As most readers of Progarchy well know, Andy Tillison will be releasing the new The Tangent album at the end of this month. Any Tillison release is as much an event as it is a momentous moment. As he’s proven time and again over the last decade with The Tangent releases, Tillison is a true believer in the roots and the origins of prog as well as in the future and innovation of prog. He’s a seeker of all things excellent and beautiful.
Bringing in David Longdon for the new album is a touch of genius. But, Longdon is not alone. Bassist Jonas Reingold and guitarist Jakko M. Jakszyk join as well.
In case you’re interested, and I assume we all are, there are two pieces on the internet well worth checking out today:
A newspaper interview with Tillison here:
And, the first review of the new The Tangent album here:
You can order the album here:
For some reason, I’ve always been quite taken with the idea of the “cover,” a great group or artist remaking the old art into something new, profound, and tangible for a new audience.
Unfortunately, the result of the cover is often a mere imitation of the original. This, sadly, does nothing but waste everyone’s time. In this instance, I can’t help but think of Echo and the Bunnymen’s remake of “People are Strange.” It is almost note for note and instrument for instrument the same as the original by the Doors. No matter how great, Echo, they will simply not best a classic by merely imitating. There’s nothing even remotely interesting or unusual in the Echo version. They sound bored, and they probably are. Echo was simply too good to be a glorified cover band.
There are also inferior versions of a once great song that simply had never had a wide audience in the first place. Here, I think specifically of the Bangles remaking A Hazy Shade of Winter. The Simon and Garfunkel version is in every way superior except one. When it was originally released, A Hazy Shade of Winter appeared around a number of other attention-gathering songs off of the album, Bookends. It would’ve been pretty hard to complete with “Mrs. Robinson.” And, A Hazy Shade never became absorbed into American culture the way so many other Simon and Garfunkel songs did. When the Bangles released it in 1987, it climbed to #2 on the American pop charts. Who can forget first hearing that song, realizing the immense disconnect between a barely talented hack corporate band and some of the best lyrics ever written? No, it shouldn’t have succeeded, but it clearly did. Commercially, a success. Artistically, a travesty.
Over the last decade or so, though, a number of excellent songs have been covered by various prog bands. In each case, at least as I see it, the songs covered are–quite the opposite of the Bangles assault on and diminution of a classic–in most respects far better than the originals. Three things help account for this. First, some of this improving, I’m sure, is a product of better technology. Still, we can all think of examples where the newer technology has driven the life out of a song or an album. Technology, in the end, is a tool, neither good nor bad in and of itself but a means to a good or bad end.
Second, in ways that could never be measured, a remake is importantly the result of the love the artist of today feels for the artists and traditions of the past. The current prog artist has absorbed some beloved songs for years and years, and the songs have become an essential part of the art itself and of the artist herself or himself.
Third, very importantly, few progressive rock acts perform merely to be commercial. They do so for love of the art itself.
Again, let me go back to that Strawband, the Bangles. What did they have to offer to a Simon and Garfunkel song? Nothing in the least. Per the above three points. First, the technology made them mere apes, allowing them to present sanitary mimicking of a great song. Second, the Bangles play their version as though they’d only encountered the original version days or possibly hours before recording. Their version came out twenty years later, but it, in no way, feels as though an artist had absorbed that song for twenty years. Third, the Bangles wanted to cash in on a piece of art that failed to reach its full potential two decades earlier. And, they did. Again, a commercial success, but a artistic horror.
But, what about some wonderful, beautiful, intense, gorgeous covers?
Nosound’s remake of Pink Floyd’s 1971, “Echoes.” Four minutes longer than the original, the Nosound version not only records their version with affection, but there is an unmistakable Nosound sound. Where Floyd used a cold and rather impressive technology to make certain unusual sounds, Nosound substitutes a much greater organicism to the song.
