Fleetwood Mac just got more interesting

Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup: Bassist John McVie, vocalist Stevie Nicks, departing guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood, & pianist Christine McVie (Credit: Official Charts)

Fans of Fleetwood Mac understandably lament Lindsey Buckingham’s recent departure. His musical creativity proved key to the group’s best work. Without him, the band’s output has run the gamut from very good to forgettable, unfortunate, and downright awful.

Still, as a touring unit, Fleetwood Mac long ago settled into the same lucrative but uncreative rut as most other surviving ’70s acts: a tired greatest hits show, playing the same predictable renditions of the same stale radio singles every show, every tour.

These blatant cash grabs cater to the casual listener while denying diehard fans their just deserts: a little new material, a dash of improvisation, some novel takes on old songs, plus a few obscure, beloved deep cuts.

The welcome return of Christine McVie in 2014 restored the group’s classic lineup and augmented the setlist with her own radio hits. This felt fresh at first, but ultimately merely widened the band’s deepening creative rut as a live act.

Had Buckingham remained with Fleetwood Mac, there is little reason to believe the band’s 2018 concerts would differ much from any of their shows in the last 20 years. Consider, for example, how the band’s rendition of “Go Your Own Way” in 2017 sounded exactly like the versions in 2015, 2013, 2009, 2004, and 1997.

New recruits Neil Finn and Mike Campbell guarantee a significantly different experience for concertgoers.

And almost certainly a better one.

Even for diehard fans who are vowing to boycott the upcoming tour because Fleetwood Mac isn’t Fleetwood Mac without Buckingham.

Because most of them don’t know who Neil Finn is. Or Campbell.

They don’t know that Finn is one of the world’s foremost musical talents — a better singer and songwriter than Buckingham, a far more congenial collaborator, and as vital a creative force with a more critically acclaimed song catalog. (Should you doubt any claim in the foregoing sentence, you can verify simply by clicking the hyperlinks to the Finn songs mentioned below.)

Though a capable lead and rhythm guitarist, Finn cannot match Buckingham’s brilliance on the instrument — which of course is why the band also hired Campbell — the man behind all of Tom Petty’s best riffs and solos.

For Fleetwood Mac fans on the fence about the upcoming tour, I offer the following orientation to Finn and Campbell.

Neil Finn 101

Most Americans probably responded to the news of Finn joining Fleetwood Mac by asking, “Who’s Neil Finn?”

News articles typically identified him only as the former frontman for Split Enz and Crowded House — bands most Americans do not remember without some prompting.

If you watched MTV in the early ’80s, you may remember the video for “I Got You” — the first great song Finn wrote for Split Enz, and the band’s only big hit.

Finn’s career-defining work came in his next group, Crowded House. Their eponymous 1986 album featured “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” a haunting, majestic ballad that remains Finn’s best-known song, inspiring several (inferior) covers, and drawing rabid acclaim from qualified critics and fellow musicians — even unlikely suspects like Dave Mustaine of Megadeth.

“Don’t Dream” contains all the elements that distinguish Finn as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter: lovely vocals, great hooks, beautiful melodies and harmonies, a flair for storytelling, and literate lyrics that melt your heart. This is music for adults — a refreshing respite from aging rockers writing teenage love songs.

Other essential Crowded House cuts include the rousing “Something So Strong,” the gently defiant “You Better Be Home Soon,” the yearning “Distant Sun,” and the hard-rocking “Locked Out” — which Gen-Xers may recall from the Reality Bites soundtrack.

The labyrinthine “Nails in My Feet” stands as an especially fine example of Finn’s songcraft. The tune starts simply, then begins to build — increasingly tangled and troubled, musically and lyrically — until the dam bursts at the two-minute mark, bringing glorious resolution:

Total surrender

Your touch is so tender

Your skin is like water on a burning beach

And it brings me relief

Buckingham and Finn share a gift for vocal harmonies honed by an affinity for the Everly Brothers. (Before he joined Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham toured as a sideman with Don Everly, singing Phil’s parts.)

