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Big Big Train - English Electric (Part One) CD (album) cover


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

4.17 | 962 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars 1972 was a good year... no, a very good year. Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick; Gentle Giant - Octopus; Genesis - Foxtrot; Wishbone Ash - Argus; and the album that set the standard for prog rock for decades, Yes - Close To The Edge.

Fast forward 10 years to 1982 and I find Kate Bush's The Dreaming and Peter Gabriel IV (Security), but little else to grab my imagination. In 1992 I find Dream Theater's Images & Words (which I only discovered years later) and Peter Gabriel (again) with Us. Lean pickings...

Hit the button to 2002 and there's Peter Gabriel yet again (there seems to be a pattern here!) with Up, and the new star on my horizon, Porcupine Tree, with In Absentia. This last was the album that finally ignited my interest in modern music again, especially the "new" prog. After catching up on most of PT's back catalogue, I started digging around to find other groups who could satisfy my craving for meticulously crafted works of aural art - melody, chops, texture and story-telling soundscapes that tickled both sides of my brain, leaving me both intellectually and emotionally stimulated. My digging unearthed a real gem: Big Big Train.

Now, in 2012, English Electric Part 1 is an album that ticks all the boxes in my musical wish list: marvellous melodies (always top of my list), lush orchestrations, tight ensemble playing, sinuous baselines that Ray Shulman would be proud of, virtuoso soloing, soaring vocal harmonies, light and shade, superb production values. And carefully crafted lyrics that tell a wide variety of very English tales about the countryside and the people, from art forgers to child miners, to uncle Jack's appreciation of the hedgerows. While there is a sense of Victorian nostalgia about the album, it is also very modern. There's not a wasted note anywhere - most of the songs are in the 7-9 minutes range, but only because that is what is required to tell each particular story. No needless noodling, which nearly killed progressive music forever - the immense talents of the musicians are tightly reigned in by songwriting of the highest calibre, but always given enough freedom to endow the songs with great emotional depth.

So who are these modern musical magicians? The core of the band, Andy Poole and Greg Spawton have been laying the foundations for this magnum opus for twenty years, and they have been carried to this creative peak by their recent recruitment of three additional outstanding musicians - guitarist Dave Gregory (ex-XTC), my favourite American drummer Nick D'Virgilio (ex-Spock's Beard) (Gavin Harrison just pips him as my favourite drummer), and multi- instrumentalist and vocalist extraordinaire David Longdon. They also make judicious use of strings and brass band, and some outstanding keyboard work from The Tangent's Andy Tillison.

The songwriting credits are equally shared between Spawton and Longdon. Spawton admitted to Prog magazine that Longdon's songwriting has taken the band to a new level, and I must agree - BBT's albums before Longdon came aboard had some outstanding material, but the last 3 releases, The Underfall Yard (2009), the Far Skies Deep Time ep (2010) and now English Electric P1 have seen their combined compositional skills rise into the stratosphere. May it not stop there: space, the final frontier, awaits...

BBT currently share the podium with Porcupine Tree as my favourite band (I know they're very different - but it's the variety of sounds that I love about prog). English Electric Part 1 has immediately grabbed me with the same intensity as those seminal albums of 1972, but it carries even more weight because of its emotional power. Album of the year for me, for sure!

faroutsider | 5/5 |


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