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Big Big Train - Common Ground CD (album) cover

COMMON GROUND

Big Big Train

Crossover Prog


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Second Life Syndrome
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Originally written for theprogmind.com

Here comes another Big Big Train album. I honestly was a bit wary of reviewing it. The record is called Common Ground, and it releases today, July 30th.

You may remember my review for their last record, Grand Tour. I felt like it was a balanced take, but many people took it as primarily negative, and I ended up feeling bad about it. But my opinion remains unchanged on that record. Thankfully, however, Common Ground doesn't fall into all the same traps as its predecessor.

Big Big Train comes to us from the UK, and they have been seeing some changes of late. One of the things that plagued Grand Tour was the bloated sound, possibly due to the long genealogy of musicians who were involved. Common Ground is definitely scaled back considerably. The musicians present are David Longdon on lead vocals, Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sjöblom on guitars, keyboards, and vocals, and Nick D'Virgilio on drums and vocals. Guests include: a five piece brass ensemble, Carly Bryant on keys and vocals, Dave Foster on guitars, Clare Lindley on violin and vocals, and Aidan O'Rourke on violin. That's basically half the number of people on the last album.

The band's sound has changed somewhat, too. This album isn't as pastoral or retro prog in nature. In fact, though those elements are still present, a more modern, fresh, and even quirky progressive rock has appeared in their place. The music relies on David Longdon's fantastic vocals more than ever, and you'll even hear some heavier rock sections that took me off guard.

The album feels awkward and strange at times, but I've learned to like that about it upon multiple listens. A good example of this is "All the Love We Can Give". This is such a weird song. David (I think) sings in a strange baritone, which doesn't sound natural at all, but the song takes it in stride, and there are some wonderful instrumental portions and also vocal spots from other band members. It shouldn't work, and there are moments that certainly don't, but it overall does feel like a fresh take from this band.

And that is what strikes me as most important here. Common Ground isn't BBT's best album, not by a long shot. If I had to compare it to another BBT release, I would say it reminds me of 2007's The Difference Machine, although I can't vocalize why that is. In my Grand Tour review, I mentioned that the band seemed stuck in a rut creatively, making the same album over and over. Well, I can say with aplomb that this has changed, and that this album represents a renewed creative focus for the band. Does everything hit just right? Not at all, but the band at least brings new ideas and eras into their sound.

Pretty much every song builds on this renewed vision, except for possibly the instrumental "Apollo", which is a good track but definitely could have fit on Grand Tour. Of course, the track preceding it is also instrumental; "Headwaters" is a piano ballad and absolutely gorgeous. "The Strangest Times" opens the record, and while I don't think the chorus is all that memorable, I do like the energy and enthusiasm. "Black with Ink" is another interesting track, feeling more 80s to my ears, and the female vocals (Carly or Clare, I'm not sure) really add an element that BBT has been missing. I'd like to hear more of that. In fact, I remember David doing a duet with Christina Booth from Magenta for the cover of Hackett's "Spectral Mornings", so I think this is a strong suit for David.

My favorite songs all come in the second half. In fact, they are the last three: "Common Ground", "Atlantic Cable", and "Endnotes". The title track feels like it could have been on English Electric, Part 1 (my favorite), save for the lyrical focus on current social issues. It has a great chorus, and David sounds amazing. "Atlantic Cable" is a quirky, vibrant song that lasts for fifteen minutes. In between the various keyboard solos, there is a subtle and even cinematic quality that attracts me. Finally, "Endnotes" closes the album with an illustrious, horn-laden finale. It feels regal and confident.

I also want to mention here that BBT recently released a remix of 2009's The Underfall Yard, an album I have struggled to like ever since it was launched. This remix, however, makes the album much better, and it also adds a bonus track called "Brew and Burgh", and let me tell you?this is one of my favorite songs of 2021. I absolutely love it. It has all the emotion, friendship, and love that I want from BBT, and that sometimes they forget. The music video is absolutely stunning, as well. My kids and I have watched it many times.

I think Big Big Train are making their own way again. Common Ground isn't a perfect album, but it has its moments, and it feels like the first new sound from the band since English Electric, Part 1. I applaud them for recreating themselves and for their obvious class and artistry. For the first time in years, I feel hope and even excitement for the future of this band.

