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Big Big Train

Crossover Prog

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Big Big Train The Difference Machine album cover
3.69 | 344 ratings | 20 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 2007

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Hope This Finds You (3:12)
2. Perfect Cosmic Storm (14:40)
3. Breathing Space (1:47)
4. Pick Up If You're There (13:39)
5. From The Wide Open Sea (1:20)
6. Salt Water Falling On Uneven Ground (12:38)
7. Summer's Lease (7:34)

Total Time: 54:50

Line-up / Musicians

- Sean Filkins / vocals
- Gregory Spawton / guitars, keyboards, vocals
- Andy Poole / bass
- Steve Hughes / drums

- Tony Wright / alto (1,8) & tenor (2,4,6,8) saxophone, flute (4)
- Becca King / viola (1,2,4,7,8)
- Pete Trewavas / bass (4)
- Dave Meros / bass (2)
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums (2,4,6), vocals (2)

Releases information

Artwork: Jim Trainer with Andy Poole

CD English Electric Recordings ‎- EERCD003 (2007, UK)
CD English Electric Recordings ‎- EERCD007 (2010, UK) Remastered by Rob Aubrey

Thanks to rivertree for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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BIG BIG TRAIN The Difference Machine ratings distribution

(344 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(50%)
Good, but non-essential (25%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

BIG BIG TRAIN The Difference Machine reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by avestin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I have never heard any other Big Big Train album, so I can't compare it with their previous efforts, though I read good reviews about Gathering Speed, their 2004 album. On this album they are joined by Dave Meros (bass) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, vocals) from Spock's Beard and Pete Trewavas (bass) from Marillion. Though seven tracks are listed, there are actually four long tracks that make up this album, the other three being mood "setters", intervals or connecting sequences.

The album starts with Hope This Finds You, which is a light, free-form, somewhat abstract opener, sitting you in, making you comfortable; the viola playing a repeating pattern, and sax swirling lightly and silently around it.

And then moving to higher volume, though still slow tempo, Perfect Cosmic Storm carries on with the mood set by the opener at first and the track presents itself slowly, gradually and then bursts out fully into the air about a minute after starting. There are many changes occurring as you follow the song in the tempo and direction of the melody making this not a boring listen but an interactive one, in which I followed closely and was thrilled by the many swift variations in the song, all the creativity thrown in (the sax has some cool parts here and there) all while maintaining a leading thread which is never lost. The song goes from fast and loud to calmer grounds, bringing in rocky attitude with a more jazzy approach, each in a different part of the song, according to the mood dominating it. It is a delight to listen to this. It is a fantastic creative tune. With the song almost reaching the 15 minute mark, there's much to play with, develop and expand on. And the band does just that. The track ends in the amorphic way it started with the sax paving the way to the next musical excursion.

Breathing Space is as its name implies an interval for the listener to take a short break before moving on to the next piece. A spacey free-form abstract sound texture.

Pick Up If You're There starts right away, ready for business. At first it starts as what sounds like a more traditional rock song, but you need to pay close attention to the small intricacies (the rich sound, the bass playing, the drums giving great beat, the song structure shifting between parts). This song is not intended to imitate Perfect Cosmic Storm with its high creativity scale. This one seems to be aiming at a simpler structure, a less sophisticated approach (though this is not to say it is absent, not at all) and to emphasize the lyrics, give them more of a presence. Later on in the song, the sax, keyboards and guitar are given freedom to express themselves, with a fantastic bass line supporting them.

From The Wild Open Sea does indeed sound wide. the keyboards with the vast sound, seem to portray a cosmic sea, endless, and the listener is floating on huge calm waves to nowhere.

Saltwater Falling On Uneven Ground starts with a more jazzy feel, thought somewhat melancholic. This follows in the mold of Pick Up, in the sense of song structure, approach and the development of the music. In mid song, it develops a wall of sound which swept me away, drowned me in and faded away, dissipating into smaller musical molecules, which rebuilt the original song motif but slightly different, in their aim to resume the theme. It goes on to create a soundscape made up of instruments and vocals, culminating in a caressing general sound, soft and powerful at the same time. This is a very well done development, a clever build- up and deconstruction.

