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Music Review: Lindsey Buckingham – Under the Skin

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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 . . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Enjoyed your review, especially since I listened to this a fair amount myself. You made a lot of astute observations about it, IMO.

    It doesn’t quite sound like Lindsey’s magnum opus to me, either. But I get the sense that over time it might be regarded as such.

    It’s hard to view this album without prejudice when he’s gotten everyone expecting to be bowled over with studio magic which help to give his songs such a rich sound. Here, it’s mostly just his acoustic axe and heavily echoplexed vocals, the latter of which takes some getting used to. But for the most part, I did.

    I like that “busy” guitar you speak of especially when he goes glissando on the opening track, “Not Too Late”. I mean, who else has the balls to do that in a pop setting anymore and make it work? He’s taking risks, as a guy with his talents should.

    Overall, this album sounds like he did it more for himself than his audience. I think he’s given up trying to be a major solo artist, and that realization could have emancipated him. Maybe we don’t get everything he was trying to do here, but maybe that doesn’t matter, either. One thing I do get is that even with most of the layers of production stripped away, his knack for writing quality pop music remains evident (or as in the case of the Donovon and Stones tracks, a knack for interpretation).

    “solipsistic”–I learned a new word today!

  • http://mondoproject.com Mark Saleski

    interesting. i have to say that i really loved this record. not sure what a Buckingham solo magnum opus would even sound like.

    part of the reason i liked this one so much was because it really doesn’t sound like a ‘modern’ recording. there’s more “air” in it.

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    Unless a new release contains already familiar material (a best-of – or a theme anthology, say), I usually try and spend about two weeks regularly playing a disc, before I write about it. With most pop releases, this is generally enough time to get a good sense of what the artist is trying to do and whether s/he succeeded, but there are some exceptions that prove to be slyer in their creator’s intentions. Wouldn’t be surprised if that ultimately proved to be the case with this ‘un. Maybe I should revisit this disc in about six months . . . ?

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    “Still, some of Buckingham’s more subdued tracks can be sweetly addictive.” — Very true!

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites.