The Good: Melodic vocals, Catchy tunes
The Bad: Short, Nothing so catchy as to be indispensable.
The Basics: A 1950s album that never was, Kiln House has Fleetwood Mac emulating the styles of rock from twenty years prior on a short album that is still fun today!
In my exploration of popular music, I have a few standards. One standard I have lived by for quite some time is that I will not recommend an album where all of the best tracks are available on superior compilation albums. If there is a compilation which trims away the fat of shorter releases, I'll take that. So when I began my study this month of Fleetwood Mac's music, I am not sure I was prepared for the sheer number of albums where that went unrepresented on their "best of" albums. Kiln House is an album which has no tracks represented on the latest compilation discs and that makes it remarkably easy to recommend to those who want a decent, mellow Fleetwood Mac experience.
Fleetwood Mac is pretty much the Oasis of its day; it went through several incarnations and based upon when one gets into them, one might have radically different notions of who and what the band is. Just as Oasis has its core of Noel and Liam Gallagher, so too does Fleetwood Mac have its core in John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. On Kiln House, the band consists of that pair and Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Unlike many of the later releases, Kiln House is pretty focused on doing what it intends to, which is create a 1950's style rock and roll/rhythm and blues album in 1970. Now on c.d., the album still resonates with a retro cool that makes it easy to recommend, despite its short duration.
With only ten songs clocking in at a paltry 34:26, I would gladly nix this album and recommend it combined with either of the albums next to it, if such a one-disc condensing of any two albums from this era existed. This is not the best use of the c.d. medium, but Kiln House is a pretty solid retro-sounding concept album wherein Fleetwood Mac sings much like Buddy Holly and early rhythm and blues/rock and roll artists with very mellow guitars, plaintive vocals and generally wholesome lyrics. This is mostly the vision of Fleetwood Mac as seven of the songs were written by the band, with an additional song co-written by the band. Two songs are covers or derivative enough of others' works that other artists are credited with the writing of them.
Still, the men of Fleetwood Mac (this album precedes Christine Perfect - McVie - joining the band) hold their own as vocalists on the album and as the dominant writers of the material. In addition to singing their own songs (primarily Kirwan and Spencer), the group plays their own instruments. In this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, the band is a pretty tight quartet consisting of guitar, bass, piano and drums. On several tracks, the piano is swapped out for another guitar. The album was produced by Fleetwood Mac, so it is hard to argue that this is not the artistic vision of the band, at least as it was at that time.
And generally, Kiln House is both interesting and successful at what it does. Opening with a song that has do-wop type vocals ("This Is The Rock"), the band evolves almost instantly into a more contemporary (at least for the '70's) rock song ("Station Rock"). After the first two tracks form a sort of historical bookend, the band abandons the country/bluegrass twang of "Station Rock" for more traditional rock and roll songs that have clear, articulate vocals with the instrumentals lilting out pretty obvious and simple melodies. Songs like "Buddy's Song" and "Tell Me All The Things You Do" hail directly back to the 1950's while "One Together" is very much the '50's ballad that never was.
The vocals, generally slow and clear, are dominated by Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer and both have similar mid-range vocals. Emulating the voice of Buddy Holly on "Buddy's Song," they remind listeners of the innocence of the Holly-type singers and the album becomes an upbeat tribute to the rhythm and blues and rock and roll of the 1950s. The men never truly stretch their range either into the bass or higher tenor ranges. Instead, the men stay safe and cool in a very smoky vocal place that works for them. In fact, the only real range comes in the more subdued and slightly lower "Blood On The Floor."
Songs like "Blood On The Floor" offer listeners a wonderful taste of Jeremy Spencer's sense of irony. Amid the sincere sounding vocalizations, that sound like they would be perfect as a '50's dance number for the slow dances, Spencer croons "Well I came home one night / She were lyin', / With her legs around / Another man's bod / She saw me, stared laughin' / But she cried, when she saw my gun / Goodbye world / I guess we must part / They're taking my life / 'Cause I shot my sweetheart / I don't say I'm sorry / I just say I'm sore / The reason I'm goin' / Is blood on the floor" ("Blood On The Floor"). The lines clearly mock the simplistic rhyme schemes known to dominate many 50's songs and Spencer's wit is enough to make one smile pretty consistently when hearing the song. But the notion of taking the "cheating heart" song of the '50s and making a joke of it - even one in questionable taste - works wonderfully for the album.
That said, there are also songs like "Tell Me All The Things You Do," wherein the group presents lines of earnest love and desire. Kirwan wrote the ridiculously simple lines "Tell me / Tell me all the things you do / I'll tell you / Tell you all the things I do" ("Tell Me All The Things You Do") and unlike many of Spencer's songs, it is presented without any sense of irony or tongue-in-cheek wit. Kirwan accurately recaptures the slow dancing, high school movie ending feel of many '50's ballads.
Nowhere is this more true than on "One Together." Soft and sweet, "One Together" has a late-60's, early-70's sensibility to the lyrics with the notions of peace, love and togetherness. Still, the song is presented in a '50's style, but the band makes it sound perfectly natural when they sing "How can my heart be filled with doubts of you / When you can fill me with a love that's true / But I can't help but sigh, / And sometimes wonder why / What can I do / I want to see you more and more each day / I really need you, you're my only way / You say it's alright (sic) now / But still I wonder how, what can I say" ("One Together"). Perhaps it is the rhymes, but the song works wonderfully for what it intends to do.
For those who like '50's rock and rhythm and blues, Kiln House is a wonderful, but dreadfully short, musical exploration of that era. But bring your sense of humor; where one writer sees the good and pure, another seeks to twist it. Where one sees a place to burn, another sees a place to live. It's wonderful for the blending.
The best track is "One Together," the low point is the repetitive "Hi Ho Silver."
For other Fleetwood Mac albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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