Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A 50's PARODY album! Now that's groovy! Spencer was a cool fella.
Best song: JEWEL EYED JUDY
Track listing: 1) This Is The Rock; 2) Station Man; 3) Blood On The Floor; 4) Hi Ho Silver; 5) Jewel Eyed Judy; 6) Buddy's Song; 7) Earl Gray; One Together; 9) Tell Me All The Things You Do; 10) Mission Bell.
Peter Green had gone completely berserk and quit the band by this point (without even a single warning - rumour has it that he just disappeared on the street and they found him having joined some sect), which left Kirwan and Spencer as the only contributing members of the band - Fleetwood and McVie, even if the band was named after them, were rarely more than just a solid rhythm section, and Christine Perfect (by now, already Christine McVie) was just a recent newcomer (I'm not sure whether she was an official member of the band by the time of release of Kiln House) who played some keyboards but never sang or composed anything - as of yet.
Thus, the album is almost equally divided between Kirwan's and Spencer's 'masterpieces', and sounds completely different from Then Play On. That album was long-winded, serious and relatively gloomy; Kiln House is short, playful just as much as the album sleeve shows it to be, and very lightweight, with lots of tongue in cheek performances and humorous pastiches. Kirwan was already on the path of relinquishing his folk rock ambitions, switching to louder rockers, so overall this is a hell of a loud and 'open' record. However, the main accent is on the series of extremely bizarre parodies on fifties' rock acts, mostly impersonated by Spencer. In short, if Then Play On was the band's Peter Green album - the man and his world clearly dominated on the record - then Kiln House is obviously the Spencer album, which just goes to show how different the two guys actually were.
The list of Spencer's 'tributes' is almost endless, incorporating Carl Perkins ('This Is The Rock'), Buddy Holly ('Buddy's Song'), Chuck Berry and Little Richard all at once ('Hi Ho Silver') and even Elvis ('Blood On The Floor'). The latter is particularly hilarious, with Spencer making such an amusingly lame effort at imitating the King's vocals that I nearly fall off my chair every time I hear him going 'the reason I'm go-o-o-o-o-ing/Is blood on the floor'. However, if it's genuineness we're speaking of, the highest praises go to 'This Is The Rock': even the most qualified of experts could easily mistake it for a long-lost Carl Perkins tune, with the production easily matching the early Fifties sound and the sly echoey vocals sounding just like Carl all the time. 'Buddy's Song' is less inventive because it mainly builds on the 'Peggy Sue' rhythm, and the name is even mentioned in the lyrics themselves ('I loved Peggy Sue a long time ago-whoa-hoah', with the 'whoah-hoah' just in the Holly fashion); but for sheer energy, I'd take 'Hi Ho Silver' over all of them, because it rocks as hard as possible, with an energetic lead guitar part and hilariously gruff vocals. There are also a couple bouncy pleasant ballads in the catchy 'One Together' and the not too catchy 'Mission Bell', but as you might understand, 50's ballads aren't as interesting to imitate as 50's rockers, even if it might be a harder process technically.
I don't know what was the desired effect; to me it all sounds like absolutely unessential, but good-time harmless fun. Obviously, they were suffering from the lack of a talented songwriter, and this was their 'compensation' for the fact. You gotta give the guys their due, however: lots of bands covered the fathers of rock'n'roll, but few bands actually parodied them, and even fewer parodied them successfully. This is classic fifties rock'n'roll that's made fun of, but not in a sneering - rather in a charming and completely inoffensive way.
Meanwhile, Kirwan is incorporating certain 'variety bits' into the mix, staying away from parodies or covers and trying as hard as possible to make some of his newly composed stuff rock out. He's not particularly successful, but at least this time around he manages not to make most of his songs sound like a sleeping-pill machine. Actually, his lovely ballad 'Jewel Eyed Judy' is my favourite number on the record - if I were him, I would rewrite the chorus or at least leave out the ineffective screaming, but it still makes a nice contrast with the soothing, warm verses highlighted by a delightful little countryish riff that brings in a, well, a certain Dylan atmosphere into the song. He also contributes the album's only instrumental ('Earl Gray') which is not the greatest vocalless track ever written, but at least a serious improvement over some of the faceless note combinations on Play On. Kinda monotonous, but with Kirwan, you gotta get used to it. The only real misfire is the lengthy, boring as hell blues number 'Station Man' which has the nerve to drag forever with no particular purpose. I mean, it ain't fast, it doesn't contain any interesting musical ideas, and it's too dang repetitive. So sue me, I really dislike it.
Apart from that, you just have your average good-time, danceable, listenable, fun pop-rock, boogie-woogie record. And I do agree that it would be considered as a below par record for bands with higher status (what the hell - it ain't much better than Self-Portrait, and yet Dylan is so anthemized for that record it's a shame), but for Fleetwood Mac that was just it - an album chock-full of pleasant catchy ditties which haven't yet completely lost that generic blues touch of their earliest days. It's really something of a transitional state between 1967 and 1977, and the only record on which Spencer had a chance to rule supreme, so it's in fact a highly important link in the band's history. And it's good. And I like all that fun. At least they didn't have to have Kirwan ruining all the songs with his primitive skills.