NATIONAL HEALTH — D.S. al Coda (review)

NATIONAL HEALTH — D.S. al Coda album cover Album · 1982 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Warthur
Just as one of Dave Stewart's previous bands, Egg, regrouped to produce a reunion album a couple of years after they split up, so too did National Heath come together once more - although this time for a much sadder occasion, to commemorate the passing of Alan Gowen by recording a number of his compositions.

Not only is this a somewhat jazzier album than previous National Health elements, but it is also a bit more diverse in terms of style and arrangement, possibly because some of these tunes had originally been devised for Gowan's own band, Gilgamesh (Arriving Twice and TNTFX), some had debuted on National Health's 1979 US tour, which had occurred after Dave Stewart had left and Gowan had rejoined (another, longer version of Flanagan's People can be found on the Playtime archival release from Cuneiform), and some were solo compositions; furthermore, some work had to be done finishing arrangements on those tunes which Gowan himself hadn't fully completed.

As a result, D.S. al Coda is slightly inconsistent in terms of style; some tracks, like the opening Portrait of a Shrinking Man, display a very 80s, up-to-date arrangement, which unfortunately has dated poorly (especially the keyboards and drums). Others, such as Toad of Toad Hall, could have appeared on any classic Gilgamesh or National Health album of the previous decade. I assume that this was at least somewhat intentional on the part of the musicians involved; this album, after all, was meant to provide a broad overview of Alan as a composer. It does, however, mean that the album seems a little disjointed, although many of the individual tracks are excellent. Most National Health or Gilgamesh fans will want to get this sooner or later, but those new to either band may want to wait a while before picking this up. (Then again, one of the best introductions to National Health is the Complete compilation of all three studio albums, including this one.) Do give it a try sooner or later, though, and don't let yourself be put off by the 80s tone and production values of the first track.
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