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

ENGLISH ELECTRIC (PART ONE)

Big Big Train

 

Crossover Prog

4.21 | 1097 ratings

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m2thek
Prog Reviewer
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.

m2thek | 4/5 |

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