National Health — Missing Pieces
(East Side Digital ESD 81172, 1974/1996, CD)
by Jeff Melton, 1997-02-01:
Finally! Most of the missing links between the last Hatfield and the North (1975) and the first National Health (1977) albums make their way into the light of day. Several copies of these sessions have been making the rounds with traders for 20 years while the master tapes have been sequestered away in Dave Stewart's keen, but pervasive clutches. Now we all get to hear the results of 'warts and all' demos, BBC sessions, and miscellaneous recordings meant to quell fan outcries, once and for all time. Warning: this is not quite the same band that brought you the "Bryden Two-Step for Amphibians." True: we do get to listen to Bill Bruford and Steve Hillage playing along side each other on a few tracks. But several of the songs were written by Mont (now Dirk) Campbell, who had a knack for writing obtuse songs. These tracks don’t rock much, and fall into the category of small orchestral works (which was the original basis of this band). It's 'good strange', but nevertheless strange and not what I expected when I first heard them. Alas, only one real gripe: missing from the missing is "Trident Asleep," another trademark Gowen composition (only known version from the London School of Economics gig). Anecdotal liner notes are by the inimitable Dave Stewart, who manages to pull as many puns out of his hat as Bullwinkle the Moose. It gives you the sense that all seriousness is set aside for pure fun and amusement in the midst of the dire circumstances the band constantly found itself in. They didn't make any money, didn't get much recognition, and this configuration never had the chance to really get started during the onslaught of the ever-changing English music scene. But they knew there were weird and too good for their own good. Now these relics of the past can at least help remind us of what we never knew in the first place!
by Mike Grimes, 1997-02-01:
After 20 or so years in the vault, many unreleased National Health treasures finally see the light of day. National Health ranks up there among the most important progressive rock bands of all time. They were England's answer to Magma. Their complex arrangements, difficult rhythms, and distorted view of harmony were far more progressive than any of their British "progressive" counterparts of the day. National Health composed and performed the type stuff that Frank Zappa might have listened to and thought, "Man, this is complicated!" Most of the tracks on Missing Pieces feature musicians that never appeared on any of the three National Health albums — Bill Bruford, Phil Lee, Mont Campbell, and Steve Hillage. Largely, the tracks herein are recordings of the earliest incarnations of National Health — before their first album. A good portion of the tunes were penned by original bassist Mont Campbell. That, combined with Bill Bruford's unique drumming style and either Phil Lee or Steve Hillage on second guitar, give these tunes a distinctly different flavor than anything the band ever did afterwards. As usual, the songs have so much depth that even after several listens, there is something new with each hearing. Keyboardist Dave Stewart provides his typical humorous, detailed liner notes that are worth the price of admission by themselves. There's a few "bonus" type tracks on the CD too — Stewart / Gaskin's re-recording of Mont Campbell's "Starlight and Seaweed" plus snippets from a few live shows. Believe it or not, Missing Pieces is probably less accessible than any of the other three albums. In the liner notes, Dave Stewart admits that during this time period, he and Mont Campbell were competing to see who could write the most complicated stuff! (Mont won by the way.) It's probably not the ideal starting point for those wanting to become familiar with National Health, but for those who have heard and liked any of their other albums, Missing Pieces is a must.
by Peter Thelen, 1997-02-01:
Normally, Exposé reserves roundtable reviews for new releases by current artists, but an exception has been made in this case — a CD of "lost" recordings by the initial formation of National Health, pre-dating their first official album by — in some cases — two years. Indeed, even though these recordings have been around on bootleg tapes for many years (most are taken from demos and radio sessions), the fact that they are all collected here, cleaned up and presented as one cohesive package makes this quite noteworthy in itself. Unlike many early archival recordings by so many bands, these early NH tapes are still in superb shape; there are very few dropouts to be heard anywhere, even when listening with headphones, and the hiss level is very low. These recordings represent National Health at their most spirited and challenging, featuring compositions mostly by Dave Stewart and then-bassist Mont Campbell, apparently trying to outdo one another with regards to complexity and pure technicality. Bill Bruford's precision drumming... well, what does one need to say other than all the pieces of this puzzle fit together perfectly? Rather than doing a track-by-track rundown, this writer's general assessment is that among all National Health albums, this one is by far the most captivating and engaging. My highest recommendation.
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