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


Big Big Train


Crossover Prog

4.21 | 1097 ratings

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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

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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