One of rock's great mad geniuses uses his dexterous hands to beckon us back inside his troubled head. Just don't look for its claustrophobia to satisfy any pop-craving Mac attack
For someone who plays so well with others — as attested to by tens of millions of records sold with Fleetwood Mac — Lindsey Buckingham sure does create a hermetically sealed world when he makes his one-man-band solo albums.
“Seeds We Sow,” his latest, is another pipeline directly into his brilliant head, an echo chamber marked by equal parts obsessive neuroticism and dexterity. As always, it’s a fascinating place to visit, though if you dared to live there, you’d probably want to bring along a rhythm section, if not a chick singer.
This is the paradox of Buckingham: When he's with the Mac, you wish Stevie Nicks would do fewer songs so we could get more of his genius, but when he's by himself, you start to wish another human would show up, even if just for a cameo, to assure us we haven't been locked into his brain alone.
The trademark of his last few independently released solo efforts has been endlessly repeated, time-signature-avoidant acoustic guitar arpeggios, which inevitably sound like they’re being played by three sets of hands at once. These patterns are beautiful, but maddening after a spell — “mad” perhaps being the operative word for a guy who titled an early signature project “Go Insane.”
When he deigns to do something resembling a pop song, your gratitude for the relief of a simplistic beat and sing-along chorus may know no bounds. That arrives in the form of, among other songs, “That’s the Way That Love Goes,” but don’t go looking for any lyrical comfort even there, amid the almost cheerful sounds. Sample lyric: “I lie alone and watch you sleep/I’d reach for you but I might weep/If you should tell me I must keep/Away.”
That’s minor paranoia by Buckingham standards. “I can’t touch you anymore, it causes you harm,” he sings in “Stars Are Crazy.” The title track's seeds aren't blooming into anything too sweet, either: “Pretty things are dying, in the penny arcade of Edgar Allan Poe.”
Is there a tell-tale heart beating underneath all these bad vibes? Warmth does rear its ugly head in the gorgeous chorus of “When She Comes Down,” although it’s not at all clear who are what the imminent “she” in the tune is. Maybe it's death itself, since that’s the theme of “End of Time,” where Buckingham suggests, “When we get to the other side, maybe then we’ll make amends.” (Those are probably the words he dictates to the telegram operator every time he turns down another Fleetwood Mac reunion.)
Maybe he’s setting more commercial material aside in case he succumbs to another Mac attack, but more likely, this is the only muse he’s following nowadays. And it’s one worth following with him, if you’re a freak for brilliant acoustic guitar playing and the strange hooks Buckingham breaks them up with. But “Seeds We Sow” is deeply claustrophobic, so don’t go in without a lifeline to pull you back out.
“I’m just another madman/I turn it off, I turn it on,” he announces in “One Take," doing some role-playing but probably speaking for himself, too. That’s our Lindsey: still going insane after all these years.