Summer's Lease concludes the album, starting gently with the electro-acoustic guitar and vocals. At first I thought it continued the previous song, Saltwater, and indeed if you're not paying attention, it would seem so. It goes on serenely most of the song, with the sax ornamenting it as it goes and the drums joining and leaving. It is a melancholic sounding song, ponderous and sorrow flows from it, as the viola, keyboards and sax paint the music with their sad sound. The song fades away with the keyboards playing slowly repeating chords. For some reason, I feel like not listening to another album right after this, as if needing a break to absorb it.

Not sure if this is owing to the presence of Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgilio from Spock's Beard, or that this has always been the case, but I do hear the influence of SB's sound here (Perfect Cosmic Storm). But then we're also introduced to some more interesting and daring musical moves which do not usually show up in these kinds of albums; more experimental pieces, toying around with sound and harmonies, switching moods and styles a bit (this refers mainly to Perfect Cosmic Storm). I find the vocals to be warm and pleasant, fitting with their richness the music and in harmony with it.

This will appeal to Neo-prog/symph-rock listeners and to those who look for a varied form of modern progressive rock. While not essential, this album is of high quality, well produced and rich in sound, with appealing and well composed melodies and songs. Well worth getting if you can as it is enjoyable and rewarding. I will definitely give this repeated listening.

3.5 stars on a PA scale.

Review by erik neuteboom
4 stars This UK formation is making albums since the early Nineties. Their previous effort entitled Gathering Speed (2004) already sounded more progressive than all the other albums but this new CD is a real progrock party, what a captivating music, loaded with interesting musical ideas and .. the Mellotron sounds quite omnipresent, you cannot beg for more!

On The Difference Machine the band has invited famous progrock guest musicians: Nick D'Virgilio (drums/vocals) and Dave Meros from Spock's Beard and Pete Trewavas (bass) from Marillion/Transatlantic. The album contains six compositions, three have a running time between 12 and 15 minutes and I can tell you, never a dull moment: from dreamy with violin-Mellotron and compelling with fiery guitar/choir-Mellotron/saxophone to a final part with propulsive guitar and organ in Perfect Cosmic Storm, an inspired contribution by Nick and Pete and great work on keyboards and guitar in the alternating Pick Up If You're There and wonderful choir-Mellotron in the moving Salt Water falling On Uneven Ground. The final track Summer's Lease emphasizes Big Big Train their compositional skills, especially creating pleasant atmospheres and a tasteful instrumentation: first a dreamy climate with twanging guitar, mellow organ and saxophone, then more compelling and lush with Mellotron and saxophone and in the end fragile work on the piano, beautiful!

This new CD is an interesting, tasteful and varied musical adventure that will appeal to many progrock fans, a big hand for Big Big Train!

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars British band Big Big Train have evolved or rather truly "progressed" from even their excellent last album, "Gathering Speed' which this writer enjoyed quite thoroughly indeed! This time around multi- instrumentalist Greg Spawton went for the home run, creating a complete package that is hard to resist, with eye-catching artwork (what a cover!), crafting progressive epics while adding massive doses of sax (my pet prog peeve: we all know that regular sax will keep a smile on one's face) courtesy of Tony Wright , as well as enlisting the help of Pete Trewavas of Marillion plus adding Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard. Good idea! Of course mounds of mellotron also help in creating moving sound architectures; putting that precious symphonic slant on everything (Can I have some Moh, please!). Three hugely successful epics adorn this masterwork, with a series of interval connector tracks to keep the space between free of clutter and a luscious final piece that puts the proverbial cherry on the proggy cake. "Perfect Cosmic Storm" "Pick Up if You're There" "Saltwater Falling on Uneven Ground" are all 12 minute plus compositions that clearly shoot for the stars, some of the best tracks ever composed by this clever band, with great attention to teamwork, detail -oriented touches that really hit the mark and skillful playing. The first extravaganza starts off with screeching guitars in a quasi-Floydian exposé of breezy atmospherics, synthesized angry voices, ghostly sound FX , rippling bass, everything stop and go in a controlled jumble and then suddenly morphing into a haunting piece of propelled-prog , infusing wild sax blurts with sizzling riffs all coated in rich unctuous mellotron candy. Damn amazing! The breaks veer into jazzier domains, just for the sake of groove (more great sax) , drums keeping everyone reigned in tight , simply very creative modern progressive rock music, man! "Pick Up." goes for a straightforward approach at the outset, slowly veering into more complex meters, where cascading waves of mellotron collide with simply superb galloping bass from Trewavas and superlative drumming from D'Virgilio, while Spawnton deliberately keeps his guitar licks evocative (à la Manzanera) instead of inanely soloing for no reason as well as some sexy sax work from Wright. "Saltwater." is probably the highpoint here, grooving nicely along, guitars whisper and sting in deep melancholia, a dreamy brew that introduces some achingly beautiful harmonic flutters , effect-laden lead vocals, zooming Andy Poole bass and expert drums from Steve Hughes. The resilient sonics here are very "recherché", extreme restraint and nearly cinematic attention to detail seem to guide the way, producing a brooding cavalcade of utter exaltation. This is no neo-prog I assure you, rather well within the realm of high-gloss symphonic prog, with some highly original segments. A definite prog classic, this one is. "Summer's Lease" waves mournfully goodbye, a disposition to sorrow that is best expressed by the great string depressor itself, the viola and a propensity for hopeful serenity emanating from the keyboards, yet remaining seemingly unattainable. As stated so succinctly by our avestin, listening to something else may be tough for a few minutes, as the imprint is quite intoxicating. Maybe a dose of Blackfield or Like Wendy, but that will only perpetuate the fuzzy gloom. I guess we now have ideal soundtrack music for the current news..This is an unsurprising surprise. 4.5 giant locomotives
Review by memowakeman
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Big Big Music?

