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


Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars Approximately 20 years ago a postman made a delivery to my house. In itself there is nothing unusual in that concept, but the difference here was that inside the envelope was a demo tape from a Dorset band. They had been given my details by Stu Nicholson who I had recently been in contact with, so they decided to send me the tape to see what I thought of it. Needless to say that band were Big Big Train, and the tape was 'From The River To The Sea', and it was the first piece of music ever sent to me to review. Since then I have listened to countless thousands of CDs, but Big Big Train were the very first so I have always had something of a soft spot for them. Although it must be said that not only was I not a huge fan of one of their releases back in the day, but I also had the misfortune to run into Greg Spawton in a pub in Winchester not long after I had formed that opinion.

The reason for that was I felt that they no longer sounded like BBT and that they had allowed outside guests and influences to take over the album, but looking back now it is obvious that it was an important step in allowing the band to grow musically. And boy have they changed now. There have been one or two line-up changes over the years but Greg (now on bass/keys) and Andy Poole (keys/production) have been there from the beginning, and singer David Longdon (plus mandolin, keys, flute etc) who joined in 2009 has been a real find. It is these three that have written all of the songs, but since 2010 they have been joined by guitarist Dave Gregory and some drummer called Nick D'Virgilio. Yes, the ex-Spock's Beard and current Mystery sticksman is also a key member of this band.

So when my copy turned up from the band the other day you can guess how excited I was. One word screams out all of the time that this is playing, and that is "Maturity". The band have changed immensely since those early days and have produced an album that is huge and the reason for that is the control that pervades everything that is happening. I was playing this while out in one of the paddocks and I was trying to think who it reminded me of, and the closest I can come to is Marillion combined with Chris Rea but that has much more to do with the way they have approached the construction and composition as opposed to the musical direction.

Many people will say that this isn't a prog album, but so what? That really depends on your personal definition of prog, but given the use of additional guests and instruments where else doe sit really fit? On a personal level, when I heard the flute I immediately asked myself if Martin Orford (IQ/Jadis) had become involved in the music scene again as I know that he had contributed to past BBT albums. Well, I was wrong about the flute as that is by David but Widge does provide some backing vocals - it was a huge loss to not only UK prog but to music as a whole when he decided not to continue so hopefully there will be more to come.

This is a part one album, with the second to follow in March, and to be honest I can hardly wait. To my old jaded ears this is stunning ? and when I received that cassette all those years ago I could never have imagined that one day I would be listening to anything as powerful as this. This is essential for any lover of good music.

(This review was sourced from a pre release copy provided by the band - ADMIN EDIT)

Report this review (#810452)
Posted Sunday, August 26, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Arrived in the post on 1st September and I have now enjoyed it 4 times (5 if you include the airing I'm now certain it received at Celebr8 on 7th July over the pa between band set ups). Very easily a 5 star, and pips everything they have created thus far, and the back catalog is exceptional, so I guess you could say they have built up a head of steam to get to this point (although I think they favour diesels!?).

Starting with the cover and booklet, this takes a change from more recent releases and is quite beautifully put together, taking inspiration from what I believe to be close up photographs of rusting diesel locomotives, hence the title English Electric. And nice to see an artist put a hat and tie on for a change.

The moods flow well from one song to another, and I particularly like the unusual Uncle Jack and its partner song Hedgerow which remind me of Ronnie Lanes Slim Chance which reflect a new folk influence. Inspiring stuff for getting out on a walk in the English countryside.

Summoned by Bells is for me the centerpiece and the closing section is simply blissful with the interplay between guitar, trombone and cornet. Music doesn't get better than this in any genre.

All of the lyrics are poetic in themselves and A Boy in Darkness is partially powerful contrasting the ill treatment of children in the mines with more modern day child abuse in the Church (if I have interpreted this correctly).

Underpinning what is most definitely their own unique sound, is a mid 70's Genesis feel, but for those not keen on such a comparison, don't be put off, there are also some post rock elements and enough diversity in each individual piece to provide a real mix of influences.

The production values are outstanding and the balance between the instruments and vocals divine for listening to on a proper system.

In summary, I'd say this is a work of carefully and possibly painfully crafted perfection. Must be the CD of 2012, prog or otherwise.

Report this review (#814732)
Posted Monday, September 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Talk about a band with a knack for wise line-up changes! Picking up Nick D'Virgilio would have been impressive enough - and his drumming is at its usual impressive standard here, but the addition of Dave Longdon on vocals - probably the voice with the most expressive power in modern prog - catapulted BBT into the spotlight with their 2009 release "The Underfall Yard". With that album sitting 3rd in ProgArchives Best Of 2009 list the new release has a lot to live up to - how would it fare?

Longdon has been fully integrated into writing duties by now (with about 50% of the writing credits shared with Spawton) and this seems to have galvanised both of them. Song subjects still revolve round historic English themes but with a wry modern twist. Judas Unrepentant may describe a crafty fine art forger but seems more like a biting comment on the modern recorded music industry. A Boy In Darkness contrasts the fate of mining children in the 1800s with what they might have suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church in more recent times. The vocal delivery is distinctively powerful and clean.

The previous album may have been notable for its distinctive brass section - and they do make a return here - but the diversity of sound has expanded with use of flute, piano and strings, and an especially impressive addition of Hammond Organ and synth flourishes on several tracks (provided by The Tangent's Andy Tillison no less). The addition of Dave Gregory as a full member has lead to more prominent role for lead guitar and some impressive solos.

So what is the result of all this development? Well it's just astonishing! I cannot remember the last time I listened to an album with my mouth literally hanging open in awe at the achievement of the musicians who created it. This is melodic prog with not a note wasted - yes there is virtuosity on display but everything is in place to drive forward the songs and the stories they tell - and storytelling is the purpose of this album with tales and characters described and brought alive by both words and music. The emotional impact of some of the climaxes comes as a physical experience. Any accusations of being a Genesis clone are long forgotten - indeed Genesis never managed such a lush or diverse sound palette as this - with hints of jazz, folk, spiky Crimson, Floydian effects (ping!) and even hints of Canterbury. What they sound of most of all though, is themselves - the mark of a band come of age. There is literally no other band in the world that sounds like this - that even COULD sound like this if they tried. It transcends the boundaries of Crossover, Eclectic and Symphonic prog and would be enjoyed by fans of all these genres.

After about 15 listens so far my admiration has only increased. This is the album of 2012 - and of the millennium so far. For both creativity and beauty it can take its place alongside any other great album of the genre. A truly groundbreaking release that is the measure of what prog can achieve in the 21st century. 11/10.

Report this review (#815218)
Posted Tuesday, September 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Great scott! I could not imagine such a glorious comeback right after the magnificent " the Underfall Yard". After one spin it's the instant classic!

From the very first track "The First Rebreather" shows a perfect synergy of sounds. A medium tempo grand opening. Very majestic. Love it from the first listen. Second track "Uncle Jack" sounds quite folkish- with twists of course. Great track that is very well shows their root and versatility. The third and fifth are my personal favorite "Winchester from St Giles' Hill" and "Summoned By Bells". Love the grand concert feel which blend perfectly with modern instruments. The melodies are truly beautiful. I have no word to tell. One cannot simply describe the beauty of Monet, right?

The forth and the sixth "Judas Unrepentant" and "Upton Heath" are also strong tracks. Judas is a bit more uplifting and uptempo. A little more heavy with great orchestra in the mid section. I would say it's quite a Neal Morse-ish. Love the major key, btw. Upton is a cool song. Warm and sweet. Feels like a journey home. Seventh track "A Boy in Darkness" is a bit harder to describe. A power symphony with underground post-rock and jazz influence perhaps. Very nice nevertheless. Lastly "Hedgerow" a powerful mid tempo grand finale. Variety and beautiful. Another of my favorites.

Overall recording and mixing are sublime. Great musicianship. Exceptional quality CD. I would recommend this album to anyone, especially Symphonic Prog fan- you should not miss this one. Truly great album. Is it possible to give 6 stars?

Report this review (#815552)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars For many prog fans of my acquaintance BBT's 2009 release "The Underfall Yard" was the best album that year. The follow-on EP "Far Skies Deep Time" gave an tantalizing taster of the impact new vocalist David Longdon was making on the band's song-writing. Expectations of the next full length album were therefore high. It is fair to say that BBT have managed to exceed expectations. If you like your prog full of intricate arrangements, masterful musicianship, interesting/engaging/thought-provoking lyrics and memorable melodies, this is a must have. In a year which has already seen fantastic new releases from echolyn and Anglagard, this is thus far the highlight of the year for me.
Report this review (#815856)
Posted Thursday, September 6, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Having found out about this band less than a year ago I'm not one of the longtime followers but I feel I'm one of the most enthusiastic you can find! :D Have that in mind while you read this and see my doubtless 5star-rating!! To put this short: I haven't heard music this powerful, intelligent, beautiful and absolutely musically flawless in many many years! It is music that evokes emotions within me in a way it was a long time since I last experienced! It is music and lyrics with a thouroughly thought-out underlying idea without trying to be conceptual! It's true art in every inch, connecting the brain with the heart and soul in a way rarely encountered! This is music that SHOULD find its way outside this rather narrow prog-world of ours. It's music that defies genre in an exquisite way. And it's music presented and performed by a group of merry lads who seem to be the nicest bunch, really! It's music that combines elements and sentiments from the likes of Genesis, XTC (Dave Gregory's one of the merry lads after all), Prefab Sprout, TalkTalk and David Sylvian which in my book is as close to a perfect mixture you can come! Thanks BBT!!
Report this review (#815862)
Posted Thursday, September 6, 2012 | Review Permalink
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!

Report this review (#819868)
Posted Thursday, September 13, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Given the reviews this has gotten thus far, I took the plunge and gave this, my first First Big Big Train disc a listen.

While not by any means a bad disc, I am obviously missing the attraction that many others find. The music is melodic, pleasant and well constructed. To my ears Big Big Train as evidenced by this disc has a distinct neo-prog feel. Ultimately, however, I find the music to feel highly derivative and at best elicits an emotion of indifference in me -- not bad, so I don't hate it, but also not something I fell in love with. I find little new here; it leans too heavily on the sounds of Genesis and Marillion. The latter, particularly in the vocals. In the end, this is what I ultimately object to in this offering, there is nothing new here. The music opens my ears to nothing new, but is the pleasant afterglow of music you've known and loved in the past.

In the end, this is a disc for fans only. If you are looking for music that sounds like Genesis or Marillion I would recommend listening to Genesis or Marillon. Rating 2.5 out 5 rounded up to 3.

Report this review (#820590)
Posted Friday, September 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Without a doubt Dave Longdon is the new shining star of modern progressive rock; his vocal, composition, and flute contributions to Big Big Train have taken this band to a whole new level, a level that may imprint BBT into the Prog Hall of Fame--one of the few modern bands to achieve a standing right among the masters of the 1970s. Also, while I was not convinced of Dave Gregory's 'fitting in' based upon his previous BBT contributions, on this album everything, everybody is clicking. Amazing song compositions with fresh and diverse stylistic presentations topped by the amazing--did I say "amazing"? I meant, "incomparable"- -vocals of Dave Longdon. And this time the lyrics and vocal passion fit with the music. I LOVE these lyrics. Everything component of every song seems woven into a magical tapestry worthy of adorning the walls of kings! With The Underfall Yard we saw a lot of glimpses but not everything with the "newcomers" (D'Virgilio, Gregory, and Longdon) had gelled yet.