8/10

Report this review (#2582321)
Posted Friday, July 30, 2021 | Review Permalink
lazland
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars So, here we are in Summer 2021 with a pared-down 'Train. There has been a wee bit of a mass exodus from the band, for reasons which I admit are not wholly clear, and for this album we have a core fourpiece of David Longden on vocals, founder Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sj'blom guitars, keys, and backing vocals, and last, but by no means least, the wonderful Nick D'Virgilio on drums and vocals.

Thankfully, for me, they have replaced Rachel Hall, the departing exceptionally talented violinist & vocalist, albeit on what appears to be a session basis, with Clare Lindley and Aidan O'Rourke, and other guests appear, together with the wonderful brass band ensemble.

So, most definitely the start of a new era. Is it any good? A question I asked myself with a little bit of trepidation when the cd plonked itself through the letter box on 30 July, and which I have been pondering since. The great record-buying public of Great Britain certainly seem to think so, because it debuted at an impressive number 30 in the charts upon release.

To begin, let us say that this is definitely (by the band's own separation on the cd booklet) a disc of two halves, and many comments I have seen around the weird and wonderful interweb suggest to me that opinion is sharply divided.

For a band who have made a (glorious) career out of writing epic songs about the past and England's role in that history, it comes as a wee bit of a shock to have an opening track, The Strangest Times, dedicated to the 18-month Covid-19 lurgy period of varying lockdowns and restrictions. Given the rather depressing subject matter, it is actually a bright and breezy piece of music which moves along at a fair old rate assisted by some understated piano work and frenetic fretwork, and it is a piece which has grown on me somewhat with repeated listening.

The second track, All the Love we can Give, is easily the most difficult to get one's head around. Written by D'Virgilio (and I might mention here that I have found listening to his latest solo work, Invisible, difficult to say the least), it features Longden singing in a tone several octaves below his usual floating range. However patience does bring its usual reward, and especially pleasing are the ensemble vocal harmonies, with Carly Bryant especially sounding very nice above Longden. Musically this is a stripped down 'Train, with the extended mid-track instrumental pretty noodly, and NDV treats us to a couple of sung verses, and whilst I now enjoy the track as a whole, it is not going to be a regular on any BBT playlist I create.

Black with Ink is the first Spawton written piece on the album, and Longden is mercifully reinstated to his wonderful full self, and Bryant contributes some lovely vocals, which should make watching her live next year something to look forward to. This is a very pleasant track, and three minutes in we have the first recognisably progressive segment of the album, with some very pleasing guitar and mellotron/Hammond keyboard work by Sj'blom. Deliberately retro in its feel and execution, the closing guitar led section is the first which takes you to that higher plane the band execute so well.

Dandelion Clock closes Part One, and is another Spawton effort, and is a short four-minute pastoral piece of music which quite honestly would not have sounded altogether out of place on Nursery Cryme. This is a very nice, calming, track which will hopefully convince those English Electric bastion of fans who might have been thinking that BBT had lost their collective marbles.

So, onwards to Part The Second, and what a treat it is. If what preceded it was good (and it is), we are now into full- blown BBT prog excellence with two instrumental pieces, namely Headwaters and Apollo. The first of the two is only a couple of minutes long and is a rather lovely Sj'blom piano solo, delicate and beautiful, the sort of track you will put on your headphones whilst lying under the sun in some meadow surrounded by nothing but nature.

Apollo clocks in at just shy of eight minutes. It is a fine ensemble piece, and it is great to hear Longden on the flute here, with Aidan O'Rourke providing a flowing violin line. Once again, we have those old-fashioned keyboards, and these are then three minutes in augmented by that all together fine brass ensemble. This track is BBT at their very best. Yes, it does have a retro feel to it, and this is quite deliberate, but you can only really sit back and let this wondrous noise, with its time signature changes and wall of sound, wash over you. A mighty fine mini-symphony, and easily a highlight of the decade, let alone the year. Play it loud, with the sunshine above you.

The title track follows, and this is Longdon's second of the album. This is another relatively short track, and is again a relaxing pastoral piece, which proclaims our shared humanity and revels in it. Upbeat and very welcome, especially the closing segment featuring more lovely flowing violin work supporting a gentle riff by Sj'blom.

