Underrated in the grand scheme of things. To me, this is the best pre-Golden Era Fleetwood Mac album there ever was; better thanThen Play On (whose main selling point, “Oh Well,” wasn’t even included in the proper album). I should clarify, however, that this isn’t going to blow your mind in any way; it’s simply an unassuming but melodically sound release. But if you’re curious about Fleetwood Mac’s discography outside of their Golden Era from 1975 and 1979 and understandably wary about their output in the 80s for fear of the dreaded 80s production, Kiln House is a good place to go. It’s also the first album to feature Christine McVie (then known as Christine Perfect) who plays keys (though uncredited). To borrow from CapnMavel, “I dunno what exactly crawled into Mr. Green’s head that made Then Play On such an oppressive listen, but what I do know is that Kiln House is a much lighter, shorter, and easily palatable record than Then Play On, and stands as the transitional album of the Mac’s entire career. After this point they’d be considered ‘soft rock’, and before this they were on the more leaden side. Kiln House, on the other hand, is right on.”
A ton of other critics note that Kiln House is a parody of 50s’ rock and roll. I don’t see it that way. I just see two singer/songwriters/guitarists who are well aware of the limitations as singer/songwriters/guitarists so they play to their strengths instead, paying tribute to their favorite records. You’re going to get Elvis Presley (“This is the Rock,” “Blood on the Floor”) and Buddy Holly (“Buddy’s Song,” hilariously credited to Buddy Holly’s mother) that are so on-point, you’re going to wonder if you’re actually listening to those respective artists. You’re also going to get Beatles send-offs in “One Together” and “Mission Bell,” both complete with dreamy drumming and background vocals (the latter also employs a bell to harmonize with the hook; it’s a lazy trick, but a good one). Meanwhile, Danny Kirwan contributes the band’s best instrumental after “Albatross” in “Earl Gray,” and they wisely construct the album so that the second and penultimate tracks are guitar workouts if things threaten to get boring; the bluesy “Station Man” is the better one.
But if 50s’ rock and roll doesn’t interest you then get this for “Jewel Eyed Judy.” Here, they bring in everything they’ve got and come out with an excellent song: employing glissandos in the energetic choruses and leading up to them well, turning the country-tinged riff of the verses into ringing chords and throwing in some backing vocals for good measure. The singing is also the best on the album, from the fleet-footed way Kirwan sings the verses (“sh-i-i-ne,” “f-i-i-nd,” etc.) to the shouted choruses. Lovely solo too; dig the counterpoint from the two guitars. Lovely song. Of course, no one heard it; the people who liked the band for “Oh Well” didn’t get another one; the only place “Jewel Eyed Judy” managed to chart was the Netherlands. Their loss.