Graded on a Curve: Fleetwood Mac,
Kiln House

Celebrating Mick Fleetwood on his 74th birthday.Ed.

Between their start as a standard English blues band and their apotheosis as perhaps the seventies best pop group, Fleetwood Mac wandered from style to style and sideman to sideman, and in so doing put out some very intriguing albums. 1970’s Kiln House is a fine example.

Guitarist Peter Green was out. Guitarist Jeremy Spencer was in, as was (kind of) Christine McVie, who provided backing vocals and wouldn’t be considered a full member until 1971’s Future Games. Bob Welch, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks were all in the future.

Like the other LPs Fleetwood Mac would release during their middle period, Kiln House is a dizzyingly eclectic affair. You get a couple of rockabilly rave-ups, a country music parody, a very, very English folk rock instrumental, an engaging hard rocker in the vein of The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman” (only gnarlier!), a couple of very likable folk rock ditties, and an inspired cover of “Buddy’s Song,” which is credited to Buddy Holly’s mom Ella but is basically “Peggy Sue Got Married” with new words.

Kiln House constitutes a loving backwards look at rock ’n’ roll’s past, and as such anticipated the “rock ’n’ roll revival” that would inspire albums by the likes of John Lennon, The Band, David Bowie and a whole slew of backwards-looking English glam bands.

Fleetwood Mac doesn’t quite follow through on the concept; songs like “Earl Gray” (the aforementioned instrumental), “One Together” (which could be a Neil Young tune), and “Station Man” (chug-a-lugging blues number with nice vocal harmonies and raucous guitar) are hardly R&R revival fare. And that goes double for the C&W send-up “Blood on the Floor,” on which Jeremy Spencer does an uncanny imitation of a woebegone hillbilly crying tears in his beer.

The best of the backwards-looking numbers hit the ground. These include “This Is the Rock” (loving Elvis tribute sung by Spencer); a cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Hi Ho Silver” (raucous rockabilly shouter, again with Spencer on vocals); and “Tell Me All the Things You Do” (blistering rocker featuring Danny Kirwan behind the mic).

“Buddy’s Song” also rocks and rolls, and it’s a hoot to boot. Not so fleet of foot is the Mac’s cover of the 1961 Donnie Brooks’ hit “Mission Bell,” which the band transforms into an unlikely fusion of early Jefferson Airplane folk rock and late ’50s teen crooner. Not only does it rock those bells, it’s proof positive that Spencer could have, had he wanted, become the next Bobby Darin.

It would be a mistake to describe the Fleetwood Mac of such albums as Kiln House, Future Games, Bare Trees, etc. as a band in search of a sound–only by looking backwards from the phenomenal success of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours does such seem to be the case.

No, the band muddled they way to greatness one personnel change at a time, and it’s important to remember that band turnover had as much to do with personality clashes as it did with debates over musical direction. Had Peter Green stuck around, had Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch not said fuck it and split, had Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks not come on board, Rumours would have remained, well, just a rumor.

No, Kiln House isn’t just another paving stone on Fleetwood Mac’s way to superstardom. It’s an excellent–and fascinating–album in its own right. And provided they’re prepared for the shock of listening to a Fleetwood Mac that sounds absolutely nothing like the Fleetwood Mac they so adore, fans of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours owe it to themselves to check it out.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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