Atlantic Cable is split into five movements over fifteen minutes of music, so this is the true epic of the album. The first part is a lovely flute and piano segment, strongly pastoral and thoughtful before moving into a more traditional folk-rock track. The subject matter is that of bringing together people separated over vast land masses with the building and use of phone line technology, and the final part of the track reprises the Common Ground theme from the title track through a beautiful gentle close following the crescendo which introduces it. Once again, Longden really does shine with some wonderful vocals (track two now being completely forgotten), and he is backed once again by some perfect harmonies. The whole musical experience tells a story, with the tempest of Lightning Through Deep Waters especially riveting leading to that gentle close. A wonderful piece of music which most certainly will figure on that BBT playlist.

The album closes with Endnotes. Another Spawton track, it is again a gentle start with lilting Longden vocals over violin and piano-led soundscapes which puts one in mind of smoky barrooms. The final three minutes once again bring in those smooth brass instruments, and this segment puts me in mind of (to me) the band's finest hour, namely Victorian Brickwork. Certainly, Longden reproduces the dripping emotion of that fine work, ably supported by the dreamy music. What a fine way to close a fine album.

This is an album which delights, and rewards persistence. It is an album which reaches out and fills the listener with that joy of life, moreover of that shared experience of living on Planet Earth. It proves that it is possible to make such proclamations without being overly preachy or pointing fingers at one's listeners. The album, in my opinion, cements BBT as the natural English Progressive Rock standard bearers (and, yes, I know that this is an international ensemble, but the music most certainly is not) and successors to the crown once worn with distinction by Messrs Gabriel & co.

Not quite the perfect five, although Part Two easily qualifies for this rating, but four stars nonetheless for an excellent work which should deservedly figure on most respectable prog writers top ten list for 2021.

Time to stop worrying. The future is bright, and that future is the Eastern Line Train.

Report this review (#2587644)
Posted Friday, August 20, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars Always big big excitement for me to hear a new Big Big Train collection of songs. My first contact was with the album 'The Second Brightest Star'. Quickly worked forward through their newer albums, and then back tracked through the older portion of their catalog. Kind of got accustomed to a certain kind of complexity, density, and frequently pastoral sound.

This album, well, it's different. That's not necessarily bad; in fact, it may very well be good depending upon your point of view. It certainly seems to be their most accessible album. That's not to say that there isn't complexity and progressive delights. It may also be one of their most diverse stylistically. For example the first four tracks are so different it almost comes across like material that would have been on different albums in their progression. That being said, the songs still work well together and don't feel fragmented from the whole.

The opening track 'The Strangest Times' is a nice piece of, dare I say, prog-rock pop, an up beat solid opening, catchy and memorable. I have noticed that this has become a bit of a tendency in the opening portion of their last few albums, to have a strong energetic song that comes across as almost radio friendly. That being the case , I wasn't all that surprised to see another one here. Not a complaint, just an observation. (8/10)

The second track 'All the Love We Can Give' is just, um, where did this come from? This is something totally different than anything from their past. The vocal is done in a far deeper tone than any other BBT song. My immediate go to comparison was the vocalist of 'The National', an alternative indie band that I happen to like quite a bit. While completely unexpected, I adapted to it, even liking it, pretty quickly. This track features quite a few tempo and instrumental changes, and alternating vocal styles, yet remains quite accessible. (7.5/10)

The third track 'Black with Ink' comes across as something of a mid-tempo rocker with a very pleasing female counterpart vocal, very welcome as it gives the track a notable warmth! Nice guitar and synth instrumental running in the mid section makes it clear this is still progressive. (8.5/10)

To this point, first listen through, I was at a bit of a loss as to how different the album was sounding compared to their recent albums, very modern, not very pastoral. While there are changes in tone, tempo, and power, they seemed to be, for lack of better words, kind of stripped down to the essential elements making them pretty easy to absorb. It seems to be a stark deviation from the more complex unfolding music of previous albums where it might take several listens before the songs become familiar to you. That being said, it wasn't that I disliked the first three songs, it was just unexpectedly very different. And indeed, it appears that they are a bit different band with fewer members and less diversity of instruments.

