Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Big Big Train show off The Likes Of Us

Alongside bands like Lifesigns and The Tangent, Big Big Train are one of prog rock’s more cerebral pleasures, always providing good music, songs with thoughtful lyrics and an absence of prog’s occasional tendency to disappear up where the sun rarely shines.

The Likes of Us is BBT’s first studio album without vocalist David Longdon, who tragically died in an accident at home in November 2021. It also marks the debut of new vocalist, ex-PFM man Alberto Bravin, whose voice fits into BBT’s sound so succinctly you can hardly see the joins, and who’s made an immediate impact by achieving five songwriting credits, not bad for a newbie.

The album sees two changes in BBT’s modus operandi, in that they’ve now signed with Inside Out, which means this album won’t be self-released on English Electric as were all the others, and the album was recorded old school, meaning that everyone in the same room at the same time instead of emailing sound files to each other (the six members of the band live in 5 different countries after all). As drummer Nick D’Virgilio says, “It provided moments of inspiration which might otherwise have gone unnoticed.”

This album also sees BBT moving away from songs which have a nostalgic twist, only a British band could have sustained a career out of performing music about a past which may/may not have existed and taken to performing songs which are largely rooted in personal recollections, such as ‘Beneath The Masts‘, a sprawling 17-minute epic with a gentle pastoral feel. It’s a song written by Greg Spawton with a Genesis vibe about twin radio masts near his home when growing up which hold personal memories about visiting family. The 10-minute epic, ‘Miramare‘, is with Spawton’s assistance, Alberto Bravin’s mini-drama about a castle in Spain, with quite a back story, built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian, with both pieces nestling nicely into BBT’s high canon.

BBT set the bar high from the opening notes of ‘Light Left In The Day’ when it immediately becomes apparent just how good every musician in the band is. Musically they’re often as complex as Gentle Giant, but without the Giant’s occasional “over-the-top nature”

Many prog songs, after a quiet intro, quickly up the ante, whereas BBT often utilises brass instruments to add an extra dimension to their sound, as they do here. A gentle violin leads us into the maudling ‘Love Is The Light’, while ‘Bookmarks’ is reminiscent of Genesis circa Trespass. But, they do rock things up a little with ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Last Eleven’, a song about cricket, “So here we stand, he wants to knock me out the park, I send a full pelter through. 

The Likes Of Us is a very ambitious album, while retaining everything associated with BBT, such as stellar musicianship and songs which tell stories, and alongside Porcupine Tree and Marillion, are right up with the current shining stars of Prog in the UK.

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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Alongside bands like Lifesigns and The Tangent, Big Big Train are one of prog rock's more cerebral pleasures, always providing good music, songs with thoughtful lyrics and an absence of prog’s occasional tendency to disappear up where the sun rarely shines. The Likes of Us...Big Big Train show off The Likes Of Us