Before writing anything regarding the album, i would like to offer my apollogies to Big Big Train's Gregory Spawton, who i promised a review long time ago, but well, i think it's better late than never.

So they are a british band formed in the 90s and a band who honestly i didn't know before the release of the album i will review in some minutes, this effort named The Difference Machine and released in 2007 offers a good mix of symphonic prog, some neo-prog moments and even jazzy passages, for the record, in this album respected people in the realm of prog rock such as Marillion's bass player Pete Trewavas, along with Spock's Beard's Nick D'Virgilio and Dave Meros made their contribution on this album as guest artists. The Difference Machine features 7 songs and something like 55 minutes of running time, there are 3 epics, 3 very short songs, and one middle lenght song.

The album kicks off with Hope This Find You, one of the shorter tracks and a very melodic beginning, there is a viola and a sax playing there that greatly interplay in the first moments, the song is charming and very nice.

Then we will find the first epic, Perfect Cosmic Storm which lasts almost 15 minutes and which offers great music full of changes on time and tempo and even mood, here the vocals also appear and the mellotron plays also a principal role, there are some moments of the song that reminds me a bit to Spock's Beard, and you will also find some moments with a screaming-like vocals where the song turns a bit more aggressive, and then it teturns to a slower track with different structures. There is a moment where the sax enters and puts its escense on the song, in some moments the song turns a bit jazzy actually after being a symphonic song. As i previously said, the song has several changes, so it is a very nice track worth listening.

Breathing Space is a short interlude between songs 2 and 4, it has a mellotron sound and a kind of ambiental atmosphere with some cricket sounds.

Pick Up If You're There is the second epic and this lasts over 13 minutes and since the very first second the vocals appear and the song begins to build one or different structures. Here the drumming caught my attention, it is an always constant and in the right moment drumming, in the song predominates a keyboard sound but also the bass lines are excellent. Sometimes the song almost stops but either viola or mellotron prevails and a new structure begins to be built again. Around minute 8 there is a moment where the song becomes catchy due to the vocals and the great mellotron playing on it. The last minutes of the song are absolutely great.

From The Wide Open Sea is another short interlude, again an instrumental passage with some mellotron and atmospheric keyboard.

Salt Water Falling On Uneven Ground is the third and last epic, this time with 13 minutes and with a soft guitar beginning, but after a few seconds the song makes a crescendo, there are notable bass lines and the vocals remind me in some moments to a song from Alan Parsons Project. This song is alike to the other 2 epics in the sense that all of them follow a common pattern in the structure, all of them have several structures within the same song and all of them has ups and down and highs and lows. In this song i enjoy a lot listening to the vocal chorus-mellotron sound that always causes me goosebumps. The musicianship is very good and the music overall is great, though there is something missing because i don't feel that excited while listening to it, i mean, it does not fill my expectancies.