However, track four 'Dandelion Clock' moves back to the more familiar BBT wheelhouse that we know well. This is a lovely up tempo pastoral type ballad that just makes you feel good. It's not overly complex for sure, but an ear worm type of song that you can easily find yourself humming. (9/10)

Next comes the second third of the album, two instrumentals. Given the accessibility of the first four tracks, again not necessarily bad, but for sure a surprise, this seems to be a brilliant placement of these tracks. They serve as an aural palette cleanser between the first and final thirds of the album. The fifth track 'Headwaters', is definitely pastoral in nature, a singular haunting piano melody over a very light wash of synths. This is a track that is, oh, too short. I would have liked to have seen this developed a little further. (9/10) Song six is 'Apollo', a considerably longer instrumental that is a total leap in multiple different directions, full of upbeat progressiveness with synths, guitars, and a few of the expected classical instruments that BBT is so good at weaving through their best songs. This again has a more familiar BBT feel to it. (8.5/10)

The final third of the collection tends to move even more so towards a more expected sounding BBT. The seventh song, the title track 'Common Ground', starts with piano and acoustic guitar, nice melodic lead vocals, and enjoyable backing vocals to create a full sound. The song gradually builds up and closes out with an intense but restrained guitar and violin solo. Again, quite accessible but definitely a highlight. (8.5/10)

Next comes the eighth track 'Atlantic Cable'. This is just a fabulous fifteen minute musical adventure, perhaps the first song in this set that feels fully like an extension of their recent albums. Complex. multi faceted, partially pastoral, partially synth bathed, partially a rocker. Lead and backing vocals are spot on. This has everything that is expected in their best songs. My top track for sure! (10/10)

And finally the closer, 'Endnotes'. After the rousing conclusion of the previous track, this one opens pensively, then evolves into a lovely ballad, that immediately has a familiar comforting type of feel to it. While different of course, it reminds me of the first BBT track I heard which was the 'Second Brightest star', which I had an emotional attachment to almost instantly. This track has a similar attraction, it felt like an old friend right away. Of note is the closing portion which is very effective with a gradual brass build up and a real sense that these really are the end notes, well done! (9.5/10)

So, my closing thoughts? A very interesting crossover of classic BBT (the final third), and a newer more polished modern direction (the first third). At first it seemed a bit disjoint, but with subsequent listens (many!) the parts do create a cohesive whole that has really become a grower for me. There is an interesting transition going on here: the new has a bit of the old in it, and the old a bit of the new. I have found myself playing it almost daily for a few weeks now, and not getting tired of it. A good indicator of a successful collection of songs. It's probably for the best that any band works to reinvent themselves a little bit. It's good to keep us guessing what they will do next. For sure, I am very curious as to where the next collection of songs will go. But as for this one, for me, four plus stars, well worth adding to your library, and a pretty good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with BBT.

Report this review (#2590814)
Posted Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars Big Big Train has been hanging out in the prog halls since 1991; I got to know them thanks to 'Bard' and this characteristic Génésisien sound, Roine Stolt, Spock's Beard, a voice à la Peter Gabriel, then various sounds making me switch to Xtc, to Sigur Ros for a time, especially from neo to the Marillion, Arena and Frost *, pop in the land of the Tears for Fears. Big Big Train represents above all the archetype of the English underground group fusing different sounds and appropriating them to produce a clean, inventive and captivating sound; there is emotion in this pastoral album where the rich and colorful notes correspond only to their creativity. He is in my opinion one of the representatives of the 3rd progressive wave, this over the 30 years of their career.

"The Strangest Times" on a piano ballad by Elton John for rhythm, Joe Jackson-style vocals, fresh, frenzied, enthusiastic and far from the sound of Big Big Train! Rock-pop with a superb solo evoking the ravages of pandemics. "All the Love We Can Give" with a much deeper voice flirting with Bowie; then it's Nick singing and it changes the intensity; Génésisien break of the most beautiful effect after an AOR escapade and the classics of the 80's, nervous riff, bass of Greg in front putting in combat order the synth which sounds Yes, Spock's Beard and Beardfish, varied tune a little disturbing and hilarious. '' Black with Ink '' and that Kim Wilde aria that jumps out at me, amalgamated with a Genesis 3rd version hit; it is the finally recognizable Gabrielesque voice that brings together, title on the destruction of books and water tinted in black; wisp break on the 70's-80's, Nick's drums stand out; finale on the Jacksonian voice, it must be said that they go all out on this track to sing; symphonic finale, I can hear a few notes from Angel's "honey heart captain" that is to say. "Dandelion Clock" for the 12 string acoustic ballad where I finally recognize the Big Big Train for the voice of David, the atmosphere, the lively rhythm, simple, borderline Irish with these pastoral sounds; and this is the end of the 1st part of the album.