"The First Rebreather" (10/10) is an amazing opener which reminds me of the way "Dance on a Volcano" or "A Musical Box" opened their respective albums, the former for Nick D'Virgilio's display of Phil Collins-like drumming (Phil at his absolute best) and the latter for the changing dynamics and essential individual contributions to the whole-group masterpiece. Amazing story, lyrics and singing! Wonderful weaving of al the instrumentalists AND the vocal arrangements. A perfect song! (though the nod to GENESIS is quite obvious.)

"Uncle Jack" (9/10) Off-beat like a STEVE HACKETT song (or, a little bit like "I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe]"), this is, to me, refreshing for its celebration of an average Joe (again like "I Know What I Like"). I bit like a carry over from The Underfall Yard, but still a mature, masterful blend of everyone's talents. Plus, banjo!

"Winchester from St. Giles' Hill" (11/10) was my instant favorite. Now I can't decide between it and all of the other 10s! A beautiful song from it's opening notes and accompaniment. Incredible vocal melodies and vocal arrangements. I love Dave Gregory's jazzy (almost PAUL WELLER-like) guitar. Amazing chorus. WOW! What power and feeling! Then to soften with those guitar strums and mellotron. The bass playing just kills me. This is a funky jazzed up prog MASTERPIECE! And then the MICHEL LE GRAND/JEAN-PIERRE RAMPAL almost- classical section in the middle! Followed by an awesome guitar solo which brings us back first to the funk rhythm and then to the AMAZING story, vocal, vocal arrangement. I'm undone! TOO beautiful for words . . .

***** Each year I give a 11 our of 10 rating and this, ladies and gentlement, is that song.; the one song that transcends my expectations for the potential for human creativity.

"Judas Unrepentant" (8/10) unfortunately begins with a bit of a Genesis "Illegal Alien" feel to it. Luckily the chorus and bridges diverge quite a bit. The mellow, almost classical section beginning at the 3:30 mark is a welcome, even masterful, diversion. When the main song theme returns it with a wonderful symphonic crescendo of sound. Nice little organ solo to cover the return to the original "Alien" beat/sound. An light, upbeat, fast-paced yet somehow heavy and complex song. Fascinating!

"Summoned by Bells" (9/10) begins with a pretty Tony Banks/Anthony Phillips piano arpeggio before establishing itself as something else, quite, with cello, doo-wap b-vox, recorders, and even the kitchen sink thrown in. (Just kidding!) Have I mentioned how noticeable and creative--even melodic--is the bass work on this album? Wonderful. And replete with so many unexpected flourishes and techniques. And NIck D'Virgilio really makes his mastery known without going over the top or without having to be mixed too forward in the production mix. This song provides a perfect example of how Dave Gregory's guitar work fits perfectly whereas on previous albums it may not have worked, may even have stood out a bit too much. On this one every strum, arpeggio and strum fits perfectly. Absolutely stunned and LOVE the delicate, emotional outro with its gorgeous horns and heart-wrenching Fripp-like guitar solo.

"Upton Hill" (9/10) reminds me of a perfect PREFAB SPROUT or DREAM ACADEMY song-- quirky yet drop-dead gorgeous. Prominently featured flute, cello, accordian, female b-vox and banjo help provide this one with its own unique feel.

The first 1:36 of "A Boy in Darkness" (10/10) has a very KATE BUSH and TEARS FOR FEARS feel to it. Until the very TEARS FOR FEARS breakout at 1:36. Later, the almost jazzy top-speed instrumental section in the middle is filled with great drumming, great guitar, flute, strings, percussives, and organ is one of the highlights of the album. Breathtakeing. And then the segue back into the vocal sections is so masterful. Absolutely brilliant! Fripp guitar soloing beneath Longdon's powerful singing. The final minute is a crescendo of power and emotion with Gregory and D'Virgilio leading the way. Love the oscillating organ to-fade.

"Hedgerow" (10/10) has an amazing XTC/BYRDS/ANT PHILLIPS/BEATLES feel, musically (thanks, Dave Gregory!), topped with some jaw-droppingly astounding vocal arrangements. Slow guitar arpeggios over which a solo viola/violin dirges propels the song into emotional depths of amazing proportions. Top this off with Nick D'Virgilio's stupendous drumming and you have the best crossover prog song of the year. The lyrics are the coup de grace?they bring me to my knees! I am not worthy! Especially the repeating flower names sung by the background singers! What an end to an amazing album?an album of a quality and consistency that I thought I'd never hear! Move aside Echolyn, Marillion, Astra, TFK, and even Anglagard.

Hail! to the new kings of the hill!

Congratulations Andy and Greg: Your passion, vision, and perseverance has paid off! This is the best music album I've heard from 2012. It may be (dare I say or even think it?) a perfect album. So many, many times as I listen to this album am I just astounded at the instrumental, compositional, incidental and lead sound, and textural shifts that occur--and frequently-- within each song?not to mention the unparalleled vocal arrangements. (I beg of you: Has ANY album EVER put forth such astounding vocal arrangements??) These five gentlemen are truly master music craftsmen. No: Master music artisans. This album is, to me, akin to a Sistine Chapel, a Taj Mahal, a Monet, a Beethoven's 9th.

Report this review (#820841)
Posted Friday, September 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I hadn't written any reviews before now, but after listening to this album, I felt this was as good a place to start as any. Now, a couple of days ago, I had never heard of this band. I happened to stumble across them on google while searching for various information about trains (?). I decided to buy this album just for kicks and was mightily surprised at how good it was. I have been listening to this album on repeat ever since. I must admit that I don't have much skill when it comes to dissecting albums or songs at a technical level and so my ratings are based more on a feelgood scale. That being said, I bet that if you'd seen my face the first time I listened to this album, there would've been a big old smile plastered on it. My favorite instruments on this album are the piano and flute but the singing deserves a lot of credit as well. In my opinion, what sets apart great prog albums from masterpieces are the vocals and big big train certainly delivers in that respect as well. Good job guys, I can't wait for part 2!
Report this review (#821417)
Posted Saturday, September 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars There is much to say abut this album that mere words cannot convey the beauty of its sound or structure. You'll be hard pressed finding one wasted minute on BBT's latest album. At the start of the first play a couple of weeks ago I had favourites but after countless listens its hard to choose any one track over the other. From 'The First Rebreather' through to ' Hedgerow' they all stand out like albums such as 'Close To The Edge' or 'Trick Of The Tail'. I've got to hear a lot of good Prog this year but Big Big Train's English Electric (Part One) is my firm favourite for 2012.
Report this review (#825870)
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is the second album by this particular Big Big Train lineup after The Underfall Yard, but the improvement over that one is substantial; whilst the Train had been chugging away on the UK scene for quite some years, for many listeners this is the album that put them on the map. Trimming back the stable of guest musicians substantially and offering a spruced-up sound which combines progressive rock song structures and compositional techniques to a somewhat broader aesthetic than most prog, the album manages to be simultaneously quite accessible and at the same time still a nostalgic journey through Genesis-derived symphonic landscapes.

Founder member Greg Spawton's guitar work on this is what enables much of this diversity, particularly in the way he brings in influences which most prog guitarists tend to overlook. For instance, his performance on Uncle Jack begins in a folky style with just a whiff of bluegrass to it, but as the song progresses and complexities pile up it ends up gradually mutating into something much more unusual. David Longdon's one of those prog vocalists who likes to mimic Peter Gabriel, but at least he's actually quite good at it, his performance sounding absolutely natural and not forced at all.

The traces of Spock's Beard I could hear on The Underfall Yard are well and truly gone - as, indeed, is any obvious imitation of past prog bands beyond the obvious Genesis pastoralisms. This album was, at the time, one of my biggest surprises of the year - having been none too impressed by the band's back catalogue, I really hadn't planned on giving them another go, but the high praise given to this one made me feel compelled to relent on that and I was at first markedly impressed.

However, with the passage of time the spark of English Electric has rather faded for me. It's not so much a case of familiarity breeding contempt - if anything, I have relistened to it much less than I expected to. It's more a matter of Big Big Train's schtick wearing thin. This soppy nostalgia for a golden age that never really was - the eternal illusion that grumpy middle-aged men are prone to that society had it more or less right back when they were 6 and it's been downhill ever since - is something that I have an increasing lack of patience for, and the artistic aesthetic it inspires feels increasingly shallow and vapid. It is certainly competently executed here, but precisely because it's a hollow reflection on faded glory rather than something genuinely "progressive" in the sense of doing something new with the collection of old motifs it brings together, I suspect its star will wane sooner rather than later.

Report this review (#829948)
Posted Friday, September 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow. An incredibly intelligent and moving piece of work. Easily one of the best prog albums I've heard in years and oh so faithful to the genre!

I rate this a cut above The Underfall Yard, which I really enjoyed but it didn't overwhelm me like EE. Big Big Train seems to have evolved from trying to imitate other prog bands, crafting their own dynamic, powerful sound. True, I DO hear Genesis, Gentle Giant, Tull, ELP, Yes and the Moody Blues. The compositions and sound embrace many of the prog greats but Big Big Train takes it to a seamless, passionate perfection. The result -- it doesn't sound like a Genesis or Spock's Beard album but instead a wonderful composite of vocals, instruments, lyrics and artistry.

Favorite track: A Boy in Darkness...starts off a bit slowly and then builds up to a vocal and musical tour de force.

Report this review (#830126)
Posted Friday, September 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
5 stars There's some bands that hardly fail, you can actually see their love and their effort on making the best music possible. And that's the case of BIG BIG TRAIN.

I'm not a BIG BIG TRAIN longer fan, I've discovered them when they were about to release the magnificent The Underfall Yard (2009) and they were giving away the epic track that carried the name of the album. I was so immediatelly amazed by that song and that sound and that band that I went straight to their website and bought a bundle with The Underfall Yard (2009) and their previous The Difference Machine (2007).

When I've heard they were working on a new album, and that would be a 2 part project called 'English Electric' I was already happy just by heard that.

I am now listening English Electric (Part One) (2012) for the first time. And they just can't fail. Their music is full of emotion, charged with a sentiment that you hardly can see in any other band, specially in Progressive Rock.

They work slowly on their records and make sure every little piece is right on place. The sounds of instruments specially, is SO good to hear an album that actually have real drums sounds, a bass sound that's not equal to the other 100 albums released in this month, pianos and not cheap keyboards, flutes, the list go on and on...

It's rich in every aspect it's grande not being too pompous, it's emotional, makes me shiver, and the most important thing, it makes you want to listen again and again.

The band knows the music they're doing is good, only bands that know they have a great material to offer makes their album available to listen on Bandcamp (

And you know why they do that? Cause they know that if you listen, you'll buy, something inside you tells that you need to have it. And that's actually what happens, everytime.

Report this review (#830915)
Posted Sunday, September 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Big Big Train excel on their best release to date "English Electric Part One". The fact that this is a first part obviously means there is soon to be released a sequel and if it is as fabulous as this release we are in for a real treat. From the very beginning I was taken on a journey of melodic and innovative musicianship with beautiful rivers of flute and uplifting guitar solos, along with swathes of keyboards and crystalline ambience. Each track is diverse from the one preceding and makes this a very entertaining hour of music. The songs are accessible enough for the average music listener but have inspired musicianship that lift the compositions out of the ordinary and into the more progressive side of music. The flute is absolutely stunning and the grinding organ punctuates the atmospheres with a retro 70s feel.