Finn’s finest work has come in collaboration with his older brother Tim — singing in close harmony in conscious homage to the Everlys. Excellent examples include the upbeat “It’s Only Natural,” the sumptuous “Weather with You,” the aching “Fall at Your Feet,” the transcendent “She Goes On,” the humbly resolute “Won’t Give In,” and the moving Irish elegy, “Mary of the South Seas.”

It bodes well for Fleetwood Mac that Finn’s live work often outshines his studio recordings — especially when he’s collaborating with comparably gifted musicians. Consider, for example, Neil’s work with…

…and, of course, with his brother Tim (“Angel’s Heap,” “Paradise,” “Anything Can Happen”).

Also fortunate for Fleetwood Mac: Finn sounds great performing songs written by others. He fits in, harmonizes, and enhances — all without stealing the spotlight. Notable examples include…

Clearly, Finn is fully qualified to join Fleetwood Mac.

What about Mike Campbell?

Though less original than Buckingam, Campbell is a fine lead guitarist, a decent composer, and reliable collaborator. His chiming riffs and incisive solos power every memorable Tom Petty song. Campbell co-wrote “Here Comes My Girl,” “Refugee,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” — the duet he and Petty wrote for Nicks — is sure to join Fleetwood Mac’s setlist. Campbell also contributed to several Nicks solo albums: he co-wrote and played on “Imperial Hotel,” “Whole Lotta Trouble,” and “For What It’s Worth” — all of which might also figure in future Fleetwood Mac live shows.

Finally, Campbell co-wrote two of Don Henley’s best songs: “The Boys of Summer” and “The Heart of the Matter.” Naturally, Campbell played guitar on both tracks, but the axeman also upstaged the former Eagles drummer by composing the intricate percussion chart and programming the drum machine for “The Boys of Summer.”

So, Campbell is also clearly worthy.

How will Fleetwood Mac be different now?

The band will be better live.

Fleetwood Mac will become interesting again.

With Buckingham, the group’s shows had become stultifyingly repetitive and utterly devoid of suspense. Will Lindsey dismiss the rest of the band in mid-concert and reclaim “Big Love” by performing it alone on guitar? Why, we haven’t seen that since Fleetwood Mac’s shows in 2017, 2015, 2013, 2009, 2004, and 1997. (Yes, it’s an impressive feat — he does it on every solo tour, too — but even impressive feats can grow old. Buckingham should consider giving the song a rest, or changing it up by performing something like the studio arrangement with a full band.)

Lindsey’s departure forces a setlist shakeup, but change was in the works already. Before parting ways with the guitarist, Mick Fleetwood said Nicks was lobbying to play songs “we haven’t done in years.”

Finn on rhythm and Campbell on lead should equal or exceed Buckingham’s guitar work on McVie and Nicks compositions. Since most of Lindsey’s songs will likely vanish from the setlist, there will be no need for Finn or Campbell to attempt to replicate his idiosyncratic banjo-inspired fingerpicking technique.

Nicks and McVie songs will dominate. Finn will sing Lindsey’s parts on their songs better than Buckingham himself can at this point in his life. Campbell’s concise solos will replace Lindsey’s extended bouts of self-indulgence. Given Petty’s recent demise and his strong connection to Campbell and Nicks, a Petty tribute seems likely; Neil will sing Petty’s parts better than Petty ever could have at any stage in his career. Finn will get to do a few of his own songs, with backing vocals from Nicks and McVie.

It will rock.

I can’t wait.

If you enjoyed this article, then please click those applauding hands a few or 50 times to help others find it. I invite your comments. Thank you for reading.

History, politics, education, music, culture. Award-winning high school teacher, former principal. College instructor. Seahawks Diehard. Twitter: @brian_mrbmkz

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