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Big Big Train - The Difference Machine CD (album) cover

THE DIFFERENCE MACHINE

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

3.58 | 210 ratings

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m2thek
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I picked up Big Big Train's album The Difference Machine after the strength of 2009's The Underfall Yard, which had become one of my favorites. While the Difference Machine has hints of the characteristics that made The Underfall Yard so great, it doesn't meet its successor's high level, but is still enjoyable and well made.

The Difference Machine is made up of 3 lengthy, slow building songs, broken up by short interludes that help give you a break, and set the mood for the next tracks. There's a unique atmosphere found here, with a feeling of sadness that perpetuates throughout. The mood and format of the album tie things together as a whole and is one of its biggest strengths. In addition to the intelligent track design, the album's main theme, introduced in Hope This Finds You and played on viola, is absolutely beautiful, and creates some stunning moments when it is reprised later on. Each of the songs exist outside of their boundaries, with many themes being tossed around between them, sometimes very subtly. Some of the coolest parts about The Difference Machine are the hardest to find, but figuring out where a motif in one song originated from is really satisfying, and shows how much attention to detail went into the composition.

The rest of the music in between these album-wide moments is, unfortunately, not nearly as entertaining or exciting. I find myself, not enthralled with the meat of The Difference Machine, but rather waiting for the rare, cooler moments to pop up. The regular music is usually led by overdriven guitars that are characteristic of the band, but they do admittedly break it up well with occasional sax or synth solos. There's also a very nice use of mellotron, including strings, flute and choir, that is very plentiful, and really hit the spot. Of course, there is also a lot of singing on The Difference Machine, and the lyrics are what tie the concept together.

The vocals, however, don't do much for me at all. Though Sean Filkins, the then vocalist who left after recording this, is only bad on a few occasions, he's rarely very good either. Rather, most of his vocal sections are colored by very bland and static singing, that usually never do anything to move or excite you. There are a few times when he really shines, but they're too infrequent to change your mind about his singing.

Although each of the 4 main songs do have singing on them, there is a lot of nice music to be found on The Difference Machine. It's not the most consistent album, but when it finds the right moment to hit you with a theme, it really packs a punch. If you're a fan of the band, or like me wanted to explore their past after The Underfall Yard, this is a fine place to start, but you shouldn't come in expecting another masterpiece.

m2thek | 3/5 |

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