Songs like the wonderful 'Judas Unrepentant' have the 70s sound and yet remain modern enough to fit into the current music scene comfortably. There is an uplifting soundscape on such songs, and the band leave room for quiet passages of flute played with aplomb by the incomparable David Longdon, and the string section by Ken Brake is mesmirising tranquillity. This track is one of the greatest pieces of music I have heard in years, and even features strong organ soloing, and meanders into quiet textures allowing it to lift again into the main bright melody. The vocals of Longdon are always clean and easy on the ears, sounding somewhat like Peter Gabriel in places, a clear influence.

The opening track 'The First Rebreather' is also masterfully composed with lengthy solos and a soul stirring melody, reminiscent of Genesis, with creative shifting time sigs. Surprisingly after this prog sound the following track 'Uncle Jack' is a diversion into Cotton Eye Joe banjo and hoedown musical shapes. It seems to work though as it is so unique to the album and shows the band having fun with their creativity. Another diversion on this album is the ballad 'Upton Heath' that is acoustically driven and has a beautiful Celtic folk flavour of accordion sounds and a strong multi harmony of voices throughout. The violins and flute are a nice touch and enhance the folk textures on this very accessible track.

On the flip side of the band's style 'Summoned by Bells' is a 9 minute romp with cascading flute and guitar picking and violins that melt into the icy atmospheres. It has a dreamy feel, especially in the verses and at times a heavier guitar riff from Greg Spawton breaks through to keep things interesting. The electric piano is quite bluesy, and there is a section sounding like Genesis as it moves into a new time sig. Andy Poole on keyboards and bass keeps a consistent rhythm and the steady tempo from percussionist Nick D'Virgilio is always reliable. Spawton has a chance to launch into a lead guitar solo that is well accomplished striking against the tempo. The meter slows down with nice keys and a horn section that augments the atmosphere. This section is very relaxing and moves along at a measured pace as an extended coda and the lead solo is tasteful; an excellent progressive track.

'A Boy In Darkness' is an 8 minute track with some odd melodies and shifting signatures. It begins with elongated musical bars that sound ethereal along with the haunting harmonies. It has a darker feel purposefully due to the thematic content. It is delightfully unique on the album, with more chilling atmospheres, and an overall sense of foreboding. These atmospheres are augmented by sustained violins and reflective vocals echoed by multi harmonies. The keyboard effects have an esoteric quality, echoing with distant bells, wind effects and dissonant notes. The Hammond organ sound crunches gloriously into the song and is joined by violin serrations and heavy guitars. The flute joins in and lifts the atmosphere but it still feels appropriately off kilter and disjointed. A tremolo bar wavers on the guitar and then a low ominous drone is heard. This is followed by a peaceful passage of lonely violin and Longdon's vocals return with reflective lyrics. Overall this is another of the masterpieces of the album.

'Winchester From St Giles' Hill' is another case in point that focuses on varying musical styles. 'Hedgerow' closes the album with another lengthy piece at about 9 minutes, and sounds totally different to the other tracks, beginning with a folk tinged melody and ending with pastoral tones with multi layered majestic harmonies.

Overall this is another great album from Big Big Train who are slowly gaining a solid reputation and wider acceptance on a worldwide scale. They are capable of incredible music and the compositions are infectious and accessible for the FM radio market. "English Electric Part One" is packed with brilliance, and no doubt part two will be followed up soon, and hopefully as consistent in quality as this magnificent release.

Report this review (#832216)
Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The songwriting tandem of founding member Greg Spawton and lead vocalist David Longdon has hit its stride on English Electric (the assumption being part 2, which will be released next March, is of the same high quality). The combination of smart, considered, and deeply personal lyrics coupled with exemplary musicianship (especially guitarist Dave Gregory's string arrangements) pushes Big Big Train to heretofore unanticipated heights. Honestly, how many bands manage to release their masterpiece after 20+ years and numerous lineup changes? It's utterly confounding, given the spotty decade-plus start to the enterprise. The 2000s have been fruitful for BBT, however, each release building on the last, and now, the band is simply producing some of the best, most engaging music going. Get on board. It's going to be a wonderful next couple of years.
Report this review (#834279)
Posted Sunday, October 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars 10/10

I actually made ​​the mistake of thinking that they could not overcome after The Underfall Yard. God, how could I be so naive?

Viljans Oga, you have a serious contender for album of the year. This here is Genesis risen, but do not you dare say that this is a ripoff! Big Big Train is a band of their own spirit, and since David Longdon joined the band say they have won only musically speaking. You know what I think? He achieved what many neo-prog singers could not: have a voice at the height of Peter Gabriel, the great reference of those guys. Actually I say it goes far beyond a mere copy: his voice is perfect and mature, being a kind of intermediary between Gabriel and Phil Collins - not to mention the fact that he plays the flute and a range of other instruments.

(Please Genesis: I know Collins has more good voice before, Gabriel does not think of returning and Ray Wilson is not the best option, so if think about a new album - yes, I have this hope - call David Longdon for vocals!)

But it is not a single star of the show. Andy Poole and Greg Spawton really stand out on keyboards, with lots of organs, pianos and mellotrons (Andy Tillison of The Tangent is also here, providing further synthesizers - see the splendid solo at the end of the first track) - some parts sound like Tony Banks himself (most prog keyboardist of all time, I think). The guitar is another highlight - Steve Hackett, are you? - And we have some wonderful acoustic moments, plus a mandolin through a climate that brings folk, bluegrass or country band in Uncle Jack. Nick D'Virgilio also not far behind, being really integrated into the band here. There are also a lot of orchestrations, metal sections, things like that help to elevate the spirit and quality of the work. Only the bass, which was quite poignant and highlighted on the previous album, is obscured here, possibly because Spawton Poole and are more focused on keyboards and guitars.

While I had some issues with the title track from the last album I can say that Inglęs Electric Part One is an album without flaws. Well, it took me to appreciate Summoned By Falls as the other songs, but now I love her, especially her final section, with metals and that climate jazzy ... the rest was love at first sight. The album title already denotes the idea that they are dealing with issues exclusively British, especially tales (like Judas Unrepentant - this is not as Genesis-esque?). The album is an incredible maturity, while the influences of Gabriel, Collins, Hackett, Rutherford and Banks are crisp character of a work is 100% original.

After getting absolutely delighted with this album I hope that more eagerly for part 2, which I imagine will come with the epics that were not present here. Perfect five stars for album of the year!

Report this review (#834325)
Posted Sunday, October 7, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Big Big Train - English Electric Part 1.

I only came upon this band at the release of their 2009 album "the Underfall Yard". After hearing "Master of Tides" a few times on Morow, it grew on me, and my curiosity towards this band was sparked. After seeing the ratings here, I bought the album and gave it a few spins. At first I was disappointed. A very fortunate malfunction in my brain caused me to buy their EP "Far Skies Deep Time" anyways. What an eye opener. This is by far the best EP ever made, and prompted me to go back to the Underfall Yard. This time everything fell into place, and the album is now one of my favourites.

When I heard of their upcoming release and read some reactions I immediately ordered this album. I received it last week, and it has pretty much not left my cd-player since. To me BBT biggest strength is the atmosphere they create, the song composition and the way their albums feel like a logically constructed unit. English Electric expands on these strenghts and even goes up a notch with regards to the beautiful atmosphere. This, and their previous 2 albums just breathe England, and I love it.

Now, on to the album.

1) The first rebreather (8:32). The album opens with to me the song that resembles BBT on their previous albums.This is a very strong opener, with great melodies, harmony singing and excellent guitar soloes. The structure of this song is very straightforward with a long, and very pleasant intermezzo in an otherwise almost clasically structured song. The first thing I noticed is that David Langdon is in great form, and the vocal harmonies have improved greatly (I already liked them before). The amount of instruments (appropriately) used in just this song is vast, and it all adds to the great feel this band creates.

2) Uncle Jack (3:49). A banjo? well this put a smile to my face. A short, optimistic sounding song with again great vocal harmonies. . 3) Winchester from St. Giles Hall (7:16). A low tempo, again higly atmospheric song. The background vocals remind me of Clannad for some reason. At about the 3:45 mark it transforms toward a Canterbury scene sounding piece, only to then again transform into a symphonic piece.

4) Judas Unrepentant (7:18). This song is based on an upbeat riff, which is a well-timed change of pace. After about 3 minutes the song calms down abit, leading to the "weakest" 4 minutes of the album, which are still quite enjoyable nonetheless, and pave the way of the briljant second half.

5) Summoned by Bells (9:15). If I'd have to name a favourite song, It'd be Summoned by Bells. I've seen people comparing this to Tears for Fears, one of the few pop-bands I really like. I guess it is due to the piano-intro, which sort of resembles the tune from "everybody wants to rule the world" the female vocals (which are great), and the guitarwork. At about 6:40 the song changes pace and presents a very mellow tune, lead by a nice bass-riff and assisted by trumpets, and some milder guitar-soloing which, again, create such a great atmosphere.

6) Upton Heath (5:39). I guess we could call this the albums ballad. The guitar, flute and strings really work for this song. This song really evokes a feeling of nostalgia, though I cannot really put my finger on as to why that is.

7) A boy in Darkness (8:03). The bleakest song on the album without a doubt. Since I have a thing for bleakness, this is right up my alley. The violin/cello in the background really set the mood here. Once again the vocal harmonies perfect the emotional tone. The main riff rieks of despair, and the way they convey this emotion is stunning. At 3:10 a mellotron signals an uptempo piece, assisted by violins, which spawn into a great jamfest, only to return strongly to the main riff. Superb song.

8) Hedgerow (8:52). And we've come to the final song of the album. It opens with an odd, almost oriental sounding tune. This song yet again unfolds so beautifully. It sort of feels like two tunes are being intertwined throughout this song, ending with BBT's strength: beautiful vocal harmonies. A great way to close the album.

This album succeeds in every department. On top of that it excells in song structure and the general flow of the album is fantastic. No album this year has come close to this one, and I sincerely doubt any of the coming albums will top this, so I hereby nominate this my album of the year. The best news is, there will be a part 2 very soon! Is it March 2013 yet?

Report this review (#839704)
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Big Big Train have been around since 1990 playing their own brand of very English Progressive Rock. The current line-up, consisting of Nick D'Virgilio, Dave Gregory, David Longdon, Andy Poole and Gregory Spawton are producing the best material of this lengthy career and, in my opinion, the some of the best music in the Prog scene as a whole. I would even go as far as to say that this album and the last one (The Underfall Yard) are two of the best Progressive Rock albums released in the last few decades! all great albums "English Electric Part 1" takes a few listens to fully appreciate, but every track on the album has that rare combination of instant appeal and depth to draw you in and repay multiple listens; Each replay is a delight of discovery as the true majesty of the music and the storytelling in the lyrics unfolds before your ears.

Big Big Train are masters of their art; they have incredible song-writing ability, musicianship, attention to detail and depth, astonishing production (well done Mr Rob Aubrey) ...and the lyrics and vocal delivery are just sublime.

The choice of subject matter and instrumentation makes the listening experience a walk back in time through the English countryside. Pastoral vistas unfold, we hear of suffering in the harshest of working conditions contrasted with the simple pleasures of the countryside, eccentric artists hoodwinking the best in the business, tales of pioneering exploits pushing the boundaries of human endeavour. It's gripping stuff; the kind of song writing that delivers spine chills by the bucket load and compels the listener to learn more about the subjects.

