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


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

4.21 | 1100 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
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.

Warthur | 3/5 |


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