because of its reference to huddling in a derelict building with a gypsy girl. Memories of living in a crappy apartment with Nicks back in the early '70s, perhaps? They tried for the sun and they found it.

That cover is the happiest tune on the disc, though "It Was You" is also somewhat upbeat, crossing late-period Beach Boys with Donovan and Paul Simon and adding some basic but heartfelt lyrics: "Every day now I can hear the sound / Every day now love is all around / Because I waited for a woman who was true / I waited for a woman it was you."

However, the best tracks are the acoustic-drenched and personal tunes, chief among them "Cast Away Dreams," "Someone's Gotta Change Your Mind" and the closing "Flying Down Juniper." The tracks sort of drift along until Buckingham comes alive in the choruses, a welcome sound because of his strong voice. It gives these ethereal tunes some muscle, and had he used that voice through the record it would have been a bit more memorable, though that is not to undercut the beauty of those last two tracks, surely two of the most beautiful pop tunes you'll hear this year. It's rare that spare percussion and an acoustic guitar can make such an impact, so it seems like cheating to add so much reverb to the instruments and voices, but the whole effect is one of shimmering beauty and true sentiment.

Not only does this record put fellow singer-songwriters like Paul Simon to shame, it puts contemporary weenies like James Blunt to shame. It takes a few listens to really sink in, especially because of Buckingham's strangely muted vocals, but it's well worth the time.

Rating: B+

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© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise, and is used for informational purposes only.