To give the uninitiated some idea of what BBT sound like; it would be easy and somewhat valid to draw parallels with early Genesis, but that would, in all honesty, be under-selling Big Big Train. They have captured that quintessential English Prog sound, made it their own whilst, at the same time, injecting a fresh vibrancy to it so that it's relevant in the 21st century. No mean achievement!

2012 has been a great year for music and BBT have been up against some stiff competition but in my book there's only one contender for album of the year and this is it. I look forward to playing this album a lot more and am already anticipating the follow-up "English Electric Part 2" in 2013.

Report this review (#851188)
Posted Monday, November 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have waited a long time, with many, many listens, before reviewing this, the latest release by Big Big Train, which, if the reviews and ratings on this site are to be believed, is one of the finest prog rock releases of all time. Indeed, only one reviewer has given it anything less than five star masterpiece rating.

I gave that to the exceptional The Underfall Yard, but quite a bit of that was for deeply personal reasons. I was really looking forward to this, and was delighted when it plopped through the door last month.

Let me say straight away that this album contains some of the finest progressive rock I have heard this, or, indeed, in many a year. At its best, which is on most of it, it has the feel of much of what drew me to the genre in the first place, that wonderful English pastoral sound. The Genesis comparisons are, perhaps, rather obvious, but, to these ears and mind, it is more in the fact that a track such as Uncle Jack is so marvellously quirky and, well, English in the Genesis or Python sense.

The utter highlight of the album, and a very strong contender for track of this decade thus far, is Judas Unrepentant. In fact, as I will explain later in this review, it was only at this stage of the album that I really sat up and took notice on first listen. The harmonies, staggeringly strong vocals by David Longdon (who is surely becoming one of our finest), the fusion of classic and modern progressive soundscapes, particularly on keyboards, make this ridiculously enjoyable and strong. Everything flows easily into each separate movement, and that flute solo.....well, Gabriel has his natural successor in Longdon. The use of strings and woodwind is also exceptional. A symphonic masterpiece, no more, no less.

Of course, much of this here is a paeon to a fast disappearing English countryside, much as Selling England was to a disappearing society. The gorgeous Upton Heath is a smooth, very beautiful, example, and, if you close your eyes and use your imagination, you can see yourself walking on the Dorset heathland. It is a brave band, indeed, who make so much use of traditional orchestra instruments, and, again, this lot do it with such aplomb in a gentle, folk prog, setting. I also admire deeply here, and elsewhere, the choral vocals.

Another trick this lot manage so well is the sudden change of mood. So, we go from a beautiful walk to something altogether more sinister and menacing on A Boy In Darkness. Doom laden in its low key sounds, you jump when the chorus simply explodes with a sinister symphonic energy. This all supports some of the most intelligent lyrics you can imagine, because the subject matter is a report into conditions in a 19th century colliery, and the exploitation and deaths of young boys "sent down the pit". This is social commentary translated into musical darkness at its best, and, again, it reaffirms the band's position to me as the natural successors to Genesis in this era. To call them some kind of neo-prog tribute is both lazy and, actually, plain wrong. They are much more than that.

And, from this, we are taken to the delightful, cheery, bouncy, almost pop psychedelic joy that is the album's closer, Hedgerow. Of course, the subject matter is easily deduced, but the effect on the aural senses is one of sheer joy, almost an orgasm for the ears and mind. The singing is quite incredible, and the pace of the band never falls below that of relentless foot tapping, especially the guitars, and the strings are used to great effect again. The reprise of the vocal harmonies at the denouement has you almost weeping with the sheer joy of life and all around us.

So, with such praise, why do I rate this album as an excellent one, out of step with those colleagues who rate it a masterpiece? It is simply because, as joyful as the tracks I have written about above are, I actually find this to be too inconsistent to merit the full five stars. Take the opener, The First Rebreather, as a good example. There are bursts of that Longdon voice (which I first fell in love with on Martin Orford's great The Old Road), there is some stunning guitar work, especially, but I find this strangely inconsistent as a track, or, I don't know, maybe trying to be a little bit too clever, because the shifts in time signatures I find to be confusing and, frankly, unnecessary. When it is good, it is very good (and the bass playing is especially good), but it is not only confusing, I also find, after some thirty odd listens now, it to be rather dull in parts, and find myself losing my attention in places. You never have that on a masterpiece.

I also feel the same way about Winchester From Giles Hill. It starts off beautifully with deep flute, some lilting vocal harmonies and a jazzy feel on rhythm, but, I don't know, I find it very difficult to keep going throughout the track. The main vocal section sounds strained, and parts of it are, well, dull again. The strained comment also applies to parts of the otherwise sublime Summoned by Bells, which does feature some lovely brass in fusion with haunting guitar at the close.

I hope I have put across here adequately the fact that this is an excellent work, with a great deal to commend itself to fans of progressive rock. 90% of it is simply to die for. This lineup will, I earnestly hope, continue to bring us joy for many years to come. I especially welcome the participation of Dave Gregory, probably the finest musician to come out of the New Wave era. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it to those who are thinking about buying it. It is excellent. It just ain't a masterpiece. Bet you the next one is, though!

Report this review (#853506)
Posted Thursday, November 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Being new to Big Big Train I was a bit weary on whether to get this album. Listening to a sample I thought it was just another Genesis clone, but after seeing the high reviews I gave in and got it. Needless to say I was extremely surprised. Their music obviously has a large Genesis component, yet seems very original. The album features a wide range of instruments and makes especially good use of mellotron, flute and brass. Each track is different and a unique surprise.

"The First Rebreather" (10/10) and "Judas Unrepentant" (10/10) are two upbeat tracks featured around a nice riff, and are very reminiscent of Genesis.

"Winchester From St. Giles' Hill" (8/10) and "Summoned By Bells" (10/10) are centered around flute and piano/keyboard, respectively, with the latter heaving a great brass section near the end.

"Uncle Jack" (8/10) is a quirky, almost bluegrass type song with the banjo. While not the best song on the album, it is catchy and really showcases the plethora of styles these guys play.

Upton Heath is a mellower tune with a very strong English and folk feel featuring strong harmonized vocals. (8/10)

"A Boy In Darkness" (9/10) is a more melancholic tune which slowly builds up to an amazing instrumental middle section. The vocals (like the rest of the album) are strong here.

The Final track "Hedgerow" (10/10) is my personal favorite. It starts off with a nice upbeat riff followed by a barricade of very catchy vocal melodies/harmonies.

Overall I am very impressed with this album. I would even place it above Anglagard's "Viljars oga" for album of the year. I will be looking forward to English Electric pt. II


Report this review (#853552)
Posted Thursday, November 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Being a huge fan of Big Big Train's 'Underfall Yard', I eagerly awaited the release of 'English Electric Part 1' and I have not been disappointed. I consider this release to be the prog album of the year which is a grand statement considering all the quality prog released in 2012.

The album begins with 'The First Rebreather', which is a track that would have been right at home on Genesis' "Wind and Wuthering" album. After 'Underfall Yard', it's been no secret to anyone that BBT has revived the classic Genesis sound and 'The First Rebreather' is probably the greatest single example of that. Next up is one of the album's best tracks,'Uncle Jack'. Very melodic track and I find myself wishing the song had at least one additional verse, I like the folky aspect of this tune and hope to see BBT venture more into this area in the future. Remaining standout is 'Judas Unrepentant', which is very nearly a perfect song, in my humble opinion. Pacing is perfect, the lyrics tell a wonderful story and the chorus is memorable.

Not to overlook the remaining tracks on this album, they are all quite excellent, but I felt particular compelled to comment on the 3 tracks I mentioned above. The album as a whole plays out like a collection of short stories from English history. Each stands on its own and this is an album which will continue to hold up years from now. It is hard to imagine that BBT will be able to top this effort with the upcoming 'English Electric Part 2', but this band continues to amaze & surprise me so I remain optimistic. Solid 5 stars, this is a modern prog classic.

Report this review (#862477)
Posted Monday, November 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Coincidence that I get two distinct albums that both feature Nick D'Virgilio on drums in my recent purchase cart? Nah, the man is a massive talent, turning Mystery's latest offering "The World is a Game" into a propulsive affair the simply devastates. He has also serviced some of the finest prog musicians anywhere, look it up if need be.

Big Big Train has leaped over countless summits in arriving to "English Electric", starting with the promising "Gathering Speed" then the massive "The Difference Machine"(a personal favorite) and then, the critically acclaimed "The Underfall Yard". Truth is Greg Spawton is an accomplished composer, a stellar guitarist and multi-instrumentalist and has surrounded himself with trusty longtime collaborator Andy Poole, as well as bringing in on the preceding opus, the evocative David Longdon on vocals to replace Sean Filkins , no slouch on the mike, him! Here we have the legendary Andy Tillison of The Tangent fame on assorted keys(never has he played better !) as well as the aforementioned Nick D'Virgilio. It is to be noted that Dave Gregory officiates on guitar, he of XTC fame and one of the most solid performers of the 80s still active today.. . "The First Rebreather" kicks off this one in style, very English and very prog , the arrangement has all the hallmarks of classic symphonic prog and easily rekindling fond reminiscence of Collins-era Genesis, without the commercial pop veneer. Andy Poole lays down some mean bass motifs that pulsate with glorified diversity and all the adornments are perfect, from mellifluous flute, played by David Longdon who positively shines on the microphone, a sensational vocalist and an emotive spirit. Lots of strings on this one, so tighten your symphonic belt, replete with a buzzing guitar solo like you have never heard before! Torrential gusts of power and substance are elevated by some stellar production, showcasing the whole as well as the parts and maintaining that blissy buzz.

"Uncle Jack" is more playful; featuring some stunning choir work (severe nods to Gentle Giant, here) as well something Ant Phillips could come up with when not fondling his beloved 12 string acoustic. A strong medieval tone ruminates gently, a countrified air, silky percussion and breezy vocals and choirs adorn the rolling green lea , birds chirping elatedly. Some banjo skiffling along for the ride. Quite an original sounding premise and a treat for the weary.

Back to classic sympho-prog with "Winchester from St Giles' Hill" owner of a massive atmosphere, very smooth and laid back (think ELP's "Take a Pebble") but equally armed with a poignant chorus that reaches Marillionesque proportions. Splashes of flute and strings fortify the strong classical feel. Please notice the shuffling drums and the grandiose chorus, a genius vehicle led by a stunning vocal from Dave Longdon , who really impresses immensely. Scintillating prog, this! We then have Tillison showing up on piano like a true ivory master that he is. Ridiculously seductive, almost scary, its that good. A Spawton guitar duel with D'Virgilio on drums is an earful only surpassed by the huge chorus ending this monumental track, a real classic.

Some commentators have already anointed "Judas Repentant" as the firecracker composition on this winning release and one can quickly see the merit of such lofty praise. Big Big sound, a wider scope of harmonious delirium, some rapid fire playing, especially those damn drums, clobbering everything in its way, burly, hard and devastating. The anthemic qualities are hyper-evident, the majestic flute playing with the mellotron cascades. Unexpected strings sweep into the mix, heightening the passion as Longdon plaintively sings on, raging and dramatic, keys whirring wildly (check out that genius organ solo from Andy Tillison, whew! Deadly). A manic tour de force outro finishes the deal.

"Summoned by Bells" is the proverbial ballad, dexterous piano and voice driven with some clever off-beat gilding, very close to Collins-era Genesis (even mentioning "rooftops". Yeah, right! Coincidence! Nah!), with Banksian keyboard washes and typical voice work. "Come on now" indeed! A corkscrew guitar solo (Dave Gregory?) scorches like a molten flame- thrower and then, suddenly a serene passage that is dreamily psychedelic, daring to import some serious trombone infiltration! Yes you read it correctly = TROMBONE! Ballsy move!

