DETROIT, April 14 (UPI) -- The way Lindsey Buckingham tells it, circumstances rather than planning led to Fleetwood Mac's new album, "Say You Will."
"It was an epic effort -- what can I say?" notes the singer and guitarist, who has been one of the Fleetwood Mac's chief songwriters and its major producer since he and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks joined the band in 1976.
For Buckingham, who had left Fleetwood Mac in 1987, "Say You Will" is actually an outgrowth of a solo album he started with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie during the mid-'90s. He took a break from the project when the band decided to stage a reunion tour in 1997 to support a live album called "The Dance," which earned three Grammy nominations the following year.
But when Buckingham returned to the solo album and brought it to executives at Warner Bros. Records, which had recently been purchased by America Online, it was rejected.
"So I called Mick," Buckingham, 55, recalls, "and I said 'I don't know what's going on with this record company. Why don't we just wait for the new regime to come in ... and in the meantime maybe something else will happen.' "
That something else was "Say You Will."
"We'd been talking about doing a Fleetwood Mac album, anyway, so Stevie sent a bunch of tracks over, and it eventually morphed into a Fleetwood Mac album," Buckingham says.
"Say You Will" marks Buckingham's first studio recordings with Fleetwood Mac since 1987's "Tango in the Night." But unlike "The Dance," the 18-song set is not a full-fledged reunion of the quintet that produced best-selling titles such as 1976's "Fleetwood Mac" and 1977's "Rumours."
Though she appears in minor roles on a couple of Buckingham's "Say You Will" tracks, singer-keyboardist Christine McVie, John McVie's ex-wife, decided to leave the band after "The Dance." She's subsequently moved back to England, where Fleetwood Mac formed in 1967, and is not pursuing music.
"She wants to be an Englishwoman living in England," says Nicks, 54, who has had the most successful solo career of Fleetwood Mac's members. "You can't make people do stuff they don't want to do."
And while McVie's decision removed a potent writer from the mix -- her hits for the band included "Over My Head," "You Make Loving Fun," "Say You Love Me" and "Don't Stop" -- Buckingham and Nicks are confident they can come up with the goods to satisfy the group's fans.
"You take that lead keyboard element out, and you are left with more of a guitar-generated band," says Nicks. "That's a very exciting premise to all of us."
Buckingham agrees that "I don't think anyone felt that (McVie's departure) was a negative. In the spirit of Fleetwood Mac reinventing itself, it was a challenge, but it was also an opportunity to flex our muscles in a different way. We all had 33 percent more room to maneuver, and it made for a much more aggressive atmosphere, I think.
"Mick, I think, is probably more happy with the drumming on this than on anything he's done, and I would say the same thing about my guitar playing. So on that level, we were able to make use of that difference and grow off it."
"Peacekeeper," the album's first single, has been enjoying steady radio airplay since its release in March. But the band knows that its topical title, coming at the onset of military action in Iraq, has resulted in a bit of misunderstanding over what the song is about.
"I've noticed it being played quite a few times right before (radio stations) break for their two-minute capsule report on the war," says Buckingham, who wrote the song more than three years ago. "I wonder how they see the song. Do they think this is, like, a cheerleading song for the war when, in fact it's really just the opposite?
"But I don't begrudge that meaning. I think that anything that aspires to be artistic has to have an element of ambiguity to it. There can't be only one interpretation, or it may very well be moving in on what we think of as propaganda."
Fleetwood Mac, augmented by other musicians and singers, plans to kick off a tour on May 7 in Columbus, Ohio, that will stretch into the fall and possibly go around the world. And while the band has been known to drift apart and change lineups with some frequency, Buckingham voices a hope that this particular quartet will have staying power.
"I would hope that we could continue to look at it in the most positive light," he explains, "because I think there is a lot left that can be done with this band, Fleetwood Mac, and I hope we can do it."