The Reasoning’s remake of Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur.” This was certainly the best and most interesting track off of Rio (1982). And, Rachel Cohen of the The Reasoning has never once hidden her admiration of the best rock of the 1980s. Matt, Rachel, and the others do wonders to the original, making it far, far superior. At once more delicate and yet harder than the original, The Reasoning makes this a serious work of art. Matt’s deep and haunting bass is especially good. But, so is Rachel’s voice. The Reasoning takes a good pop/rock song, and makes it a short but haunting masterpiece of prog.
Big Big Train’s “Master of Time.” Sheer bucolic glory. Next to the original by the former Genesis guitarist, BBT’s Master is a blatant and full-voiced work of immaculacy. It makes the original seem a fine sketch of a song, while paying all due homage to it. Even in its BBT’s intensity, joy multiplies as the song progresses, following NDV’s driving drums. If this isn’t a glimpse of a pre-fallen Eden, nothing is. And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Longdon’s voice has an angelic counterpart in the spheres far beyond this world.
Peter Gabriel’s Scratch Your Back, in many ways, corrects the errors of the Bangles. While the whole album is good, and Gabriel covers everyone from Elbow to David Bowie to the Talking Heads, nothing bests his own version of the Paul Simon song, “Boy in the Bubble.” While it’s not necessarily better than Simon’s version, it is a penetrating look at the darker aspects of the song. I would challenge anyone to listen to Gabriel’s version with headphones and not tearing up at the terrors and tragedies revealed anew in the lyrics. This might be Gabriel at his absolute highest as an artist. “These are the days of miracle and wonder. Don’t cry, baby. Don’t cry.”
Glass Hammer remaking Yes’s “South Side of the Sky.” This has been one of my two or three favorite Yes songs going back to my early childhood in the mid 1970s. Certainly, when I saw Yes play live in Grand Rapids for the 35th Anniversary tour, this song was the highlight. Nothing, however, prepared me for hearing Glass Hammer’s version when I first purchased “Culture of Ascent.” This cover is a perfect example of a band and a group of artists that had fully absorbed the song–every single aspect of it–over period of two or three decades. This song by Yes is simply an immense part of the DNA of Glass Hammer. And, it shows in every aspect of Glass Hammer’s version. Everything is simply perfect, and it’s as obvious as obvious can be that Glass Hammer recorded and produced their version with nothing but love, pure and unadulterated love. And, dare I say it without risking the reader just switching off and heading to the wilds of a new website. . . Susie Bogdanowicz was born to sing this song.
There are other songs I’d love to write about, but time prevents me at the moment from doing so. Let me just conclude with this. When a cover is done well and with love, it’s a hard thing to beat. And, while I would never want the current progressive moment to become imitative at its heart, it’s a healthy thing to remember and honor those who came before us. In particular, I think there are a number of songs from the 80s that were brilliant in their time, but could really benefit from being progged up. Imagine Thomas Dolby’s One of Submarines redone as full-blown prog. Or, Big Country’s The Seer. Or, The Cure’s Disintegration. Or, New Model Army’s Whitecoats.
So much to be done. So little time.
For those of us who don’t live in the UK, we have to wait a few extra days for our copies of PROG to arrive. Mine arrives on the iPad, and I was thrilled to see so much good in the latest issue (out on iPad today).
Several Progarchist favorites are recognized and recognized well.
On Big Big Train’s English Electric 2:
For a band who have now been in existence for over 20 years to be creating albums as perfect as this is in itself utterly remarkable. The fact that this is their second release of such a calibre within the space of a year can only reinforce the opinion that what we’re dealign with here is an act of rare, often indescribable brilliance.
I don’t see why the reviewer needed to bring up a Genesis reference and comparison twice. Big Big Train is producing things so much beyond what Genesis did, though Genesis was, of course, brilliant in its own right.
But, Big Big Train is not Genesis Part II or Part III. It’s Big Big Train.
Every time a review comes out of a new computer, the reviewer doesn’t keep bringing up the Commodore 64. Why does a comparison to an early 70s band do anything for our understanding of a band performing perfectly beautifully in 2013, in and of its own right? Ok, rant over.