"Upton Heath" is very British, with mandolins, banjo, double-bass and accordion leading the way, in folky style of ensemble playing, again rekindling hints of Penguin Café Orchestra and Anthony Phillips , as well as some clear Canterbury school influences. The main difference is the soul voice of Dave Longdon, adding desperate warmth to the pastoral surroundings, the magical flute being the main culprit.

"A Boy in Darkness"as the title implies, is a more somber affair, the pleading vocal seemingly well ahead the pack, astutely orchestrated with crafty symphonics and a gruesome chorus. The contrasts are deep and dark, the instrumental sections brutal and corrosive (Dave Gregory in particular), the voice parts decisive and arresting. Heavy stuff!

"Hedgerow" sounds more like XTC; clearly Gregory is a huge influence, as this is Brit-pop with obtuse prog flavorings, hints of the Byrds, Bread and the Beatles. Yet, the instrumental part goes totally in another direction, deeply symphonic, with huge swells of emotion, flute, violin and keys are its purveyor. The main theme is thunderous. And then back to the beginning but louder. A brainy dollop of exalted prog.

There is just way too much to like, an opus that has the incredible Longdon voice, mind blowing guitar work from Gregory, jaw dropping keys work from Tillison, a rhythm section as powerful as one could hope for, D'Virgilio especially. Killer arrangements, original songs and daring adventure.

4.5 Anglais electriques

Report this review (#864075)
Posted Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars BIG BIG TRAIN: English Electric (Part One) 4/5

Line up:

- Andy Poole / bass, keyboards - Greg Spawton / guitars, keyboards, bass - David Longdon / vocals, flute, glockenspiel - Nick D'Virgilio / drums

Additional musicians:

- Rob Aubrey / mixing, mastering - Ken Brake / string section, double bass - Edo Spanninga / recorder

To be honest, the British band Big Big Train has always seemed to me as one of the most boring, most melancholic and weepiest Prog bands ever. For this reason, under the protection of my mental health, their discography is hidden somewhere at the bottom of a drawer, gathering dust on it...

Some improvement can be traced to the penultimate album "The Underfall Yard" (2009), and therefore, even under the influence of very positive reviews on this site, I bought their latest achievement, "English Electric (Part One)." And I can say, the surprise of listening to this album is just nice and pleasant ...

First of all: melancholy and sentiment receded here into the background, no one can find a long, uselessly protracted and boring Epic, all the songs fit under 10 minutes. Even it's possible to find some optimistic and perhaps even cheerful songs, which is hardly conceivable on previous BBT albums.

Dear friends, if you own a small home altar with the image of Gabriel's Genesis and every day you use to pray for their comeback, then I suggest you to purchase this new Big Big Train album. Because partial reincarnation of good old Genesis had just born!

What is actually common to both bands?

1) Vocals: Longdon has a similar timbre as Peter Gabriel, but without his characteristic "braying" in heights. Great harmonic vocals, also reminding of Genesis.

2) Keyboards: Analogous melodic and harmonic lines with Tony Banks, using of the same instruments, including Mellotron.

3) Bass Guitar: Conformable technique with Mike Rutherford, similar rhythmic and melodic techniques.

4) Drums: Both drummers are surely excellent and their playing is flawless and colourful.

5) Frequent use of the flute as a beautiful melodic instrument.

6) General harmonic and melodic practices are very similar to both bands, some songs directly evoke the famous songs of old Genesis, without their mere plagiarism.

7) Their proclaimed British national pride and traditionalism.

Only guitar playing is somewhat different, as I can judge. Steve Hackett is, after all, only one and difficult to reproduce.

Almost all the songs are pleasant, melodic and worthy of 5 stars. Most brilliant moments are undoubtedly "Winchester From St Giles' Hill", "Judas Unrepentant" and "Summoned By Bells". Only the last two songs "A Boy in Darkness" and "Hedgerow" seem to be a kind of appendix and somewhat remind for its circumlocution a former BBT era.

Thus I give this album 4.25 stars rounded to 4. Now, therefore, let's wait for English Electric (Part Two)!

Report this review (#864972)
Posted Friday, November 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Is this just another Genesis rip off? Not! While you might think that this is just another Genesis sound- alike, it is definitely not. It certainly does have some elements that are reminiscent of Genesis, and the lead vocal does have a lot in common with Peter Gabriel. Actually, I find more of a Peter Gabriel solo influence than old Genesis. No matter what, this band brings a fresh creativity and energy to this sometimes overly explored style. There is a lot of refreshing energy throughout the album to offset some relatively complex compositions.

The backup vocals are excellent. The accompanying instrumentation is delightful providing the full range of what you would expect from a first class British Progressive Rock band with this perigee of musicians. The song writing is simply superior. The fusion of various styles such as symphonic prog (Genesis /Gabriel influence), English Folk, jazz fusion, Canterbury, and definitely some unique contributions is outstanding.

This is a perfect blend of memorable moments of nostalgic moments with some of the best that the current modern progressive scene has to offer.

The original rendition of this band, which has always seemed to have been lacking an elusive element is completed with the addition of X-Spock's Beard Drummer to create one heck of an excellent Super Group. I rank English Electric as the best release of 2012.

I am not going to do a track by track review as technically speaking a lot of others have done a great job of just that and so I simply give this a 5/5.

Report this review (#884751)
Posted Sunday, December 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Really cool album from start to finish! Music arrangement of the highest quality,already looking forward to part two! Considering the vast improvement from "The Underfall Yard"(which was itself a masterpiece), I'm waiting to see what will part 2 be like! Solid start through "The first rebreather" and continues throughout the album including "Winchester From St Giles' Hill" &"Judas Unrepentant". My best track from the album is "A boy in Darkness". The flow of songs is the best thing about the album and really takes you too inside the story they're potraing through their music!The album recieves a fitting end through "Hedgerow". If you're looking for a solid prog rock album this is it! For me its the best album of 2012.
Report this review (#884866)
Posted Monday, December 31, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars Although the music of this band is slightly better, the approach of this band reminds me of neo-prog bands like Unitopia, Magenta, Glass Hammer etc (kind of infamous for me). Big Big Train are focused especially on impersonating of Genesis branch of progressive rock. I miss genuine excitement in this kind of music. Everything seems fabricated from the song-writing point of view and is made for sake of sounding prog, being very predictable in fact. Album sounds pleasantly though, the mix is great. The band serves us music in a very nice package - by instruments used (mellotrons, moogs, flute, strings) with the help of a choir. It's like they have all ingredients to make a good music, but they lack substance that [for example] Genesis or Yes had. Nothing visionary, breathtaking or really memorable. Just pleasant. Focusing on the templates doesn't usually make the music exceptional. Rather for collectors only.
Report this review (#885485)
Posted Tuesday, January 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars Hey guys! Once there was a Brit-prog band named GENESIS , if you like BBT you´ll flip upside down with them. Some of the band members are still around. Maybe you have heard of one of them Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phill Collins and Peter Gabriel; back then he was the vocalist and main composer of that ensemble. He absorved all the mystic ghosts that haunt his birthland; which by the way was England. Trumpets, kings and all that [&*!#]; brought to modern times. Intelligent surreal stories with the famous conspiracy-like voice, in "off" (the same as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson; it runs in the "Brits", blood) and the music compositions, if not overwhelming, were very original in language and structure. .... It was not their virtuosity neither, ( of course they were no punk-rockers!) it had to do with the creative rush of breaking-ground for the first time, that kind of rare and unique rush. BBT; however well trained in their instruments as they are, fall in the the everlasting conflict of any composer who still hasn't found his own language; being both: original and sublime. Problem is, that the original parts are not original and the sublime is not their own. I dislike imitators, tributers or whatever you want to call the kind, that sounds like someone else, who was there before, in time. Without any kind of regards whatsoever; or the now famous "my influences" cheap-talk. I don´t think there is a creative shortage in composition (to me that´s what prog is all about) as to praise this kind,(seriously!). Wake up!! and listen to GENESIS first albums. In that direction you may also encounter another band; their name is or was (no one still knows) King Crimson start easy, go for the "Lizard" album. Don´t settle for less this will make BBT (if lucky) find their own route. Remember: "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"; it still does and it will be like that, it seems for a long time. 2 PA stars
Report this review (#886465)
Posted Wednesday, January 2, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Probably should win some award for the most over hyped album of the year. Now there is no doubt that this group know exactlly what they are doing and the tehcnical level of the playing backs thats up. They also avoid the usual late seventies Genesis clone approach that so many neo prog bands seem to be into and that perhaps gets them extra brownie points. However I've listened to this at least 5 times and I'm still struggling to be that gripped or excited by it. There are some nice bits and bits and moments of inspiration but in general it comes across just a bit too much 'prog by numbers'.

The opening track is probably my favourite on the album. They have a real hook going for the first few minutes and could have fallen into the trap of trying to repeat it too much but instead allow the music to find its natural flow. The end track is also excellent and reaches a good emotional peak. What I have a problem with is the most of the middle bit that doesn't seem to have either the musical content or direction to impress me. I just don't get what its supposed to be. Its all a bit bland and lacking to my ears.Its not cliched though and I guess the fact you can't relate it that easily to other bands has lead to a fair amount of gushing praise. But for me I'm just not feeling it

Neverthless it is an ambitious effort and they have used a good variety of musical instruments to add additional spice. Quite nice middle of the road neo syphonic prog album. Best check it out and make up your own mind.

Report this review (#888016)
Posted Saturday, January 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars Tons and tons of 5 Star ratings for this Big Big Train output! Nr 3 Album of 2012 currently on the PA! What am I not getting here?

Lets say it right away. The English Electric Part 1 is not a bad album. It has actually three quite exciting pieces on it: The First Rebreather (sounding very Genesis, as a lot of passages on the rest of the album, but nevertheless, the track manages to hold ones attention), Judas Unrepentant (a upbeat melodic tune), and the closing track Hedgerow ( also quite upbeat and unique sounding track with roots in prog folk).

Unfortunately for the rest of the album, well, either 'skip' tracks or at least 'fast forward' tracks. I often find myself bored listening to the remaining five tracks and even at stages repulsed by the sweet slow Smooth/Soft Prog sounds displayed; accompanied by prosy vocals and cheesy string arrangements. This is music you could play in a hotel lobby or and elevator! Some of the tracks have their good moments, but to get to them you have to wade through lots of 'schmaltzy' mediocrity.

I remember some reviewer somewhere once described the band Pallas as Prog with balls. Big Big Train here are doing the opposite: Prog without balls!

For me Big Big Train are on a downhill road. I got to know them with Gathering Speed, which I enjoyed, followed by The Difference Machine, a fantastic album! But then came the Underfall Yard which already could not really excite me, but The English Electric is even worse. I guess I need to stick with their former vocalist, Sean Filkins, considering his superb solo output after having been thrown of the train.

All in all, three good tracks, all worth a four star rating! The other tracks ratings fluctuate between two and three starts. Overall I can give English Electric Part 1 a 2.5 Star rating.

Report this review (#893406)
Posted Sunday, January 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is it. It is hard to describe what makes this CD so good. It almost has this spiritual/ transcendent quality to it. While Big Big Train's The Underfall Yard is good and so is English Electric Part 2, this CD goes beyond those to be something more.

