Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet

Posted: 5.2.22

Review Erik Neuteboom

 What a tragedy happened between this new BBT album and their previous one entitled Common Ground, because November 2021 singer David Longdon died, due to a fatal accident, what a loss, the world of prog is still shocked. But the band and his partner Sarah Ewing decided to continue and release this new album, featuring the late David Longdon, his final contribution to BBT. How sad, but on the other it’s also a way to pay tribute to him. The other members are Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sjöblom on guitars, keyboards, and vocals, Nick D’Virgilio on drums and vocals, Carly Bryant on keyboards and vocals, Dave Foster on guitars, and Clare Lindley on violin and vocals. 

During my first listening session I got more and more delighted, what an impressive album, and BBT strongly showcases variety, skills, ideas, and an own musical identity.

Made From Sunshine : Referring to the title this song delivers a cheerful ‘sunny’ atmosphere (“cloud nine” sings David), in a mid-tempo with a tight beat and the pleasant warm voice of David Longdon, embellished with organ, a brass sound, sparkling piano runs and sensitive guitar solo. What a strong start, BBT sounds accessible and melodic, but also elaborate, and very tastefully arranged.

The Connection Plan : First propulsive violin work and melancholical vocals, blended with vocal harmonies, in a catchy beat. Halfway a bombastic eruption with powerful vocals, with an energetic mid-tempo featuring fiery guitar. Now the atmosphere turns into pretty exciting, rock opera-like, with subtle Mellotron choir drops, BBT art-rocks!

Lanterna : A dreamy atmosphere with emotional vocals (evoking Peter Gabriel solo), tender piano, vocal harmonies and soaring Mellotron choir, simply wonderful. Halfway an accellaration with rock guitar, a tight beat in a mid-tempo, with sparkling piano runs. Then the music returns to mellow part with piano and warm vocals, culminating in bombastic with heavy guitar solo. A track with a lot of tension and dynamics.

Capitoline Venus : This is a beautiful ballad that blends twanging acoustic guitar, melancholical vocals (with that distinctive Peter Gabriel melancholic undertone), soaring Mellotron violins (in the vein of early King Crimson) in a very intense way.

A Room With No Ceiling : The first instrumental, it starts with an ambient, hypnotizing climate featuring atmospheric keyboards, a buzzing bass and slow drum beats. Halfway the mood shifts to a mid-tempo with a tasteful colouring by Hammond runs and accordion, gradually the sound becomes more bombastic and dynamic, very compelling. Finally back to mellow and hypnotizing, what a strong musical journey.

Proper Jack Froster : First a slow rhythm with warm violin and vocals, with tight beats. Next a slight accellaration that contains a brassy sound, then again a dreamy climate with warm vocals, topped by a sensitive guitar solo with tender piano runs. Halfway the atmosphere turns into powerful and dynamic with fiery guitar and a propulsive rhythm-section, blended with majestic Mellotron choirs, wow! Finally back to mellow, with a brassy sound and intense vocals (again in the vein of Peter Gabriel solo), supported by vocal harmonies.

Bats In The Belfry, the second instrumental : Here BBT surprise us with a fat funky synthesizer sound, a swinging bass and a Mellotron flute sound, in a very compelling atmosphere, did the band ever play this kind of music?! Next more funk with a trumpet sound and swinging bass, blended with powerful drum beats. Halfway an exciting catchy break, bombastic, dynamic, with excellent interplay, top notch prog! Now the mood shifts to dreamy with soaring organ, it sounds atmospheric and a bit experimental, with majestic Mellotron choirs. Finally another musical surprise, with a catchy sequencer sound, blended with a powerful and dynamic drum solo, how original!

Oak And Stone : Back to a ballad featuring again Peter Gabriel-like vocals, intense and melancholical, blended with tender piano play. Halfway a jazzy piano and moving violin play, backed by slow drum beats. Gradually the music turns into more lush and dynamic, the focus is on intense vocals, then Mellotron violins join the emotional vocals, another strong musical idea by BBT.

