A Peerless Evocation of English History: BBT English Electric Vol. 2

by Ian Greatorex

A joy to listen to and, as always, a peerless evocation of English history, both rural and industrial.

The musicianship is impressive and the arrangements for woodwind, brass and strings are excellent.

David Longdon’s vocals are superb, so smooth and pitch perfect, but there are also many beautiful harmonies on this release.

BBT have an uncanny grasp of when and where to add the astonishing array of instruments being used; we have harp, violin, viola and cello; we have trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba and cornet; we have recorder and flute; we have piano, organ, mellotron and synthesizer; we have accordion, dumbek, cajon, marimba, vibraphone and tambourine; we have 6 and 12 string guitars, sitar and mandolin, banjo, bass and double bass. And even cutlery and glassware are played . It’s no wonder they never play live!!!

ee2So what do the tracks bring us:

East Coast Racer – an epic 16 min track about the railway industry. I love the way the music captures the ‘feel’ of the workers at their craft and the sense of the Mallard’s speed. It’s almost as though you are on the train itself, racing through the English countryside.

Swanhunter – a story about the community impact of the shipbuilding industry on the Tyne. A very mellow track with stunning harmonies and beautifully arranged brass band.

Worked Out – we move to the coalmining industry; step up the marimba and flute; unusually rocky guitar and keyboard solos.

Leopards – a song about love, people and change. This is my favourite track on the album. At under 4 minutes, short by BBT standards. Arise the violin followed by acoustic guitar. This upbeat song is beautifully soft and gentle and includes some more marvellous harmonies. A magnificent piece of music. In the ‘70s this would have been a great single.

Keeper of Abbeys – based upon a real-life guardian. An accordion intro draws one in nicely (I love the accordion!); there’s a classic fast, folksy fiddling about in the middle section; and is that a sitar?….lovely stuff.

The Permanent Way – covering the everlasting and essential importance of people working on the land. A charming mix of song and narration; very atmospheric with some great mood changes.

Curator of Butterflies – with an exquisite piano opening and full of delightful melodies. This track has palpable emotional power and intensity (it’s a bit of a ‘hairs standing up on the back of the neck’ moment for me). Making this the concluding track was a masterstroke…a perfect ending.

Another wonderful journey into the world that is Big Big Train. One senses on every track a meticulous attention to detail in what are dense arrangements. It takes a number of listens for the beauty of this album to be revealed. Rob Aubrey’s production mix is superb with the ‘cornucopia’ of instruments all getting their fair share of the sound pie. A good hi-fi system or a set of quality headphones is essential. And don’t download as mp3 files as this music demands lossless format only!

There are exceptional musical skills on display on EE Part 2 and the story-telling is worthy and beautifully told. From a purely objective point of view this is an astounding piece of work, just like Part 1 and I found it an emotionally compelling experience. I am in no doubt it will be a contender for the Prog album of the year. If you liked Part 1 and wanted more of the same then it’s a huge understatement to say that this will appeal. Usually I like music that is both heavy and ‘edgy’ and explores the ‘dark side’ of human nature (I’m more an Oceansize man) but I was captivated by this album.

Music is an intensely personal experience and EE Part 2 pressed almost all of my buttons.  However, I was hankering for something slightly different; a musical and lyrical progression of sorts. English Electric generally uses past events to discuss universal themes such as love; work; communities; unsung heroes; the importance of maintaining monuments of our past. I would really like the band to lyrically explore more contemporary social and political themes such as the internet age; globalisation; the aging population; business ethics etc. and hence produce an album that would naturally have a harder, ‘edgier’ feel. Of course they have the talent to do this and I believe this would attract a wider fan base by making their music more relevant to a younger audience.

None of my comments above can detract from the superb quality of this release. Lock the door, turn the off the lights and even close your eyes. Let nothing disturb you from enjoying the astonishing beauty of this album.

About Brad Birzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author and prog rocker. Interests: prog rock, cultural criticisms, Macs, history, hiking, and science fiction.

Posted on March 4, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ian, for an ‘edgier’ BBT sound, I absolutely love The Difference Machine. A deep, dark and complicated album but which reveals it’s beauty eventually. Totally different to EE but equally enthralling ….

  2. Ian,
    What an excellent review. I am becoming more captivated by “Leopards” the more I listen to it.
    Tad

  3. To be honest, I do not think contemporary themes lyrics would fit as good on both EE1 & 2. Well, at least you have Leopards as a timeless concept Ian. Good review mate.

    • thanks Alex, i agree with you and regarding the ‘fit’ of the lyrics, the band would have to pen a completely different set of songs to accomodate my request !

  4. I agree this is a really beautiful album, make sure you have tissues to hand when listening. It fits perfectly with part 1 released last autumn, and tantalisingly the band will be releasing additional tracks to complete the English Electric project, before moving on to Station Masters, where I believe they will be reworking some older songs with the current band of maestros. I have only one small issue with Ian’s review, I agree that English Electric explores the more melodic, almost folky, side of contemporary music (trying to avoid the word prog because it’s a potentially misleading term). The Underfall Yard and The Difference Machine show that the band do have a harder edge, possibly the only tracks that have hinted at this on EE parts 1and 2 are Judas Unrepentant and East Coast Racer, but why does each album have to represent the entire spectrum of a band’s ability? hat said a great review, hihly recommended to anyone who enjoys music that provides thought and emotion as well as joy.

    • thanks Mike, of course you are correct that both TDM and TUY have dark and edgier moments…the problem is I like REALLY dark and edgy and that’s somewhere I doubt BBT will go and perhaps shouldn’t…i will say it again…its really difficult to find fault with the album and I hope it will become a classic and a ‘must-have’ for all Prog fans

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