There are not throw away songs here. They all count and they each contribute to this crescendo that explodes in the song A Boy in Darkness. I wonder if the band knew they were creating something so profound and rich when they recorded this CD? Did they just think they were recording another CD and not realize that this would be the high point of their career? It doesn't matter too much, I guess, because I can see it for what it is: a masterpiece.

Report this review (#896713)
Posted Sunday, January 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars BIB BIG TRAIN haven't made an album yet that I wasn't impressed with. This is the fourth recording i've purchased by this band and to my ears they are a modern day GENESIS. Not that I think of them everytime I hear their music because I don't, but it's that very English sound that is done so well. The lyrics are always meaningful and seem to be able to touch my heart. Like the last studio album they have lots of guests on board, in fact more this time including Andy Tillison and Martin Orford (I thought he was retired).

"The First Rebreather" might be the best track i've heard from this band, and for me the most GENESIS sounding as well. The guitar playing over top as the vocals come in is priceless ! Check out the flute and then the bass and drums join in. So good. Nice flute solo before 3 minutes and then a guitar solo 5 minutes in. The emotion is felt when the vocals return with passion. Gulp. That opening guitar is back. Man this is just so good. One of the best tracks of 2012 for me. I should mention as well that Andy Tillison guests on this song playing organ, piano, moog and keyboards. "Uncle Jack" is certainly different with the opening banjo. Vocals join in quickly in this catchy tune. Again this just feels good. Mandolin in this one as well as some female backing vocals. "Winchester From St. Giles' Hill" is a beautiful song and the keyboards after 2 minutes reminds me of Banks. Check out the flute a minute later when the vocals stop. I really like the guitar before 5 1/2 minutes as the organ and drums start to impress before the vocals return. Andy Tillison is back on "Judas Unrepentant" playing organ and keyboards. Nice intro before the vocals join in. We get that late as well after 5 1/2 minutes. Such meaningful lyrics here. Good song.

"Summoned By Bells" is the longest track at just under 9 1/2 minutes. Vocals and piano lead early before the violin joins in. Flute 2 minutes in and the backing vocals before 2 1/2 minutes are a nice touch. Mellotron a minute later. Great sound 6 minutes in with the organ, guitar and drums standing out. Nice to hear horns late as well. A very enjoyable tune. "Upton Heath" is a mellow tune with acoustic guitar, light drums, reserved vocals and more. Banjo and mandolin also make appearances on this one. My least favourite song on here. "A Boy In Darkness" is an emotional track considering the lyrics. And the title of the track certainly has a lot of meaning in light of those words. Andy is back guesting on keyboards and organ. Check out the flute and bass after 4 minutes. Amazing track ! "Hedgerow" is such an uplifting song ! I can just imagine someone who has worked underground for so long getting some time off and being blown away by nature and sunshine. I can just picture him dancing around and we can hear his dog as he calls him as they wander the fields. Love the instrumental section that follows with that mournful violin. The vocals return including Martin Orford's backing vocals. The horns remind me of THE BEATLES.

Yeah this deserves the hype and it's not surprising to see this album on so many top 10 lists for 2012.

Report this review (#902773)
Posted Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Hurray, Phil Collins rides again - more energically than ever!

Joking apart, this is yet another enjoyable BBT collection, very much in the vein of its great predecessor, the UNDERFALL YARD. The ingredients are the same. Most of the music is expertly performed and full of yearning. The band seem to mourn the passing of an Old England in which "heavy industry" still counted for something. They denounce some of the social cruelties of that same Old England; they express longing for the landscapes and cities of their youth, and now they've reached middle age, they feel great sadness, since what's left of those landscapes will soon leave these men behind...

That, at least, is the impression I get from ENGLISH ELECTRIC (PART ONE). The great question is, of course, if Part Two will be different in mood. Until we find out (at the time of writing, the wait can't be long any more) we may ask ourselves to what extent Big Big Train achieve their musical ambitions. In my opinion, the first six tracks of this album are gripping from start to finish (which makes for a first-rate 42-minute album, just as inspiring as all those classics you remember from the 1970s), but thereafter the quality of the music rapidly deteriorates: on "A Boy in Darkness" David Longdon's voice really started to grate (OK, I know it's not MEANT to be an upbeat track, but still...) and during "Hedgerow" (a pointless, over-long singalong) I couldn't wait to switch the album off.

I was glad we were offered some wonderfully exciting keyboard solos from the great Andy Tillison this time. I only wish Dave Gregory were given more chances to shine on electric guitar! Whenever Gregory does appear, my heart leaps half a mile. FINAL VERDICT: Strongly recommended, but not what I'd call a flawless masterpiece.

Report this review (#913340)
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars 8/10

Straightforward, But Right On Track.

"English Electric Part One" is Big Big Train's eight album, released in 2012. The title implies, obviously, a Part Two, released in 2013. Even more so than the predecessor "The Underfall Yard", this newer release was immensely praised by Prog Rock aficionados, and has even been considered by some to be one of the greatest albums of the genre of the decade. Although this last statement is a bit exaggerated, "English Electric Part One" is most definitely the greatest Prog Rock album of 2012, proving that Big Big Train has officially matured as a group.

The music on the album is for many, very reminiscent of old Symphonic Prog groups, more in particular Genesis: that is especially because of the vast array of instrumentation that is used on this album, especially keyboards. But there's a lot of clean and acoustic guitar, flutes, strings, horns, and so on. It's definitely the most lush release so far from Big Big Train. The previous albums however also had an astonishing amount of varied instrumentation. The brand new improvements that really surprise are the outstanding songwriting skills this band proves to have, as they are able to consistently write beautiful, gorgeously crafted songs, that hit almost all of the right spots. Another massive improvement of theirs is the structuring of the songs: if in earlier albums, their tracks at times felt a little messy and over- blown in length and flow, now they sound in order, perfectly structured and well-balanced.

The album itself shows not only a great and diverse palette when it comes to instrumentation; Every song, basically, has a unique trait that makes it distinguishable over the rest of them, and that is a quality that is hard to pull of in one album and impressive when successful, considering the structuring problems the band had with "The Underfall Yard". A song like "Uncle Jack" has a predominant banjo, while "Judas Unrepented" has much more organ/keyboards, "Upton Heath" meanwhile has a very memorable and beautiful choir section in the chorus.

"English Electric Part One" is a sweet, gentle, melancholic piece of work, strengthened by fantastic musicianship, including the charismatic, lyrical vocals that weave in each track all of the different melodies beautifully. It's diverse, catchy, lush, and challenging: four qualities that are more than enough for a Prog Rock album to work.

Report this review (#916449)
Posted Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
2 stars I have made a number of honest attempts to "educate" myself into liking this band (and this album). But, no serendipity has not materialized. It's time to say something :)

There are way too many bands, making way too much music that is (IMO) unoriginal and unremarkable in; life is to short to pay attention to those.

But, English Electric's Big Big Train has been on the top of 2012 prog chart forever and a day, and reviews have been so consistently flowery so I felt like I needed to come back and 'reconsider".

I can't really say anything positive about English Electric Part 1 (or part 2, for that matter). No, I'll take it back: the music is not unpleasant .. it's certainly a plus .. but, in absence of fresh musical ideas and cliche-like execution would that be enough for a "good" rating?

Two stars, therefore .. nice weekend to everybody!

Report this review (#922025)
Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Big Big Train's Third Consecutive Masterpiece

I am having an unhealthily fast growth of love with this band. In a matter of months I had come to own over half of their discography.

I love Big Big Train so much because of their maturity and focused, pervasive artistic vision in addition to the standard expert musicianship and songwriting. They are capable of creating vibrant atmospheres with dramatic vocal lines and thought-provoking lyrics, and at the same time rock it out to familiar compositional structures that were in the 1970s era of prog rock.

They spend untold amounts of effort to what other songwriters would regard as a less important, non-highlight track. "Working Out" and "Leopards" were on first listen awkwardly placed and schizophrenic in feeling, but after a few spins they grew into the overall picture of Victorian England in the Age of Steam.

I do not even have to talk about "East Coast Rider" and "Curator of Butterflies," because they are clearly masterful works of wonder and passion. It is also incredibly easy to adore "Keeper of Abbeys" and "The Permanent Way" as meaningful, rich compositions. Personally I had become obsessed with "Hedgerow" from the previous album, and I became absolutely hard at the moment of its reprise. "Swan Hunter" is another standout track for me, because it encapsulated the feeling of nostalgic discourse perfectly.

The album opener and closer always remind me of a vivid sunset saturating the skies with rich orange. Pure, warm, musical bliss.

Report this review (#928427)
Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars I have listened to this long enough to finally give my review: And it's a no-brainer. ENGLISH ELECTRIC (part 1), is everything people have been saying it is- a wonderful slice of English, Genesis- like prog. Great melodies, skillful instrumental playing, nice lyrics, and a very fine singer. My personal favorites on here are "The First Rebreather", "Uncle Jack" and the Gentle Giant-like "Judas Unrepentent". However, all the songs here are great with only "A Boy In Darkness" failing to totally wow me. I have no problem giving this 5 stars and a nod for Album of the Year 2012. I have been listening to this almost daily since I got it and it has not worn out it's welcome yet and I don't think it ever will. And thats my definition of a classic album.
Report this review (#932656)
Posted Monday, March 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars As a lover of (nearly) all eras of Genesis, I have been a huge fan of Big Big Train ever since David Longdon joined the band in 2009. When The underfall Yard was released late that same year, I listened to it countless times. When hearing of the pending release of English Electric Part One, I was concerned it would not live up to my expectations. I've rarely been happier to have been wrong.

Not really a weak track on the entire album, but I'll highlight what I consider to be the peak moments:

'The First Rebreather' obviously recalls classic Genesis, both late-Gabriel era and perhaps even the Wind & Wuthering era as well to a degree. As with each song on the album, there is a real story to tell which is painted beautifully by the lyrics. An excellent opening track.

Upon first listen, "Uncle Jack" is a bit of an oddball as it surprises the listener with a more folk-based approach. This is soon dispelled as the listener is enveloped by images of the English countryside and the chordal approach couldn't be more appropriate to set this mood. The ending chorus section is tremendously uplifting.

"Judas Unrepentant" - still to my ears the most powerful song on the album, the driving shuffle of the beat, the perfect organ accompaniment and lyrics that simply pull you into the tale. Yet again the band proves their uncanny ability to compose choruses that linger in your mind for days.

The remaining tracks are no less deserving of commentary, however others have expounded on those far better than I can already. Absolutely brilliant album and, in my opinion, a must-own.

Report this review (#933266)
Posted Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars The first track (Rebreather) will remind you of 'Dancing with the moonlit knight', such is its quality.

Then there's track 7 (A boy in darkness), which, ordinarily, would be a fine, fine album finale. In fact though, it's followed by the exceptional 'Hedgerow' which has a chorus that'll grab you well after you've finished listening to it.

These three tracks alone make this one of the most enjoyable modern prog albums out there.

After a short while, the 'retro' aspect actually diminishes, and so the album stands alone, with its own style of Prog.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and the songwriting, and I can certainly see why everyone likes it.

Report this review (#949121)
Posted Thursday, April 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars "English Electric Part One" is Big Big Train's seventh studio record and it was released last year 2012. It is ranked as the third best record from 2012 and I won't blame the other listeners. From the very start I put the record on I liked it and it also grows in my ears. Since then they have also made a part two in the English Electric series. This is the first Big Big Train record I hear so I am a beginner. Many musicians made this happen but the main artists are: Andy Poole(bass, keyboards), Greg Spawton(guitars, keyboards, bass), David Longdon(vocals, flute, glockenspiel), Dave Gregory(electric guitar) and Nick D'Virgilio(drums). Also 21 more humen are listed with all their instruments such as organs, violins, violas, cellos, recorder, tuba, trombone and cornet. Just that enumeration gives you a hunch of the coming glory.