Welcome To The Planet : Finally the titletrack, a varied and captivating goodbey. It starts with sumptuous keyboard layers and powerful drums, then the atmosphere changes to dreamy featuring brass, warm male vocals and celestial female vocals, blended with tender piano and a soaring flute sound, the climate is very hypnotizing. Next Seventies Pink Floyd seems the main inspiration with Gilmourian slide guitar, and strong female vocals that evokes the legendary female part in The Great Gig In The Sky. Halfway almost soundtrack-like music that contains a sitar-like synth sound and slide guitar. The exciting conclusion delivers a blend of jazz and gospel with swinging piano and powerful female vocals, it sounds dynamic and cheerful. Finally tender female vocals and a brass sound, subtle, simply beautiful.

I am sure this new BBT album will please many progheads, perhaps it is their best effort, highly recommended!

 

 

 

Big Big Train – Empire

Incredible how Big Big Train has matured since its foundation in 1990, within 30 years this UK formation has turned into one of the leading current prog rock bands. In 2004 I wrote “that BBT has taken a giant step into the 'prog rock zone' with their new album Gathering Speed” and “at some moments BBT still sounds a bit poppy, the music is not very original”. In 2019 I wrote about the band its latest studio album Grand Tour “Big Big Train succeeds to generate a lot of excitement and delivers many interesting musical ideas, this is topped with David Longdon his excellent voice”. Well, what a stunning progress during the years! And now anno 2020 this live album entitled Empire, I was very curious, high expectations!

Well, I am blown away, what a variety, dynamics, lush instrumentation and strong, often emotional vocals. And although BBT sounds very melodic, accessible and song oriented, this is not Neo-prog, BBT sounds way more elaborate and varied. I tend to name this progressive blend of folk, rock and classical an eclectic musical approach, very tastefully arranged. My highlights.

Alive is built around a tigh mid-tempo in a cheerful melodic rock atmosphere, wonderfully embellished with majestic Mellotron violins and choirs, and soli on synthesizer and violin.

Hedgerow also delivers a tight beat but now with a folky climate featuring strong, obviously Peter Gabriel inspired vocals, and halfway moving violin work with twanging guitars, simply beautiful.

Theodora In Green and Gold contains a mellow atmosphere with tender piano intro, then warm vocals and piano, in the second part sensitive violin, and finally piano and violin, what a wonderful ballad.

The Florentine starts with acoustic rhythm guitar, warm vocals, and moving violin play, halfway a sparkling synthesizer solo, fiery guitar solo, and finally tender violin. A strong example of BBT its dynamics and variety.

The long Voyager presents all the elements of a captivating and compelling epic composition. From dreamy with warm vocals, violin and brass to a bombastic eruption with violin, intense Mellotron choirs, and piano. From a mid-tempo with a spectacular synthesizer solo, tight beats to a fiery guitar solo with organ runs and synthesizer flights. And from mellow with violin to finally bombastic with emotional vocals, Mellotron choirs and violin runs, another ‘wow moment’!

The most adventurous song on this live album is the instrumental Engines And Men featuring a catchy percussive sound, strong beats and brass, it reminds me of Sledgehammer, funny and the crowd loves it!

The final track is the epic East Coast Racer (close to 20 minutes), here BBT rises to the occasion! It begins with a dreamy piano intro, then a mid-tempo (close to Neo-prog), embellished with a Hammond sound, inspired vocals, moving violin work and vocal harmonies. The second part builds to a compelling climax featuring Mellotron choirs, violin and fiery guitar, and in the end tender piano runs, as a perfect ‘prog cooldown’, the crowd is excited, I wish I was there!

If you are up to melodic and accessible, but also elaborate and varied prog, this live CD is highly recommended, I am impressed!

© 2020 Erik Neuteboom