The last track of the album is Summer's Lease and is the middle lenght track. This song has a very melancholic mood and the music itself shows it, there are some slow tempo moments where the keyboard playing predominates and a delicate and beautiful saxophone sound appears. A nice melody.

Overall it is a very good album without a doubt, with talented musicians and excellent compositions, a roth listening, but...there is something missing, i don't know.

My grade would be 3 stars. Enjoy it!

Review by BrufordFreak
5 stars "Crossover"?!! I've just discovered BBT, now own The Difference Machine, English Boy Wonders and Gathering Speed and cannot figure out how any artist recording songs at an average of 9 minutes in length could be considered "crossover"! Plus, the GENESIS/ANT PHILLIPS/FLOYDian musicscapes just don't fit, to my mind, the "crossover" sub-genre. Also I have to ask: WHERE IS THE LOVE? These guys are amazing! I haven't heard anyone so "new" old prog (Does this make them "neo"?) with such high quality, great melodies, great vocal harmonies, amazing song structures, album concepts (with musical themes being repeated throughout à la A Trick of the Tail). And these guys are humble! Unafraid to cite their musical influences and references. And please notice the list of Who's Who in Prog that they are attracting to work with them: Dave Meros, Pete Trewavas, Nick D'Virgilio, Jem Godfrey, Frances Dunnery, and Dave Gregory?THE Dave Gregory, for god's sakes!!! Nevertheless, this is supposed to be a review of The Difference Machine, my favorite work of BBT, so far, though the new release of the revamped English Boy Wonders is a close second. Like other reviewers I find myself wanting to extol the praises of the longer playing songs. "Perfect Cosmic Storm," "Salt Water Falling on Uneven Ground," "Summer's Lease," and "Pick Up If You're There" are absolute masterpieces of progressive, mostly symphonic, music. The shorter, "fill" pieces are fine, beautiful, full of lots of haunting mellotron, interplaying woodwinds and strings, they're just not as interesting or as "full" as the long monsters. Perhaps they are intended to calm the spirit of the listener before having to re-enter the bigger sounds of the longer pieces. Anyway, these guys have a talent for finding amazingly catchy melodies BOTH vocally and instrumentally, but more, they do it multiple times within each song!! And they might be knitting one melody with/within another (or more!!) THEN(!), as if this were not enough, they hook these amazing melodies into the harmonic setting of some stunningly beautiful and intricately woven music. I can definitely feel the complexity of early GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS in their work, and yet so many of their other influences come gloriously to the listener's ear, as well. But let me not forget to tell you: THESE GUYS ARE UNIQUE! Fresh! New! Original! Not copyists or imitators.

1. "Hope This Finds You" (3:12) is an almost classical instrumental introduction to the album--with some of the themes to follow included. Beautiful though not as impactful as what is to follow. (9/10)

2. "Perfect Cosmic Storm" (14:40) is one of my favorite prog songs of all-time. From the amazing guitar intro, to the "signal's gone to ground" lyric hook, to the rollicking recurring lead bass line, to the incredible dynamic shifts and "familiar" sounds (CHRIS SQUIRE-like bass, KING CRIMSON-like mellotrons, STEVE HACKETT-like guitar, MEL COLLINS-like saxophone, RICHARD WRIGHT-like organ). And what an incredible, shifting, engaging rollercoaster ride of music. Original symphonic prog at its best! (30/30)

3. "Breathing Space" (1:47) is another ambient instrumental interlude. Not as interesting or engaging as the first one but definitely a mood-setter. (4/5)

4. "Pick Up If You're There" (13:39) is another masterful epic with great vocals great pauses and buildups and deeply hooking key and chord changes. Wonderful bass, drum and keyboard work, as well. I love the melodic flow of this song, which actually seems to better showcase the performances of the individuals in the band. Wonderful tapestry! (27/30)

5. "From The Wide Open Sea" (1:20) is the third mellow instrumental interlude, this one almost all subtle chord washes. Actually, quite wonderful; I wish this one were extended. (4.5/5)