'' Headwaters '' opens with an instrumental piano by Rikard which shows the extent of his talents, a transitional piece that will be reviewed on the last track of the album, in fact introductory to '' Apollo '' starting on their imprint, although Spock's Beard also invites it in my opinion; an instrument praising the mission success, jazzy piece at times with this lush synth, a more Genesisian variation on the Hammond organ, from the symphonic with divine flute, brass on all floors, yes you read that right, you'd think you could hear the Chicago; it's fresh, thunderous, rhythmic, dithyrambic, it goes all over the place and it's enjoyable on top of that, all connected by a high-quality guitar solo; a rather long pompous finale. "Common Ground" comes in for an upbeat health plea against the schizoid lockdown of our society; the typed voice gives a pop-folk air with violin associated with the angry guitar, a catchy track which passes quickly. "Atlantic Cable" and the why of the column! A quarter of an hour's centerpiece with a four-and-a-half-hour watery intro, a delicate piano-flute combination, musical sweetness and then a voice narrating the laying of a cable! The BBT is recognizable distilling a delicate fruity sound and not hesitating to go far into the prog metal lands; bass, drums and synth-organ giving the answer to the guitar; fast, furious, title of master Greg to drive the point home of progressive sound and its varied musical drawers; the finale returns to the piano from the serene and soft start. '' Endnotes '' title chained to end with a sentimental ballad of marked spleen filled with hope, bewitching voice, classical orchestral ensemble with horn and trumpet, melancholy violin, everything to help serenity.

Big Big Train has released a very nice album that shakes up prog codes a bit! Here you are taken on various tracks, on different styles, both with vocals and sounds and with the tunes. It actually oscillates between neo and English pastoral symphonic; you can meet Elton John, Les Yes, a touch of Toto, Xtc at times; a bit of Kate Bush, the Spock's Beards and the Beardfish in their early days; the heavy with a little Oceansize which makes a varied musical palette. A group that does not just copy itself, that opens up to musical creation, this is becoming rare, it is worth the trip.

Report this review (#2592584)
Posted Monday, September 6, 2021 | Review Permalink
3 stars Born in 1990 (and reinvented in 2009), the Big Big Train are now a consolidated reality at an international level and each new release is greeted with enthusiasm by the prog audience. of all the world. The previous Grand Tour reached, in fact, the number one position on the Official UK rock charts and the 2019 tour ended lavishly at London's Hackney Empire, a concert recorded on blue-ray. With the pandemic still underway, the cosmopolitan band - two British, an American and a Swedish currently in the line-up - decides to ride the moment with a self- produced album . The artwork of Common Ground in its immediacy is an invitation to global solidarity and the lyrics address both historical topics (in this the band excels), and moments related to current events, especially the long lockdown experienced in England in recent months. The sonic influences used are, as always, the most varied: there is no shortage of the Genesis, Yes and Caravan, but you can also mention names such as Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears and XTC. The added value of the group is the skill with which it manages to find an optimal synthesis within a similar sound labyrinth interwoven with illustrious reminiscences. This aspect, moreover, gives greater longevity to the proposed songs, which can be listened to again willingly showing new details every time.

