(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Sheer brilliance, it's all I can say at first listen! Guaranteed to ignite international dance crazes and stop charging wombats dead in their tracks.
Well, somewhat more seriously, this 1978 effort from Canterbury's finest shows great growth and continued fiendish experimenting. With the addition of bassist/composer/vocalist John Greaves (ex-Henry Cow), National Health gained additional musical depth and variety.
“The Bryden Two-Step (For Amphibians)” begins with swirling mysterious organ from Dave Stewart and suddenly the whole band roars to life buoying a snaky melody line from guitarist Phil Miller. This piece then rocks out fiercely and lets you know that NH is NOT a Holiday Inn lounge band!
“Collapso”, a hilariously twisted Dave Stewart piece alternates twisty Stravinsky-esque passages with very campy pseudo-Calypso steel drum outbursts from guest musician Selwyn Baptiste (who was heard to quip, "Not bad for a white band" after the song was done). Drummer Pip Pyle gets a good turn in on some virtuoso glass breakage as well.
Next comes the disc's piece d' resistance' “Squarer For Maude”, a wonderfully twisty, enigmatic and very engaging John Greaves piece that shows some marked Henry Cow influence in spots. Beginning with a brooding section that would be right at home in a cop/detective flick, the first half of the piece develops into a furious maelstrom of snaky melodies and odd-meter passages, before screeching to a halt for a brief spoken word segment over bluesy Rhodes. After this, the momentum picks up again with the main theme restated as guest cellist Georgie Born (ex-Henry Cow) adds stern punctuations on multiple cellos, very unsettling! The piece then heads for its dramatic conclusion, a very fierce Stewart fuzz-organ solo gives way to an apocalyptic ending with those angry cellos and piano.
“Dreams Wide Awake“ starts off as a fierce rocker where Dave Stewart lays into his Hammond with all the restraint of a crazed leopard charging after its prey as the band furiously vamps behind him. Eventually, it winds down into a dense jazz-inflected ending with Phil Miller unleashing warm, fruity chords under Dave Stewart's mini-moog melodies.
“Binoculars” is Pip Pyle's chastisement of a person who is hopelessly addicted to watching untold hours of TV, with hilariously deadpan vocalizing by John Greaves. After the vocal sections, the piece tends to meander a bit much (some judicious editing would've helped), but eventually finds its bearings again.
“Phlakatoon”, probably THE SHORTEST prog tune ever to be recorded, is a vocalized drum solo conceived by Pip Pyle and voiced by anyone that just happened to be there. It was done, as Dave Stewart points out in the liner notes, to grudgingly acknowledge the commercial need for a drum solo (“It'll go down in a storm in the States!”). In any case, it's 8 seconds of pure hilarity!
“The Bryden Two-Step (For Amphibians) Part II” is a rousing variation of the original theme and a perfect closer to this masterpiece of Canterbury prog.
You can't go wrong here, 50 minutes of pure musical brilliance, humor and unpredictable twists! Grab it!