6. "Salt Water Falling on Uneven Ground" (12:38) starts a bit jazzy--almost PAUL WELLER-like--and soon breaks into full gallop. At 2:38 the masterful chorus "The ground is frozen underneath my feet", is established among awesome space music effects and the gutsy use of space. "The ground is frozen underneath my feet". So fresh and inventive! I like the use of effects on several of the instruments on this one (guitars, especially, but also vocals--amazing vocals!). More spacey/psychedelic instrumental work in the mid-section. A headphone-listeners delight! Then there are the absolutely gorgeous final two minutes, following the "Do you remember the days of summer" lyric. Strings, multiple guitars (introducing XTC's DAVE GREGORY!), deep bass notes, and beautiful vocals. (23.75/25)

7. "Summer's Lease" (7:34) ends the album in a mellow, atmospheric way but with again SEAN FILKINS' gorgeous voice singing some very touching lyrics--tying together previous themes, both lyrically and musically, in an absolutely powerful, melodic, heart-sucking way. (15/15) Total Time: 54:50

Check out "Perfect Cosmic Storm." I dare you! You will be hooked. You'll become an addict. PROG IS ALIVE AND WELL and it is nowhere so well embodied as in the work of BIG BIG TRAIN!!

Five stars to a masterpiece of fresh new music--one of my Top 15 Favorite Albums of the Naughties.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This was my first ride on the big train if you will, and that first ride was an experience that I won't forget. This is not what I was expecting at all. I think I first heard of this band back in 2004 with their "Gathering Speed" album, I assumed they were a Neo-Prog band back then and honestly stayed away only because there always seemed to be some poor reviews in with the good. They divided people.This album did the same. I finally decided I would listen and make my own conclusions, and this album was my first ride. My first thoughts were directed towards how sophisticated and interesting the music was. Not typical in the least. The sax, viola and mellotron are a great touch, enjoyable vocals and the drumming and bass are very prominant. The leader Gregory Spawton said that KING CRIMSON, GENESIS and VDGG influenced this recording. Yes this is adventerous. Some guests on here as well including Dave Meros and Nick D'Virgillo from SPOCK'S BEARD, and Pete Trewavas from MARILLION.

"Hope This Finds You" features lots of atmosphere as viola and sax joins in. The SPOCK'S BEARDS boys are the rhythm section on "Perfect Cosmic Storm". It opens with outbursts of guitar as bass and drums come and go. Organ before a minute. It kicks in hard then settles as vocals come in. The tempo picks up but really it's all over the place. Chunky bass as mellotron comes in. Guitar then sax before 3 1/2 minutes. Lots of mellotron after 4 minutes as it settles again. Sax before 6 minutes followed by vocals. Lots more mellotron then the tempo picks up before 10 minutes. It's heavier 11 1/2 minutes and we get some angular guitar before 12 minutes followed by vocals. It settles before 14 minutes with sax. "Breathing Space" features crickets and lots of atmosphere. "Pick Up If Your There" has Nick on drums but Pete on bass this time. Vocals and a catchy beat right away. Mellotron washes in. Organ 1 1/2 minutes in. Gotta love the deep bass lines and the drum work here. Viola before 4 minutes followed a minute later with a calm and mellotron. It kicks back in with some great organ and drums. Sax before 9 1/2 minutes. Check out the bass and drums a minute later. Viola ends it.

"From The Wide Open Sea" is another fantastic atmospheric piece like the first and third songs. Again Gregory creates this with his keyboards. Very moving. "Salt Water Falling On Uneven Ground" opens in a spacey way before we get this enjoyable steady beat. Vocals before a minute. The regular drummer and bass player are featured here (and the final track) and they both shine. The tempo keeps shifting. Great sound before 4 minutes. Interesting section 5 1/2 minutes in with acoustic guitar and these voices in the background. It's building then it settles 7 1/2 minutes in. It kicks back in with guitar around 11 minutes. What a song ! "Summer's Lease" opens with drums and vocals, sax a minute in. It's fuller after 3 minutes. Sax a minute later. So much going on but it's not busy at all. And the atmosphere on this and the last track make all the difference.

A special album, and a tip of the hat to Gregory Spawton who wrote all the lyrics and most of the music.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars With The Difference Machine, Big Big Train have crafted a strong chunk of symphonic prog, full of great compositions, tasty arrangements and daft musicianship. They're not in the business of landmark innovations but still manage to sound fresh. If only...