Yes this is a very good record, something that the future beings can pick and see how music could sound in the 10s. Every track here has its meaning. "The first repreather" has a heroic text and we get much Genesis-feeling but still with a full BBT outfit. It's symphonic when it want that and calmer and lyrical sometimes. "Uncle Jack" is very folky with something sounding like banjo and gives a hint of the English rural places which is explained with pride. "Winchester from St Giles Hill" is different. The verses are calm but skew and the choruses are faster and symphonic. A varied and sad song. Then "Judas Unrepentant" makes you happy with funny lyrics about a painter. The history reminds me both of Beatles and Genesis. A dashing final in the end. "Summoned by bells" is very melodic with harmonies and a great brass section. "Upton Heath" is also folky with nice flutes and a friendly text. "A boy in darkness" is a dolorous thing about a young miner with different parts and strong instrumental passages. Finally "Hedgerow" is a good one, very happy and clear and exhilarating. It concludes with a theme from "Uncle Jack".

Big Big Train is a pure evidence of great prog rock that is still being done, fourty years after the prog came to us with former giants. I see no meaning with giving this record less than five stars. A very well-produced album and also I want to say David Langdon's voice is perfect for this, fantastic prog voice. Take this chance to hear new good prog!

Report this review (#973819)
Posted Saturday, June 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars I agree with many of the points people make when giving Big Big Train's upteenth album the highest mark - lush instrumentation, employing almost every live instrument at disposal of folk and rock musicians (lutes, flutes...), strong dramatic vocals (one of the best, in my opinion, among the Genesis clones), top notch musicianship from a ton of guests, a conceptual, very "English" atmosphere. It seemed to me, though, as if the band is more interested in creating arrangements than on song structure and vocal lines. It was a problem before, is largely corrected here, but still shows sometimes. The switch between the eiree atmospheric beginning and end of Boy in darkness, and rollicking folk rock soloing in the middle, for example. All the individual passages are brilliant, to be sure, but this switch in a sad topic song seems quite sudden to me.
Report this review (#1021005)
Posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars After having finally gotten around to Big Big Train's well received 2 part concept album English Electric, I can safely say the praise has been overly effusive. The albums aren't bad, but that's about it. There is absolutely nothing captivating about them. Sure they're well preformed and crisply edited, but I am at the point where that is nothing more than par for the course. Good reviews are granted for imagination as much as they are for ability and these albums are seriously lacking the latter.

If you are an insatiable Genesis fan, you are liable to get the most from them. The best way I can think to describe them is a longer considerably more boring Selling England by the Pound. For what it's worth, part one marginally exceeds part 2. I'll give it 3 out of 5. Expect my review for the second one to be much the same, but the score lower.

Report this review (#1060947)
Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
3 stars Good but could have been great

After reading all the ravishing reviews about this band and album decided to pay a couple of bucks in a well- known site and download it, won't say that wasted my money, because the English Electric (Part One) has outstanding individual performances, a good sound and a few interesting passages, but overall I find it generic, lack of personality and extremely boring.

YES vocal references and some GENESIS influenced passages are not enough to save this album from oblivion, let's be honest, I can't find a single memorable song. So, in my opinion the problem is not in the sound (which is high quality), virtuosity of the musicians (can't be denied), but in the tedious Alternative/Indie/Crossover/Prog related compositions, that bored me after a few minutes.

The album is opened by The First Rebreather and the first thing I notice is the vocals, being that seem like a blend of Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Fish (Not bad at all) and then at the mark of 1:29, a passage that reminds me too much of Los Endos. But to be honest I like the track, it has brilliance, strength and versatility, even though that the word originality is not in their dictionary. The best song of the album, only weakened by that Gabrielish flute passage that sounds nothing like Peter Gabriel's flute.

After a promising opener, I was starting to sing that all the praises were justified, but reality hit me hard when I listened Uncle Jack, some sort of comedy relief in the style of ELP songs like The Sheriff & Jeremy Bender, but without the freshness and audacity of the famous power trio, and to make it worst, the fantastic vocal work of The First Rebreather isn't remotely repeated here?Well played but absolutely forgettable.

Winchester From St Giles' Hill is a pretty musical piece but absolutely anodyne, the intentions are good, the piano passages are delightful, but the composition is absolutely tame and predictable, sorry, but I fell asleep for a couple of seconds when listening this song the first time. Sometimes a beautiful tune is not enough.

Judas Unrepentant intro takes me back to the late 70's when Rick Wakeman was experimenting with new synths and the infamous Birotron, which was great in albums like Criminal Record, but absolutely dated today. At least in the vocal parts they give signs of life and seem to find an own sound?..Well, until they start with the gabrielish flute and the late Genesis Mellotron Choirs.

Summoned By Bells is a song of contrasts, the first five minutes are really repetitive and boring in the style of Phil Collins, but suddenly they allow themselves create one of the most brilliant moments in the album, with jazzy leanings and powerful guitar, drums and keys interplay, but when they are sounding great, fall again into some tedious Kenny G like ending section that really turns me down. Just when they dared to be ambitious and vibrant, ruined it all with a depressive closing section, and to make it worst is followed by another forgettable track as Upton Heath that works as a Valium (Please guys stop using sections so reminiscent of Los Endos & Squonk, especially when so watered).

A Boy In Darkness is another uneven song, the first couple of minutes are absolutely soporiferous , but when I was ready to press the skip button, the song changed dramatically, at last they dared to unleash themselves, here we can listen everything, from heavy guitar solos to Ian Anderson / Thijs Van Leer influenced flutes, dramatic violin and some first class Psyche/Folk Prog that really impressed me, simply frantic and vibrant, this is what this guys need to do.

The album is closed by Hedgerow, another exiting song that combines the naďve sound of 60's British Invasion, Psychedelic touches and excellent vocal work, seems as they reserved the best for the end.

Well, now comes the rating part that I hate so much. Until the fifth minute of Summoned By Bells I was decided to give English Electric (Part One) two weak stars, butv then everything changed, they left the safe play and took risks, ending the album in a very high level. It's a pity I have to go with only 3 stars, because this release has some impressive music, but it's so uneven that can't go higher.}

I'm 100% sure that if this guys dare to take risks, they are able to give us a couple of essential masterpieces, but we'll have to wait and have faith..The skills are there, what they need is the decision.

Report this review (#1065756)
Posted Thursday, October 24, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I recently highlighted Big Big Train on a community radio station show, which prompted hours of listening and research about this band and, in particular, their last three studio albums: The Underfall Yard and English Electric Parts I and II, partly because when I do radio shows, I prefer to give some background on the bands and what their songs are all about, rather than just play their music. This type of immersion almost always increases my appreciation, which it certainly did for Big Big Train, perhaps more than any other band. This review is for my favorite of the three mentioned albums: English Electric Part I, but it is only barely my favorite, and most of my comments here could apply to Part II, which together are a larger project. I understand there has recently been released (as I write this review) a box set of English Electric I and II with some new material, which seems appropriate enough.

With the English Electric albums, the band has done something I would describe as transcendent. Conceptually and musically, these albums are thoroughly impressive. With the latest lineup, especially (but not exclusively) the addition of David Longdon as the lead vocalist and a small army of guest musicians, Big Big Train did what all bands do when they reach their "classic" period (which I would argue they are in now): they extended past ideas/influences (primarily the prog greats of the 70's like Genesis and Yes) into new territory that amazes with its novel innovations, yet still seems like a natural next-step. The essence of the album's concept, perhaps ironically, lies in its simplicity: songs of real-life historical and personal stories and/or anecdotes of (mostly) common people and/or events in the home-country of England. Each one is distinct, but the overall effect is holistic and grand in a different way than with typical concept albums, (most of which are entirely fictional and based on an epic story of an individual hero or a set of characters). I can think of similar past "common-people" types of songs, such as Genesis's Get 'Em Out By Friday or Dancing With the Moonlit Knight, and I'm guessing there are similar-type concept albums, but English Electric goes a fair bit beyond anything I've heard in scope and development. Listening to English Electric is like admiring a big tapestry of the English countryside, past and present, that reminds you that the story of a nation is much more than just that of wars, leaders, inventions, and empires: it's the common working people too.

As for the music itself, I'll discuss it primarily on a personal note: I spend most of my music listening energies on Progressive Rock. By and large I absolutely love the stuff (most of it, anyway). However, when I'm not listening to prog rock, I usually want something simpler and I often listen to folk--I also enjoy going to folk festivals, contra dancing, and playing on and off in folk bands. The English Electric albums have a healthy dose of folky parts, especially Part I: I can listen to it either when I'm in the mood for prog or in the mood for folk music and really enjoy the album. The extra instrumentation of the violins, banjo, mandolin, etc., are a big part of what make this album so good, (and so "transcendent"--Genesis, for example, never got so folky). Especially songs like Uncle Jack, Upton Heath, or Hedgerow. These and some of the other songs on the album(s) would fit right into any folk festival, and would probably get a rousing reception. In spite of this, I wouldn't place the album or the mentioned songs in the category of "progressive folk". If you listen closely, or pick it apart, you realize that most of the folk elements are embedded in a matrix of high-quality, mostly symphonic-sounding prog rock (the typical synth moods, virtuosity, odd time-signatures, and the like) but if you're not thinking about it, its hard to tell the difference. The folky and rock/symphonic parts enhance each other beautifully.

I think the English Electric albums are destined to become classics, and give English Electric Part I 4.4 stars.

Report this review (#1077802)
Posted Saturday, November 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ever since the release of The Underfall Yard, a question I asked myself fairly often was 'Is the modern incarnation of Big Big Train one of my favorite bands, or is this just one of my favorite albums?' Far Skies Deep Time certainly pushed me in one direction, and fortunately with the release of English Electric Part 1 I can definitively pick a side and say, yes, they are one of my favorite bands. While the album manages to be both better in almost every way, yet not quite as good as TUY, its addition solidifies Longdon-era Big Big Train as a great modern symphonic band.

Avoiding that last comparison to TUY for now, let's talk about what Big Big Train's overall sound is like. They are listed here as Crossover, but they are now obviously Symphonic. There is a strong balance between structured, melodic instrumental passages with powerfully sung ones. Instrumentally there is also a good balance between guitar and keyboard (as well as other eclectic instruments) which all take the lead about the same amount. While the music found within the songs is great, I think the most important thing about this band is that they are very concerned with crafting their albums as complete pieces, and English Electric is no different: you'll find repeated musical and lyrical themes, the songs are structured in a logical way in regards to mood and length, and the albums as a whole are kept to reasonable lengths. Another important aspect of Big Big Train's music is their lyrical content. Lately they've been interested in telling real world stories through their music, and EE takes this to the extreme with each song telling the tale of a noted Englishman, whether they were socially famous or just important to one of the band members.

