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Big Big Train - Grand Tour CD (album) cover

GRAND TOUR

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.04 | 363 ratings

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tempest_77
5 stars Grand Tour is the most recent release from England's most English prog band, though they've gone full European on this record. This is to say, the lyrical focus of the record is no longer on England; the band goes on a 'Grand Tour', so to speak, of the rest of Europe. It's an excellent record, and some of their best work in years.

The album starts off with the brief but interesting "Novum Organum", before launching into the song "Alive". It's a great, upbeat track with a lot of excellent synthesizers and a excellent crossover prog sound. It's not very similar to most of the rest of their work, but it's a great opening statement for the album. "The Florentine" is a longer song, with the band's usual folk influence coming back to the forefront. The track has some great complexity, with some great synth work as well, and some awesome lead guitar towards the end of song. This track shows us that despite exploring some new sounds, they can still do what they're known for, and what they do best: great, complex folk-infused English prog.

"Roman Stone" is the first multi-part suite on the album. It starts off with a very typical Big Big Train section, led by acoustic guitar, but it gets interesting after this section, with a great brief piano and trumpet part. After another, longer, acoustic led section, the song really starts to pick up, with more brass, along with some excellent drumming in a great instrumental middle section. This song, along with "The Florentine", are two key tracks in demonstrating the lyrical focus of the album. "Pantheon" is an instrumental that starts out with strings and a brass section. Another track with great synthesizers, it really gives the band a chance to show off their chops, not that they aren't very well fleshed out on the rest of the album. "Theodora in Green and Gold" isn't the strongest track off of the album. It's a little formulaic, and sounds like it could easily be something from a previous album. Still, it's a good song, and I won't give it more flack than it deserves.

"Ariel" is our second multi-part suite, and starts off with some water sounds and an epic choral arrangement. The beginning is very dramatic and it works very well. After a piano-driven section, the song finally opens up with an organ swell about 3 and a half minutes in. The track is marked by great vocal harmonies and excellent piano and drum work. It's a constantly shifting piece, and it never gets boring. Especially following the weaker "Theodora", it's maybe the strongest track on the album. While I can't tell exactly what the song is about, there is a very strong sense of story throughout the song about a storm, and I enjoy the lyrical continuity throughout the continuous musical changes. "Voyager" directly follows "Ariel", and unlike the Alan Parsons Project song of the same name, this is another sprawling fourteen-minute multi-part suite. It starts off with a rather anthemic sound, and seems to have yet another aquatic themed story, though this time about the ocean rather than about a storm. There's a fair amount of brass throughout the beginning of the song, which is one of the things I noticed about this album in addition to the synthesizers; there's more brass, which I think works really well. Even at this point in the album, having been through nearly 70 minutes of material, I still didn't get tired of the sound, which just goes to show how interesting the band manages to keep their songs. There's a really lovely string-driven section in this song right before the song picks up again which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's the beginning of a fairly lengthy instrumental section in the song that works very well. The instrumental sections on this album are a bit sparse but when they're there, they really work. The song has a fairly epic ending with some outstanding drum work, before bringing it back down and segueing into the closing track "Homesong". A fairly straight-forward acoustic and piano driven track with some decent complexity, it's nothing special, and certainly isn't one of the band's stronger album closers (see "Hedgerow", "Curator of Butterflies", or of course "The Underfall Yard"). However, it's still a solid track, and brings the lyrical trajectory of the album to a close. After the very aptly title "Voyager", and its closing section "Homecoming", "Homesong" brings it back to England, with Longdon singing the refrain "we are home now, we are home now".

All in all, Grand Tour is not the greatest Big Big Train album, nor is it the second greatest Big Big Train album, but it certainly a very strong album, with great synthesizer and brass usage, and some really excellent drum work across the whole album. 9/10.

tempest_77 | 5/5 |

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