There are some issues with the vocals, not Filkins' voice as such, which has a nice Phil Collins timbre, but his vocal lines are generally too mellow and poppy. This might not be an issue for other listeners, but I do miss excitement and dynamics in the vocals. Filkins tends to stress each syllable too long and almost always opts for long-held tones that follow predicable melodic lines, Pick Up If You're There is a good example, it's an interesting epic with excellent musicianship but it becomes a drag because of the tuneless melodies. Give this song to an imaginative singer and I'm sure magic will happen.

The album revolves around three epic songs with a certain Genesis touch. But there are also jazzy sounds and more modern accents as in the guitar playing which sometimes remind me of later era Talk Talk. Especially the drums and bass interplay is brilliant and both instruments get ample room to shine. This band sure knows how to arrange songs; their music is never thick or congested but balances the instruments very well. The production is excellent but a bit too slick maybe. I'd like to hear more passion in the performance.

I'd recommend Saltware Falling or Perfect Cosmic Storm if you want to sample this album. The first one seems to suffer less from the faint vocals and the other one is mainly instrumental and has too much attractive music going on to be lessened too much by the singing. The Difference Machine is a smart and mature Prog album but it really needs a shot of adrenaline. 3.5 stars

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars This fifth BBT album is probably their best so far. Up to now, the band sounded quite simple neo-prog outfit to my ears, but what's available in this "Difference Machine" is much more structured.

This aspect can be easily felt while listening to the long songs available on this album. The first one of these "Perfect Cosmic Storm" is a truly good epic that mixes some symphonic prog as well as jazz attributes. At times noisy (heading KC), at times beautiful and emotional (thanks to some fine mellotron parts). The whole is very well put together and very pleasant.

The same sort of concept can be noticed during "Pick Up If You're There" which is the second epic here. More on the melodic side, but still complex enough to raise the interest. Again, some fine mellotron lines add a superb value to the whole. A special mention as well for the wonderful melody of the short "From The Wide Open Sea".

"Saltwater Falling On Uneven Ground" is the last epic of the whole. And even if this song is more straight-forward than "Perfect Cosmic Storm", it is very pleasant to listen to. Vocals in particular are very harmonious and sweet. Very much in the style of "Genesis" while they were four.

The closing number "Summer's Lease" starts in the same vein but the final instrumental part is very moving (the combination of violin, piano and sax is really a jewel).

All in all this is a good album. Seven out of ten. Three stars.

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Marty McFly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Something have to be wrong, because I liked their previous releases (most of them anyway), I love their follow-up album (the best by BBT in my book), but this album falls so flat on me. I was hoping for album with "rave critical reviews", but found all the ingredients that are to be found on their 2009 album, only in wrong order, badly mixed together that they sounds so mundane, so wrong. David Longdon on next one sounds quite similar to Sean Filkins here, besides I am fond of SF 2001 release "War and Peace", so this isn't a problem. Nor are soft acoustic guitars and symphonic backing sound, which should elevate the album to the next level of perception - only it doesn't. There are harmonies, but no melodies, which joins such kind of music together, like a cement mortar.

3(-), big disappointment. It's like a story with great characters, spectacular describing of landscape etc, but no story to make it alive.

Review by b_olariu
3 stars The difference machine from 2007 found BBT in a more confident zone about their possibilities in song writting and in manner of composing, but with all that I didn't find the originality music offers here. To my ears this is the most experimental album they ever done so far, living in places that neo/crossover prog to a more eclectic sound. Some well known guest musicians featuring here like Trewavas from Marillion , Meros from Spock's Beard and as for the first time a new drumer no one else then great Nick D'Virgilio who will become permanet member from now on. The music as I said is quite eclectic this time, but manage to pull some great guitar parts and a very good voice , again from Filkins his last album with BBT until he become solo one two years later. Pick Up If You're There is the highlight for me from this album, a 14 min little epic with all ingredints a prog album must have, the rest are more or less intresting but far from being labeled as masterpiece, at least for me. Again, long album, maybe to long, but in the end BBT manage to have another worthy album in their catalogue, for me 3 stars nothing more nothing less and is my least fav BBT album.

Review by EatThatPhonebook
3 stars 6/10

The Start Of A New Beginning.