The disc opens with the very pleasant notes of "The Strangest Times", which seem to paint a sunny landscape seen from the windows of a speeding car. David Longdon's voice is the epitome of neo-prog. English, synthesizers and the piano are used wisely, while as regards the rhythmic base Nick D'Virgilio does not shy away from proposing some of his unmistakable fills. The composition talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the English population and does so in a poetic way, with a smooth and accurate sound that also includes the backing vocals of Carly Bryant. A beautiful opener, photographing a group in perfect shape, there could not have been a better start. "All The Love That We Can Give" begins on more circumspect and theatrical tones, with a baritone voice accompanied by syncopated rhythms. The piece lasts eight minutes and manages to take off by changing its skin when D'Virgilio at the microphone takes us back to the days of albums like Feel Euphoria and Octane by Spock's Beard. BBT does not lose the habit of experimenting and enhancing the eclecticism of their drummer and they do well. Not bad even the instrumental section in the middle of the song which deserves more than careful listening.

More voices are involved in "Black With Ink", in a well-balanced alternation with the addition of a female component. The passage talks about the library of Alexandria in Egypt, whose precious treasures were destroyed by fire but which nevertheless gave us the story of its glorious existence. The instrumental beats, as always set in the center of the piece, are fun to play as much as to the ear of the experienced listener and offer a flamboyant range of synthesizers. Basically, we are dealing with a song tailored to the theme, between nostalgia and grandeur. "Dandelion Clock" is a song with a contained but refreshing timing, with an excellent acoustic arrangement and some references to the most lulling Yeses. After "Headwaters", an atmospheric interlude for piano only, the instrumental "Apollo" amazes instead with its chameleonic gait, complete with a transverse flute and the presence of a brass ensemble that gives refinement to the sound of the BBTs, who at times approach the Canterbury scene but in a renewed perspective.

The last three tracks cover the last half hour of the disc. The title track re-proposes the usual melodic research of ours, flanked by careful attention to dynamics, including those of the violin: everything flows with the necessary bevels and when you come across more angular notes the effect is desired and impact . The only real suite in the lineup is the next "Atlantic Cable", a 15-minute dip in the ocean that alone is worth the purchase of the platter. The texts speak of the laying of the first submarine telegraph cable in history, a topic also dealt with in a text by Stefan Zweig. In a few moments you pass from the idyllic atmosphere painted by flute notes to a square rhythm punctuated by the snare drum of D'Virgilio, and then return to dreamlike shores with a short a cappella part ... and we are only halfway through the suite! In the remaining sections the English band manages to carry out a refined and at the same time consequent musical discourse with lucidity and inspiration, giving pure emotions. Difficult to keep up with the continuous changes of tempo proposed, the entry of the instruments called into question in the solo moments is always a surprise and immediately grasp the various references to prog. band of the past requires a considerable memory. In short, it can be said that "Atlantic Cable" is covered by authentic inspiration, in a live venue it will be a show. As an epilogue "Endnotes" is the song in the right place at the right time. The rhythms become dilated and the harmonies are airy and visionary; the presence of brass for a moment recalls the genius of Trent Gardner. A classic closure for a prog. excellently conceived.

Nothing else to add, Common Ground confirms the good things made by Big Big Train in the Grand Tour. The band remains at levels of excellence, even at the production level, and continues its career without signs of slowing down.

Report this review (#2593388)
Posted Friday, September 10, 2021 | Review Permalink
BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Train are back after cleaning house (or, perhaps more accurately, after a bunch of retirements)--working on a lower budget with half the staff. Gone is founding member Andy Poole and recent mainstays Dave Gregory and Rachel Hall. Looking back on "the good ole days," there are plenty of draws on some old musical themes, sounds, and styles--more than I think I've ever heard on a BBT album.

1. "The Strangest Times" (5:08) feels like a pop song from the innocent side of the 1970s--like ANDREW GOLD-- though the lyrics are about the weirdness of the COVID era--as if these times bear any comparison to the Seventies! Nice guitar work. (7.75/10)

2. "All the Love We Can Give" (8:06) here's a vocal range we've never heard from David Longdon! So low! (In truth, it must be Rikard or Nick, right?) Nice keyboard work. The chorus once again brings me back to the music of the 1970s--arrangements by the likes of classic rock bands like Ambrosia, Foreigner, or Styx. The instrumental passage that we move into with the fifth minute is more like classic BBTrain--though Nick's lead vocal again brings us back into the 1970s (Styx). Way more Hammond than I'm used to. At 6:10 we even go jazzy-pop as we move back into the languid motif of the opening section--with Dave's deep voice--though the background vocals are more interesting and prominent. (12.25/15)

