Gift of Screws
The origins of Gift of Screws supposedly go back a decade or more. Return, if you will, to 1998 as pop maestro Lindsey Buckingham was basking in the aftermath of a high profile (and highly profitable) Fleetwood Mac reunion. The next move was a solo record, which Buckingham traditionally takes his ever-loving time to fashion. The album was near completion when Fleetwood Mac surfaced again with the desire to make a new recording of its own. Buckingham then gutted the original Gift of Screws project and offered prime selections to the band that made him a celebrity. He then veered off for a quieter, predominantly acoustic record in 2006 called Under the Skin.
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Now we have a reconstituted Gift of Screws. The title tune might reference the poetry of Emily Dickinson in verse, but the song's low-fi pop crunch, jittery guitar patterns and howling chorus are very much the devices of Buckingham. These are elements of a lean and slightly twisted pop vocabulary that, once freed from Fleetwood Mac's more commercial demands, take full flight on Buckingham's solo ventures.
You could say the Dickinson parallel doesn't stop with Gift of Screws' namesake song. While Buckingham's artistic life might not approximate the great poet's largely solitary existence, he does tend to turn his albums into essentially one-man band affairs. Gift of Screws is no different. Aside from a few appearances by Fleetwood Mac's venerable rhythm section (drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie) and two cameos by Cuban drummer Walfredo Reyes (from Santana, Traffic and others), Buckingham drew up these pop sketches largely on his own.
Indulgent as this might seem, there is a familiarity within this methodology. Time Precious Time and Bel Air Rain, for instance, sound like flip sides of the same song. Both employ the sorts of descending guitar arpeggios that Buckingham has favored since late '80s Fleetwood Mac's Big Love — and maybe even earlier. On Time, the strings have a light, almost harplike sound that suits Buckingham's breathy, meditative singing. Rain, though, is all tension. The song is essentially an elongated nervous tic with guitars beating against its melody and Buckingham's harried singing advancing the tune's restlessness.
The spirit of Brian Wilson, which never seems to be too far from Buckingham's music, revisits on Underground. The song creates a cool ambience out of multitracked backing vocals, a warmer acoustic stride and lyrics that bear a modestly bittersweet sense of resignation. It's a sad song at heart. But the lightness of the arrangement makes the tune positively glow. Underground's evil twin is the album-opening Great Day, on which the acoustic runs are more brittle and the layers of Buckingham's vocal makeup bear a darker, more desperate cast.
Finally, there are moments when Buckingham tightens the reins, plugs in and takes merry old stabs at rock 'n' roll. Case in point on Gift of Screws is Love Runs Deeper. It serves up the sort of killer melodic hooks that Buckingham dispensed with ease during the height of his Fleetwood Mac tenure. But the tune also retains its homemade, demolike demeanor. It sounds like the second coming of Tusk.
So, the rock reinvention of Dickinson this isn't. But Gift of Screws does possess a potent solitary streak. You hear tradition. You hear groove. But the pop vision behind this arresting music sounds distinctive because Buckingham caters to no one's muse but his own.