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