When it comes to a full-on new Mac record this is as close as we’re gonna get.
A Fleetwood Mac album in all but name (Stevie Nicks chose not to participate in these sessions), the teaming of Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie reminds us of his considerable prowess as a writer, arranger, vocalist and guitarist, and helps us remember that her stature in the group has been given short shrift. Combined with the rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, it would seem that this partial Mac would be unstoppable. It comes close, but Tango in the Night this ain’t.
The best material comes early and often, taking center stage across the first half of the record. But one’s mind wanders, searching for that thing that isn’t quite right. Buckingham’s quiet six-string pyrotechnics don’t disappoint and neither does his partner’s knack for writing about longing in a way that can make you catch your breath. “Feel About You” is one of her best, a tune that in another era would have been a summer radio smash. He lays waste to all ears with the unspeakable beauty of “In My World.”
Buckingham often shines when he’s allowed to get weird (dig the deep cuts of Tusk, pay attention to his fretboard work across Rumours) and/or marries it with the sentimental (see also his peak solo record Out of the Cradle). McVie devastates with quiet certainty. Taken on their own, they work. In this context they’re missing their lukewarm water. Nicks’ gift to the group was always to straddle the line between the mysterious and the straightforward. She’s a witchy woman to be sure, but one that works her magic by reminding us that there’s a fragile but resilient soul inside us all. Without that bridge, these songs become similar and sometimes meandering, and on tracks such as on “Too Far Gone,” all too perfunctory.
McVie’s “Game of Pretend” should have been a winning ballad, but it falters on the chorus and lingers in the quiet places too long. Buckingham’s attempt at writing about life in a travelin’ band, “On with the Show,” feels forced, more like the artist trying to explore territory that stretches beyond the far reaches of his talents.
This isn’t a thoroughly bad record: Both writers can still summon better melodies and verses than some will ever muster in their entire careers. The rhythm section remains as solid as the day it was born, and vocals which by many measure should be weathered and dull still provide thrills at the right moment. The misfires, though, prevent the record from transcending those shortcomings and becoming something worthy of their heritage.
Maybe Nicks was right to cast her interests elsewhere and embrace life outside the band with a vigor not heard from either Buckingham or McVie here. There’s a flinching about all this, a politeness that classic Mac would have never tolerated. Though artists should be able to step away from the shadow of their legacies and not have to compete with their pasts, sometimes it’s impossible to set the larger context aside, especially when the act practically begs us to hold the material and performances up to the most unforgiving of lights.
You can cherry pick this collaboration for the best moments and no doubt a decade from now some will discuss how the record stands as a flawed but fascinating work. For now, though, it’s entirely the former and occasionally the latter. Without a third voice to reign in the weaker tendencies of either star we’re left wishing for Stevie’s return but knowing that when it comes to a full-on new Mac record this (and potential successors)is as close as we’re gonna get.