3. "Black with Ink" (7:24) Hammond opens this URIAH HEEP or JOURNEY-like song with multiple voices taking turns with the lead. Sounds like some anthemic collaboration between 70s superstars--or GLASS HAMMER. The instrumental passage in the fourth minute is nice. Kind of BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-like. This is followed by a protracted Rick Wakeman-YES section. When vocals return we go back to the happy-go-lucky 70s feel. The next, Mellotron-led, instrumental passage sounds more like ÄNGLAGÅRD. (12.5/15)

4. "Dandelion Clock" (4:14) opens with picked 12-string acoustic guitar before Dave's vocal introduces a kind of Skylark-era XTC-like song pastiche. I like the feel here. Even the vocal and lyrics seem to match the musical mood better than previous songs. I like this folk-pop style for this band better than their post 2010 Symphonic/Neo Prog attempts. Plus, short and sweet sometimes works best. A top three song for me. (9/10)

5. "Headwaters" (2:27) solo piano (reverbed) opens this. It's plaintive, almost lullaby-ish, though nuanced with some minor and off-setting chords. Nice ambiguity. (4.5/5)

6. "Apollo" (7:50) Wow! I absolutely love the beginning of this one! And listen to the return of the Longdon flute! And violins! All while keyboard players use quirky synth sounds more associated with Stereolab. In the third minute we shift more into straightforward prog for blistering guitar solo, horns, and a dirty Wurlitzer solo. Except for the lack of vocals, this one could've come from The Underfall Yard sessions. Great lead main melody in the main verse to dig an earworm into your brain. At the five minute mark we crescendo into another stratosphere in which spacey synths and flutes reign supreme. Nice! The antiphonal horns are also cool. And I'm so glad they choose to stay here and fade out instead of shift into some new and less majestic realm. Excellent. My favorite song on the album. (14.5/15)

7. "Common Ground" (4:54) a strong song built around more of the rock-steady BBTrain strengths. (8.75/10)

8. "Atlantic Cable" (15:06) wave sounds, contemplative piano, and pastoral flute open this one. 90 seconds in we have a Hammond organ open up the door for an entirely different palette to carry forward the key and melody in a full-band, very proggy, classic BBT fashion. Drummer Nick D'Virgilio and bassist Greg Spawton are, by now, so comfortable with one another as to be almost one an extension of the the other. In the fifth minute we move into a new section that sounds very MOSTLY AUTUMN over which Dave sings about the globally unifying event of laying of the trans-Atlantic telecommunication cable. At the end of the eighth minute we then move into a delicate piano and acoustic guitar-based section over which choral voices, Dave, and female lead vocalist trade telling the story. The upper-octave tinkling of the piano is what shines here--and the fact that the electronic elements don't take over and dominate the folk-vocal feel to the section. At 10:58, then, we burst into a full-on BBT prog instrumental run--with all instruments trading time in the limelight. If the patterns of the rhythm section didn't feel so familiar (worn out) (even during the Genesis "Supper's Ready"-like section), this might be a stupendous epic. The final 70 seconds sees the music returning to the most delicate, piano (electric)-based music with multi-voiced choral vocals worked into the mix with Dave's lead. Nice finish. Not bad! (26.25/30)

9. "Endnotes" (6:59) opens with dulcimer-sounding instrument playing solo before being joined by piano, bass, and slow, steady snare-rim hit and hi-hat notes as Dave sings in a very committed voice. I can really feel his investment into this vocal--a feeling I've rarely felt since his amazing debut with The Underfall Yard. Gorgeous music, gorgeous vocal, gorgeous incidentals contributed by numerous instruments--very provocative lyrics (reminiscent of my favorite BBT lyric of all-time: the hand-holding reference from "Winchester from St. Giles Hill"). Great use of muted (and, later, unmuted) horn section. My other top three song. (14/15)

Total Time 62:08

A brave album. A wildly inconsistent album. An album of heart-wrenchingly beautiful highs and, unfortunately, sad and disappointing lows.

B/four stars; a strong collection of songs from these transitioning veterans--an album that is definitely well worth checking out by any lover of progressive rock music--especially if you've been with Big Big Train through all of the years.

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Posted Monday, October 4, 2021 | Review Permalink

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