Lindsey Buckingham has always been my favorite of Fleetwood Mac’s long line of weird and brilliant frontmen. And as a musician/songwriter/producer, he’s always been the oddest of the oddballs. He never met a sound effect, vocal distortion, or production trick he didn’t like and frequently employed them on both group and solo albums. In 1984, he released his oddball masterpiece, the aptly titled Go Insane. It is arguably the strangest mainstream recording outside of a deliberate novelty album ever.
It also sounds like Buckingham was going a little bit insane when he made it. Since Go Insane came out almost ten years after the big Mac’s seminal Rumors, I’m not sure any of the obvious turmoil here can be blamed on the emotional upheaval that made Rumors so phenomenally good (and popular). It also employs to fuller effect some of the musical trickery that he’d begun employing with Tusk. One of the best tracks on the album is the repetitive (but never boring) “Play in the Rain.” There’s a rage and a passion to this collection of riffs and noise that is only hinted at in many of his other songs. Smashing glass, pouring water, instrumental swirls and cacophonies dance around each other while Buckingham croons the limited lyrics over and over. It’s a little ominous, frankly. I’m not so sure I’d have said yes to his repeated “Can we play in the rain?”
Now my very first copy of this album was on cassette–vinyl being the other main choice since CDs weren’t yet the preferred format (let’s not even discuss how this might have played out had Go Insane been released digitally in its first incarnations; I’ll just say I’m not so sure it would’ve been better that way). As you oldsters out there know, cassettes and vinyl have limited space on each playable side, so there was only so much music you could put on each side. Presumably as a way to tie the opposite album sides together, Buckingham opted to split “Play in the Rain” into two parts.
The last track on the first side fades out with a sitar riff, you get up and flip over your LP/cassette, and pick up right where you left off.
It’s really kind of awesome. Sure it’s an otherwise unnecessary interruption in the beautiful droning weirdness of the song, but it had the effect of showing the listener that this was not just some random collection of songs; this was a narrative, a story, a chain. What was the story being told? It seems to me to be the story of someone obsessed with another person, or another persona. A story of someone teetering on the edge of madness, a nightmare of love and lust. It’s fantastic. This song is the centerpiece of the madness. These days, you can get the song as one piece, but I don’t think it adds anything to it to be a whole song instead of two parts. Part of what makes it compelling to me is the way it connects the two halves of the original album. In these days of easy downloads, it’s harder to get a sense of the wholeness of a work. I could get into a whole “get off my lawn” type rant about this, but I won’t; it’s just something I miss about the way we used to consume music. The days when you would just put on an album and listen to it as a thing in and of itself, one track after the next. Even CDs, which made things like the break between the two parts of “Play in the Rain” kind of useless, gave you a clear sense of an album as a complete work, something conceived as a piece of art and deliberately arranged in a certain way. “Play in the Rain” (parts I and II) remind you that there was once a time when the structure of an album mattered just as much as the content.