(Quick Review)

The Difference Machine is English band Big Big Train's seventh full length album, however, it's possibly the first album of theirs that receives a decent amount of attention on behalf of Progressive Rock fans. In fact, this band is hardly known of outside of this crowd. "The Difference Machine" offers a nice, few songs to sit through, songs that aren't afraid to show classic Prog influences under their sleeves, especially Peter Gabriel-era-Genesis influences. Big Big Train are naturally a very talented band, with good songwriting skills and great musicianship, but there still are some elements they have to adjust before conquering the musical scene they're trying to dominate: these flaws lie especially in the structuring of the songs, which are often very disjointed in their flow, not to mention, a bit muddy when it comes to instrumental clarity and interplay. The guitar, for example, although always well-plaid, seems often to be disrupting the music and overcrowding it. Exception be made for the one, fantastic and gorgeous track of the album, "Saltwater Falling on Uneven ground" beautifully crafted, tremendously executed, with fantastic and haunting melodies echoing throughout the twelve minutes of the song. The rest of the tracks are pleasant but much more flawed, having those glitches mentioned earlier. It's also a bit of a disappointment that in the end, out of these seven tracks, only four of them are full-length songs, while the remaining three are interludes that divide up the actual songs from one another.

Review by Wicket
2 stars One quick one before the road....

Big Big Train has always been a back-and-forth band with me. I love the soundscapes they create with their more ambient tracks, but sometimes lack excitement. Then they retaliate with long, lengthy jams, but that emotion, that aura they give off just isn't there, and this particular album strikes me as another pull-and-push. I love the short songs off of "English Boy Wonders", they just seem to emanate the natural description of the United Kingdom in spectacular fashion. Yet I also love the soothing epics that burst into blazing triumph on "The Underfall Yard". I guess it's just a hit-or-miss opportunity with each of their albums.

And I guess this one's just shy of the mark...

To be honest, "Perfect Cosmic Storm" is the only one worth listening to. The jams are there, the excitement is fresh, the vocal work is invigorating and yet none of the emotion and atmosphere in their slower interludes has been lost. Yet "Pick Up If You're There" just doesn't start off right. I'm not a fan of immediately starting a song with with two notes, and then the singer comes in. Shame the song develops nicely later on, developing shades of Porcupine Tree and The Mars Volta with perhaps just a shade of Beatles charm. It ends great, but if your listeners turn off the song in the intro before the good stuff happens, what's the point of the song?

I mean, none of the little interludes amuse me, "Saltwater Falling On Uneven Ground" seems poorly constructed, with no real hook in the vocals, no real star factor. Just seems like a typical Big Big Train song that didn't gel. It's like taking the ingredients for a perfect cocktail and dumping it in a container but forgetting to blend them evenly together. And "Summer's Lease" just loses me completely. I love the atmospheric synths towards the end, and there's always room for subtle guitar plucks and that smooth sax (love smooth saxes), but the bass is just too much. I tried lowering the bass on my speakers and it made no difference, the bass ruined it completely. The synths were drowned out and the song generally was just too loud. Big Big Train has been frankly excellent on balancing their sound when need be, and on this particular album they just haven't done that. I don't know.

VERDICT: I'm guessing if you're a massive BBT fan, this is perfect for you, but I just wouldn't recommend this album to anyone. The recipe is there, but it just doesn't feel like it's finished. It sounds like an incomplete album, a disc full of demos. Maybe, I'm wrong about this. I don't know. It's just... I don't know. I guess it's an anomaly. I hope it's just that. I haven't heard English Electric, and I hope it echoes "English Boy Wonders" or "The Underfall Yard". (and PLEASE no spoilers or opinions, even though I'd probably ignore them)

FAVORITES: "Perfect Cosmic Storm", the entire English Boy Wonders album, the entire The Underfall Yard album

Review by Warthur
5 stars The Difference Machine stands at the end of an era for Big Big Train. The most obvious reason why this is the case that it's the last album from before David Longdon joined, but it's worth noting that the lineup shift between this one and The Underfall Yard was even more significant than that; Dave Gregory joined on guitar, Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard joined on drums, and for the run of albums from The Underfall Yard to The Second Brightest Star the fivesome of Gregory, D'Virgilio, Longdon, and Big Big Train co-founders Gregory Spawton and Andy Poole would be the core of the band even as other members were added to the ensemble here and there.

