Review written by J Mucci from Connecticut, USA, August 15th, 2008
This is one of the more underrated albums in history - at least the 1980s anyhow. It was only a modest seller at the time, with the title track a top 25 hit. These days it is probably mostly forgotten, which is very unfortunate. This album is probably Lindsey Buckingham’s best single effort and definitely needs to be heard again. Perhaps it was just too weird and arty for mainstream audiences back in 1984. Then again, probably not any more strange than some of the songs Prince was writing and having big hits with at the time, such as “When Doves Cry.” And like Prince, he is a complete auteur: writing, performing, producing and arranging. The studio is their ultimate playground. Unlike Prince though, Lindsey will work on an album for years at a time, whereas Prince could turn out a handful every year.
Buckingham was just coming off an intense six year relationship with then-live-in girlfriend Carol Ann Harris when he wrote and recorded Go Insane and this album reflects the heartbreak and conflicted feelings he was experiencing. Songs of disappointment, obsession, sadness, anger and loneliness. But for the most part, the lyrics are minimal. Buckingham has always had a knack for conveying an emotion in as few words as possible. But lyrics have never been his strong suit. It’s his music, melodies and sonic wizardry that are the reason he is sometimes referred to as the successor to Brian Wilson. Not that he sounds like Wilson per se – but he clearly inherited his sense of experimentation. He’s never been afraid to push the limits of what a “pop” song can be, just as Wilson was doing with “Good Vibrations” and Smile. Buckingham proved that to great effect on Fleetwood Mac’s most adventurous album Tusk and he continues that sense of exploring here.
This album in a lot of ways is almost like an art project. He performs almost all of the instruments and sings all the vocals. It does have a certain fussy, studio-based sound to it. But Lindsey is such a master of the studio, that he turns what could have been an insulated, self-indulgent mess into pure brilliance. He has a love for finding odd sounds and using strange production techniques (crashing sounds, sped-up vocals, falling water) and turning them into hooks. His most adventurous songs never go the way you expect them to. They may start off normally and then abruptly go off in some unexpected direction. Sometimes they may start off bizarrely and then quickly turn into the most commercial sounding melody you can imagine. You simply never know. And I think this album was the pinnacle of that experimental phase of his career.
Every song is great in its own way but this is clearly an album that should be heard in its entirety, like Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt. Pepper. These in some ways are not really individual “songs” but more like pieces in a bigger puzzle. If you take one of the pieces out, the picture loses something in the process. Still, certain songs stick out, such as the title track – one of his most underrated songs. He resurrected it many years later in concert, doing a slow acoustic version of it. This has the best arrangement though.
The relentlessly intense “I Must Go” is another clear winner – he sounds tortured and angry, yet the song still comes off catchy as hell. Album opener “I Want You,” starts off strangely, before shifting into a catchy, hard-rocking number with a slight Brian Wilson influence and some great guitar playing.
“Play in the Rain” is a two-part experimental piece with strange sound effects that starts off quietly with Lindsey intoning “Oh, I was lonely/Oh, can we play in the rain?” several times. Then before you know it, you are in the middle of some bazaar in Bombay with a sitar playing. Then it strangely fades away and fades back in, sounding like it did at the beginning. Then he lets loose some intense guitar playing and keeps asking “can we play in the rain?” Who knows what it all means? It shouldn’t work yet for some reason it does.
“D.W. Suite” is a tribute to Dennis Wilson, who had recently passed away. The song goes through many changes, starting off quietly with echoing backing vocals, briefly shifting into some spacier sections, then some 1950’s-styled gospel refrains and ending up as an Irish folk melody that speeds up until the whole thing comes to a sudden halt. The suite is not about Dennis Wilson but it does reflect some of his expansive approach to music-making as well as Brian Wilson’s of course.
The album is forever hard to pin down. It has many styles: 1960s pop music, 1980s New Wave, fractured funk, jagged art rock, not to mention his ever-present folk-rock melodic sense. It’s all in there. It’s what Buckingham does with it all that makes this his slightly-flawed but ultimately brilliant masterpiece.