So, how has this changed since the last album? Surprisingly a lot. TUY was critically and commercially Big Big Train's most successful album so it's very refreshing to see them treat their new material so differently. Most importantly, EE is sonically miles ahead of TUY. If I could find one complaint about the previous album it's that while all of the songs were great, there was a lack of diversity. Taking a look at how the first four songs start out, it's like they made a specific point to be as diverse as possible: a gloomy guitar line starts the first song, warm banjo strumming the second, pastoral flute and piano the third, and furious organ and guitar to start the fourth. The choice of instruments has also been expanded; as mentioned, the banjo makes an appearance, as well as multiple flute and violin passages. There is a return of the brass band from TUY as well as the addition of a few female vocal harmonies. Judging EE on these textural elements alone, it is expertly made and it would be challenging to find a contemporary album that could stand up to it. The quality of the production is also stellar, and even at the conclusion of the album where 1,000 things are going on you can hear everything perfectly.

The only area that I find TUY overshadowing this album is in the composition. English Electric is a more adventurous album in terms of song structures compared to its somewhat formulaic predecessor, and because of this, it is hit or miss. About half of the songs here are spectacular and the emotional climaxes, when they pay off, are really hard hitting and even surpass some on TUY. However, some of the songs in the middle section drag on a bit , some of the stylistic choices can be a little boring, and the only attempt to recreate a passage from the previous album (the ethereal brass coda of 'Victorian Brickwork') falls pretty flat in comparison. While the songs can be a little inconsistent, a really special note must be made for the closer, 'Hedgerow,' which contains one of the most beautiful musical moments I've ever heard which is only so effective because of the seven songs that come before it.

Even though the sum of the individual songs doesn't have the same success of the last album, English Electric Part One is still a great overall package. The wonderful thing about the album is that it is clear that the whole piece was the main focus and you're really rewarded for listening from start to finish. Furthermore I'd go so far as to call it one of my favorite arranged albums ever and I could listen to the instrumental diversity all day (and have in fact repeated the closer on multiple occasions). A year later it's clear that this is one of 2012's best, and comes in as a close second for Big Big Train's best album. Simply put, this is must-hear material and we can only hope that their next main album continues the band's masterful approach to composing albums as a whole.

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Posted Thursday, January 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Sometimes you really strike gold at PA! I discovered this band through this site and I must say I´m quite impressed. Well, the much praised The Underfall yard did not exactly won me over. it was clear that the band was good, but there was something missing yet at that point. Actually the CD sounded a little overworked too. But when I heard the following EP Far Skies Deep Time, I knew they had nailed it! It was the perfect combination of great songwriting, perfect arrangements and excellent songwriting, coupled with outstanding performances. That did the trick. So I was quite anxious to hear what would come next.

English Electric (Part One) is basicly everything I had hoped for: great symphonic prog rock which mixes very well simple, nice melodies with complex arrangements and inspired performances of all involved. The comparisons with Gabriel-era Genesis are not a coincidence. Not only is this band highly influenced by that band, but they also found the right formula that made Genesis the classic band they were (all the elements mentioned before). Still, Big Big Train does not copy Genesis, that of the same matter dutch band Odyssice captured so well 70´s Camel spirit without really sounding like a cover band. That´s the difference: BBT (and Odyssice) produce a familiar style of music, but they do too have a personality of their own all along. That´s very rare.

Of course the album would have never worked if they hadn´t have the excellent songwriting hability to match their obvious terrific technique. There are absolute no fillers, with all the tunes being very well done both in terms of writing and, specially, of performances. It´s so hard to see an album where every instrument, every voice, every note fits in so smoothly (another Genesis trait during their heydey). There are no fillers nor highlights, all the tracks do stand on their own, although the opener The First Rarebreather may be a personal favorite. Certainly BBT finally reached a maturity rarely seen nowadays. Since singer and multi intrumentist David Longdon joined the fold they have been getting better and better with each release. And his flute playing is certainly one of the most interesting features of this record

Ok, some people will cringe upon hearing this CD, claiming the music has nothing original (meaning zanny), that they play too "safe" (nothing to shock you) and break no new ground (even at the expense of the music itself). I wll disagree, since they are quite original on their own way. It´s quite accessible, I admit it, but still it takes several spins to fully grasp its full richness. And the music is beautiful, skillfully played and imaginatively arranged. To me this is good enough. Wrap it up with an excellent production work and you´ll have one of the most stunning works I´ve heard in a long, long time.

I´m really anxious to get English Electric (Part Two).

Rating: 4,5 stars. Highly recommended!!

Report this review (#1118390)
Posted Thursday, January 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars OK, well this is a well produced album with some good music on it. Unfortunately, and as others have mentioned, all I thought about was early Genesis, brought up to date in terms of production values anyway. Even the conceit is based on that pastoral idea of lost England, using the old railway engine as the vehicle for mourning an England that never was, at least not in this universe. Thinking about it and remembering previous albums, they seem pretty hung up on actual old trains in general, so not just metaphor.

Non controversial and inoffensive to everyone, suitably euphemistic and perhaps a bit wistful of yesterday. It's all very tired and ripped off stuff, packaged up well and with some sound playing and production and some catchy songs, specially the First Rebreather and Uncle Jack, but still that feeling of one step beyond a glorified tribute band never leaves you. As far as it's possible to be a little insulted at the level of plagiarism going on, I was a little insulted. I'm OK now though.

That said, BBT do seem to be at least trying to break away from the early Genesis oeuvre and they deserve a listen, because they're tight and interesting and have a great deal of potential. They are nowhere near as bad as the truly awful, awful, dreadful Freedom To Glide, who practically are a Pink Floyd/ Roger Waters tribute band, without any of the skill and talent of BBT or PF/RW and none of the charm.

This is the sort of stuff appreciated by middle aged solicitors and accountants and the grey, mirthless faces of the damned that haunt the Classic Rock Society do's, (among others) who yearn for a repeat of the music they liked in their youth, because it brings back nostalgic memories and that feeling of inclusion and entitlement to sneer, politely, at different music and those who just aren't bright and cool and underground enough to "get it". Oh god, is that me?

Anyway, if it were original and not so obviously plagiarised it would be outstanding, instead of just OK.

Report this review (#1453548)
Posted Sunday, August 16, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Awesome!

First released as separate albums, and only later combined into the 'full power' double-CD set, the first volume of English Electric (EE) is by far the best. For the full-power version, they moved songs around, including putting some of these ones on CD2, so if you have the full-power version you might not be able to tell just how good this volume one is. Basically, it contains most of the best tunes from EE, including "Judas Unrepentant" and "Winchester from St. Giles Hill", which were moved over to EE CD2 on the full-power release, and "The First Rebreather" and "A Boy in Darkness" which remained on EE CD1. The original version was very efficient too, with fewer songs the original album zipped by in a bliss, and did not contain "Make Some Noise" (which I have to admit, is not my favourite BBT song). The songs on the original volume one seem less whiny than those on EE vol2, as well as those on Folklore. While I generally listen to the full-power version of EE now, I thought it important to rate this original volume for posterity. I give it 9.0 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which places alongside The Underfall Yard as one of the two best albums in the BBT discography.

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Posted Thursday, July 13, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars One could argue that this is the best neo-prog band, just becuse of this album. Not only is it the proof that progressive rock is not dead, it also proves that it's healthy and happy! Big Big Train's first English Electric is a marvel! It features some amazing keyboard and guitar work, the drums aren't left behind at all, and the main vocalist sounds like Phil Collin's lost brother!

The album doesn't have any ten minute songs, instead it has eight solid and considerably short songs. For sure, there's no weak tracks. They all stand out in some way or another. Of course, there's some stand outs. Judas Unrepentant has to be one of my favorite prog rock tracks of this millenium! Incredibly charming and inspired, and with a great sense of speed that keeps you hooked all along. A Boy In Darkness has a wonderful verse and the solo section at the middle is truly phenomenal! One of my favorite Big Big Train tracks for sure.

Every track is great in its own way and it's a very solid release. It's with no doubt, Big Big Train's best album. Five Stars!

Report this review (#2581734)
Posted Tuesday, July 27, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars EEPO is the seventh studio album by prog act Big Big Train and the 2nd to feature late vocalist and multi- instrumentalist David Longdon. Their music covers a lot of ground, with symphonic and folk passages cleverly mixed with their Neo prog base, and this being my personal interpretation of their art.

The First Rebreather opens the album and should be enough of a good song to bring the listener closer to the speakers (headphones or whatever) and guarantee their attention for the next hour or so. Longdon could sing like Peter Gabriel, like Phil Collins, like Sinatra, you name it! But must important he sounded like him, arguably the best voice in the modern prog world. I like all arrangements and changes along the track, as well as the different melodies used in vocals and in the guitar licks, those licks that elegantly appeared in the back of the song but at the same time fill the little gaps left by the outstanding keyboard and bass guitar displayed! Awesome start to a soon to be "classic album".

Uncle Jack is all Longdon, I'm just pretty sure (supported on interviews watched and his participation in other song's writing) this mood is his personality, it fits with him. Storytelling, happy, funny, sad, melancholic, up tempo, a weird mix of emotions with a folk structure that makes the song even more charming and somehow memorable. Again, the guitar work is brutal, simple but brutal!

Winchester from St. Giles' Hill follows entering a more British moody and thick ambience. It may sound crazy to some, but I can hear some vocal similitud to Hogarth's performance in some passages from FEAR, maybe a little influence? Why not, right? His voice was so spectacular that I'm sure it was admired even by counterparts. I'm any case, the duo Spawton-Longdon could really create some magic moments, the piano playing is also a highlight of this song which to my taste is a top song from the band's latter catalog. Spawton is a genius, period.

Judas Unrepentant. I could really write a whole review just based on the greatness of this sole track, the incredible musical variety and beautiful lyrical content (historical BTW) that it smartly holds, masterpiece! I can play it again and again, discovering new stuff every single time and vowing to admire the band's musicianship. How can a song be more perfect? Add Sjöblom in guitars and play it even louder! Violin and flute, flute and guitar, guitar and organs, organs and bass, bass and drums. Chapeau

Summoned by Bells. Soft and ballad sounding, maybe the less immediate track of the album, at least for me. At first I felt it was a little flat compared to the previous almost 30mins of music, but then I began to understand how it really worked and found answers to the all my mental inquiries, and it is a characteristic of all Spawton compositions, a constant progression of instrumentation that sometimes feel like going nowhere but once you let it kick in it takes you by the hand and guides you towards the end, happy, focused and surprised with some seductive sax that adds a jazzy prog rhythm relying in the bass guitar.

Upton Heath combines Spawton's English sense of melancholic music crafting with the positive and beautiful aura that definitely surrounded Longdon's songwriting. Nice and calm tune with that haunting cello (is that a cello) that leads the way to a mirage return to the The First Rebreather's mood.

A Boy in Darkness takes us back to the storytelling with a song that sounds very personal and very lived, showcasing Longdon's amazing voice, powerful and big, perfectly suited for a Big Big Train. Its dark but hopeful at the same time and it allows all instruments to have their moment of greatness, even the little ones like the flute and the strings, smartly placed late in the queue just when more greatness from the band will be not so easy to get, false! Incredible musical performance top to bottom. Why did I discovered this band so late in my life? Not fair, not fair we don't have that human being walking the Aretha anymore. Out of my system, thanks.

Hedgerow. I've always said that huge (and even better if epic too) incredible songs are important for me when album-closer songs are on topic, thankfully this song stands for what is needed after almost 50mins of excellency. A mix of early folky REM-like opening that blends with Collins's era Genesis to form a perfectly structured prog epic, and the strings! I just love those string arrangements and their hypnotic sound. The drumming is simply fenomenal, mandolins playing alongside electric guitar soloing like blending effortlessly two musical eras. Epic ending, epic musicianship. Can't wait to dig deeper into their whole catalog. THE END

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Posted Friday, January 14, 2022 | Review Permalink

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