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National Health - Of Queues and Cures CD (album) cover


National Health


Canterbury Scene

4.28 | 528 ratings

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5 stars Of Queues And Cures is close in style to National Health's first album, which I am happy about. The line-up consists of only four people instead of six, but the band makes up for it by recruiting a fairly large number of guest musicians on various eccentric instruments, including oboes, cellos and even steel drums. The most significant difference is the absence of vocals on all tracks except "Binoculars", which I'll come back to later. Another difference is that the songwriting is more democratic: on the previous album, the only composers were the two keyboard players; this time around, all members get to contribute at least one composition of their own.

The first two tracks are once again composed by keyboardist Dave Stewart. Both follow more or less the same pattern as "Tenemos Roads": both are bookended by a mighty majestic melody, with a wild sequence of different musical events in between. The main difference is that the songs are a lot shorter than their predecessor on the last album. Oh, and the main theme of "The Bryden Two-Step (For Amphibians)" (man, what a title) doesn't actually recur until its second part at the end of the album. In any case, "The Bryden Two-Step" is an excellent album opener. The absence of Alan Gowen means there are less synthesizers on this album, and guitarist Phil Miller now has to play the song's main theme by himself, but he makes up for it by applying loads of effects to his instrument in order to make it sound like a guitar-synth hybrid, which is a delight.

Stewart's other contribution is "The Collapso", which puts the old Igor Stravinsky quote "Lesser artists imitate; great artists steal" into practice: The main melody of the song is taken straight from George Martin's "Theme One" and another part of it comes from Stravinsky's own Ebony Concerto, but Stewart manages to combine these bits into an entirely new and far more menacing whole, creating probably the most aggressive track in the band's repertoire. Also pay attention to John Greaves's bass solo near the end, where he fuzzes up his instrument so heavily that it almost sounds like a regular guitar.

Greaves' own "Squarer For Maud" is the longest track on the album, clocking in at (only) 11 minutes and 50 seconds, and is also probably the most diverse track on the album despite being based mainly on but a few musical motifs. It goes through a lot of different moods and styles, ranging from hard rock to avant-garde classical music. It also makes liberal use of the string and wind players the band had at their disposal for the time being.

Phil Miller's "Dreams Wide Awake" and drummer Pip Pyle's "Binoculars" bear a strong resemblance to the more folk-influenced music of Hatfield & The North, which isn't surprising because they had both played in that band before it merged into National Health (also, National Health's line-up at this point was almost identical to that of Hatfield). "Dreams Wide Awake" is good: Stewart kicks it off with one of the most breath-taking organ solos of his career, and for the rest of the tune creates a warm and gentle atmosphere with the help of Miller strumming away on his clean electric guitar. I'm a little less positive about "Binoculars", though. It starts off as a simple folkish shuffle that tries to mimic something in the Hatfield style, but it sadly doesn't work all that well: the only thing that distinguished this National Health line-up from Hatfield is the absence of singer Richard Sinclair, and his singing duties are on this track assumed by bassist John Greaves, whose vocal skills are less than stellar. Furthermore, a lot of the song is dedicated to long-winded chord sequences that aren't especially interesting. I won't deny that it has its prettier moments though, with Jimmy Hastings's flute solo sticking out in particular.

After that comes "Phlâkatön", which is just 10 seconds of distorted gibberish, followed by the aforementioned reprise of "The Bryden Two-Step" because just like last time, the album finishes at the same place it started. Overall, it's slightly less consistent but still a really great listen. I originally discovered this band after reading a very scathing review of this particular album, so it won't do any harm to spread some nicer words about it, methinks.

Mirakaze | 5/5 |


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