To those of us who've been waiting for folk-pop savant Lindsey Buckingham to release his own solo Smile, a beautifully willful blend of doleful harmonies and clever pop hooks from start to finish – the elpee that Go Insane once teasingly promised he'd eventually produce – well, it looks like we're gonna be holding on a little longer. Under the Skin (Reprise), Buckingham’s first solo outing in ten years (with a side stop in between for that Fleetwood Mac reunion) is another good-but-not-astounding solo outing that takes at least one track to hold you, keeps your attention most of the way, then starts to peter out near the end. If it's not the dense pop masterwork we all hope for, well, at least it continues to hold out the promise.
In terms of its overall sound, the disc is aggressively spare. The Lindsey B. who brought in the USC Trojan Marching Band to play "Tusk" is nowhere to be heard. Much of Skin is entirely self-played (though two of his mates from Mac show up for a couple of tracks): Lindsey with his ever-busy acoustic guitar plus plenty of his echoey multi-tracked vocals. The prime tone is one of druggy late-night contemplation, which suits a cover like the Rolling Stones' "I Am Waiting" (from '66) perfectly. To my ears, the closer we get to Mac (e.g., "Down on Rodeo," a countrified lament that could read like a eulogy for his old band), the more dynamic the album sounds.
Still, some of Buckingham's more subdued tracks can be sweetly addictive. "Show You How" recalls the folkie vibe of "Catch the Wind" Donovan with its intro, then builds to a slightly off-kilter harmony chorus; title track "Under the Skin" uses a Latin rhythm to sleepily sexy effect; while "Cast Away Dreams" is just a plain lovely wistful pop tune. "It Was You" even contains a sneaky sonic allusion to John Lennon's primal scream Plastic Ono Band disc, perhaps the greatest of the stripped down rock exercises.
Once our man starts meandering, though – as in the thoroughly unmemorable "Shut Us Down" – all you can hear is hyper-busy fingering in the pursuit of some whispery secret we're never told. By the time you arrive at the equally aimless finale, "Flying Down Juniper," the overriding impression is of an artist lost in his production sound – one whose introspective impulses have overpowered his pop smarts, bound 'em with electrical tape and shoved 'em into a basement cabinet.
To be sure, the results of all this home-studio knob twiddling are not unpleasant. (I played this album driving my wife home from hospital surgery last week, and it made for perfect background noise.) But in the end, the full Skin still comes off more solipsistic than audience-friendly. Like the hero of that Stones song, we hopeful fans are still kept waiting . . .