The lineup shift in between The Difference Machine and The Underfall Yard, however, is not just significant for who showed up: it's also notable for who left, since it's the last album with Steve Hughes and Sean Filkins. Hughes had been a stalwart of the group, appearing on every prior release except Bard - and you get the impression that even the band members who were on Bard wish they hadn't been, because the band haven't even tried to reclaim it the way they did with English Boy Wonders. With his disappearance, only Andy Poole and Greg Spawton remain of the original lineup, and whilst the early years of Big Big Train were patchy ones, I still think Goodbye To The Age of Steam was a classic and losing another link to it feels like the end of an age.

Sean Filkins might not have had as long a tenure in the band as any of the other three members on this album, but he'd also been on Gathering Speed, with this album made by four of the same five band members as that one (founding keyboardist Ian Cooper departed after Gathering Speed, leaving Greg Spawton to handle that side of things) you can see Gathering Speed and The Difference Machine as forming a sort of middle period for Big Big Train - bringing a level of stability which they hadn't had since Goodbye To The Age of Steam, rekindling hope in the project after the demoralising mess of Bard, and paving the way for The Underfall Yard to kick off a new era for the group.

However, there's a fascinating contrast between the two. Gathering Speed seemed like a shift from the blend of classic and neo-prog influences and 1990s indie rock which the early band explored to a more purely classic prog influenced style. On the Difference Engine, they take those influences and use it to construct this murky, mysterious atmosphere - like Genesis trying to chart their way into space rock realms but they used a chart drawn by Van der Graaf Generator so they end up falling into a black hole or something.

As well as being a strong coda to the brief Sean Filkins-fronted era of the band, the album also contains the seeds of the group's future - Nick D'Virgilio and Dave Meros of Spock's Beard guest, not only signalling Big Big Train's gently increasing stature in the prog scene but also inadvertently giving Nick a little audition for Hughes' drum stool. Pete Trewavas of Marillion also appears, and perhaps it's appropriate that Big Big Train's pre-David Longdon era was bookended with releases with neo-prog legends guesting (IQ's Martin Orford having appeared on Goodbye To The Age of Steam) - not because they sound like 1980s neo-prog here, but because they are once again here coming up with a modernisation of classic prog, albeit with a much more unabashed embrace of the sounds of the past and much less regard for currently-popular sounds than usually associated with neo-prog. Big Big Train began their career with what I believe is a five-star album; in The Difference Machine, they finally made another five-star classic, definitively putting an end to the difficult slump they went through in between.

Latest members reviews

5 stars "The Difference Machine" revolves around three long songs of about 13 minutes each. Between these songs are very short songs that serve as breathing space. One of these short songs is actually called 'Breathing Space.' I think it takes guts to make a CD like this because if one of those long son ... (read more)

Report this review (#1732381) | Posted by stefano | Monday, June 12, 2017 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 7.5/10 With this album Big Big Train climbed another rung in his escalade to that received widespread acclaim with his next album. It is important to note that The Difference Machine, his fifth album and the last with vocalist Sean Filkins, owes nothing to his successor. Actually this album ... (read more)

Report this review (#558621) | Posted by voliveira | Friday, October 28, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars One of the most recent Big Big Train albums, The Difference Machine, is also one of the best neo-prog albums out there. VERY GOOD USE OF INSTRUMENTS SUCH AS SAX, FLUTE AND VIOLIN. These guys are genuinely creative with their arrangements. I make this point because in the world of Modern Prog, ... (read more)

Report this review (#279633) | Posted by Brendan | Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | Review Permanlink

5 stars After being blown away by their 2009 release 'The Underfall Yard', I decided to start exploring these guys last couple of albums and in the course of those explorations am both happy and perplexed; how is it that more people on ProgArchives aren't talking about this band? Moreso to better effect ... (read more)

Report this review (#262362) | Posted by Candlejack | Sunday, January 24, 2010 | Review Permanlink

3 stars On the most part, I have to agree with another reviewer: this album can be boring. I all-too-often find myself skipping the first five tracks to get to the last two, which I feel are the highlights. In fact, other than these last two songs, there do not seem to be any highlights to speak of, ... (read more)

Report this review (#171089) | Posted by The Progmatist | Thursday, May 15, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The Difference Machine represents a marked change from earlier BBT albums. The great chord changes and powerful melodies are still there, more so in fact than before, but the music is much more upbeat, more 'proggy', if you will then previous albums. In fact it doesn't even sound like the same b ... (read more)

Report this review (#138794) | Posted by bill g | Monday, September 17, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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