In the fall of 2001, 70’s super group Fleetwood Mac reconvened in a rented home in Bel Air to record Say You Will, the first studio to feature guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham since 1987’s Tango in the Night.
Some things have changed since the recording of that last album. Longtime member Christine McVie has retired and is no longer a part of the band. There a few more gray hairs in sight, but for the most part, a lot of things are still the same.
With singer McVie gone, the duties of songwriting and fronting the band are now shared equally by ex-lovers Buckingham and Nicks. And it was clear from the first moment that Nicks walked into the studio to join Buckingham and bandmates, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie that old wounds may heal, but not always as fast as we may like them to. The Buckingham Nicks chemistry is still palpable and full of the explosive are they going to kiss or kill each other syndrome.
For awhile, the recording process goes along smoothly and everyone is on their best behavior. Stevie has brought some new songs in for the band to listen to and Lindsey, in a departure from his usual critical tone, is quick to offer praise.
The day ends successfully with lots of (gulp) hugging! But then again, Nicks did specifically choose to place a spirit catcher in the studio to chase out bad vibes. She may not really be a witch, as often reported, but she probably is psychic because it doesn’t take long for the trouble to begin.
What does a band do with two prolific songwriters and so many new songs? Buckingham’s idea – be bold and release a double album. Fleetwood Mac has often wandered into uncharted territory (1979’s Tusk album) and his fellow band members seemed to back him.
Soon, multiple managers (Nicks, Buckingham and Fleetwood all have their own) are involved. They are quick to crunch the numbers and are nervous about their clients releasing a pricey double disc set in a weak music where the Mac might be considered a dinosaur.
Fleetwood and Nicks soon opt for a single disc, leaving Buckingham wounded and sulking. He already shelved a solo album in favor of reuniting with the Mac and, as the band’s producer, feels he should have his own way. At one point, he even threatens (though not too seriously) to take the masters of his songs and go his own way.
And then, there is the subject matter of the songs themselves. True to Fleetwood Mac form, there are songs about Lindsey written by Stevie and songs about Stevie written by Lindsey. After 30 years, one would think dealing with a long lost love affair would be old hat, but not for these two.
When Nicks has some solo face time in front of the camera, she admits that one of her new songs “Thrown Down” is about Lindsey.
You get the feeling that writing songs about him is a habit she would like to break. But old habits do die hard and she spends plenty of time gazing wistfully in her old lover’s direction as they work on songs together. Buckingham, though settled with the a decades younger trophy wife and two little children, obviously still carries a torch of his own.
He gets teary eyed on one occasion as he tries to express to Nicks how much their working together again means to him and the album’s most poignant love song, “Say Goodbye” is more a love letter than a Dear Jane letter from him to Stevie.
Another volatile issue for the classic rock foursome arises just when we thought they were out of the woods. The songs have been recorded. It’s a single album, but with 18 tracks!
Now, who do we get to mix the thing? Of course, Lindsey wants to use his guy and Stevie wants to use her guy. After some bickering (like an old married couple), they compromise by having Stevie work with Lindsey’s guy to see if she will be comfortable with him working on her music.
She is, but then she isn’t. As Nicks tells Fleetwood, she loves her songs and when she hears them mixed and they’re not as warm and fuzzy as when she first played them alone in her home – there’s a problem. By the time they figure this out though, Stevie’s first choice, mixer extraordinaire Chris Lord-Algae is booked. Lindsey’s guy wins by default.
It isn’t all heavy drama though. There are some light moments demonstrating that the band that jokes around together can stay together. Nicks brings in one of those goofy battery-operated singing fishes and giggles like a kid at Christmas time.
Buckingham jokes with the other guys about showing today’s young kids how to rock. Bass player John McVie, the most camera shy member of the group, takes the documentary makers for a ride on his boat. There he describes his dislike of the recording process with typically dry English wit.
With the album finished, the group gathers at a soundstage to rehearse for their upcoming world tour. Things are going pretty smoothly and the live Mac magic is bursting out all over the place. Stevie is shaking the tambourine again and Lindsey is ready to shred that guitar.
Before long, it’s opening night in Columbus, Ohio. The band is battling nerves, but they are also excited to be out there again playing live and showing off their new songs to a sold out crowd. As they walk to towards the stage, Buckingham and Nicks join hands.
The weight of fronting the band lies solely on their shoulders now, but they’ve come through the fire and emerged as a formidable team.
While the documentary is heavily edited and hints at larger dust ups that weren’t seen (Mick Fleetwood at one point, says that the tour might be cut short due to tensions between band members) it’s still a great portrait of a famous band falling love with their music and each other all over again.
Any lingering differences were probably pushed to the side since Fleetwood Mac’s album Say You Will debuted at number #3 on the Billboard charts. Their subsequent tour lasted for the better part of two years. Here’s hoping they don’t stop for quite awhile yet!