On Cosmograf’s The Man Left in Space:
Armstrong has created a simply magnificent piece of work.
Amen. And, a belated happy birthday to this genius, this Master of Chronometry and of the Platonic Spheres, Robin Armstrong.
Also in the issue: great stuff on Rush (even more, if you ordered the hardback edition of #35), on Todd Rundgren, and on RogerHodgson, and reviews of the latest from Sanguine Hum and Spock’s Beard.
To go to the official Prog site, click here.
There can be no doubt that this will be one very, very great year for Prog. We’ve already had masterpieces from Big Big Train and Cosmograf. Sanguine Hum has released its second, though it’s still not available in North America. Matt Stevens, Ayreon, Heliopolis, Advent, and the Tin Spirits are working on new albums as well. Very exciting.
One of the albums I’m most looking forward to this year is the new studio album (KScope–May 6, 2013) from Nosound, “Afterthoughts.” It will be their fourth studio release.
Sea of Tranquility was able to get a hold of a pre-release copy and has offered an excellent review. You can read it here.
I’ve been a huge fan of this Italian (now, Anglo-Italian with the addition of Chris Maitland on drums) post-prog act for coming up on a decade now. Indeed, I find Lightdark (2008) and A Sense of Loss (2009) to be essential parts of any serious progger’s library. When music historians look back on this current revival of prog, the albums of Nosound will stand at the forefront–along with the works of Big Big Train, Glass Hammer, Gazpacho, Cosmograf, Ayreon, and The Fierce and the Dead . . . and many others (what a great time to be a prog fan!).
This music is contemplative and wave-like, without ever descending into the abyss of self-absorption or ascending into the madness of over-the-top ELPism. Probably the best descriptive of Nosound’s perfectionist sound would be: tasteful.
Nosound’s official website is:
. I preordered “Afterthoughts” the moment the CD was announced, and I very much look forward to reviewing it.
Years ago–maybe as many as 25 years ago–fellow Progarchist and classical musician Kevin McCormick and I vowed to listen to Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring every April 5th, in honor of what is arguably the first post-rock track ever released, entitled, appropriately enough, “April 5.” I’ve tried to live up to this agreement every year since, and I don’t think I’ve missed an April 5th listening yet.
Last year, before Progarchy even existed, I wrote a piece asking Mark Hollis to call his legitimate successor, Greg Spawton, and the members of Big Big Train. I mean really. Imagine Mark Hollis working with Spawton, Poole, NDV, Longdon, Manners, Gregory, and Aubrey. What a match made in heaven. After teasing Greg about this a few times, he admitted that if he ever runs into Hollis, he’ll invite him to join BBT.
Amen, Greg, amen.
But, back to Talk Talk.
Though I’d seen Talk Talk’s earlier pop songs/videos on MTV in the early to mid 1980s, I wasn’t taken with the group until I came across 1986’s “The Colour of Spring,” an album that, without much exaggeration, not only opened my eyes to artistic possibilities but also caused me to claim my second music obsession: first, Rush; second, Talk Talk and Mark Hollis.
Everything else I treasured at the time such as early Yes and early Genesis paled next to The Colour of Spring. Please don’t get me wrong. I still adored Yes and Genesis, and I always have and probably always will. But, The Colour of Spring was something beyond. Beyond rock. Beyond prog. I heard lots of Traffic and Spooky Tooth in it, but I also heard a lot of experimental jazz from the 1950s and 1960s.
This album, frankly, seemed like the best prog album since 1977′s Going For the One, but still bettering anything that had come before it.
I studied the art work of James Marsh–those brightly colored moths forming some kind of order as they hovered around droplets of water. I listened repeatedly to the music. Too many times over the past twenty-six years to count now. And, I have dwelt lovingly over the lyrics, which have, in their own way, brought me so much comfort during the good and bad of my life as to rival my love of the words of T.S. Eliot and of St. John the Beloved. When I first purchased the American version of The Colour of Spring, no lyrics came with it. Part of Hollis’s charm is his ability to muffle his words in a mysterious but artistic fashion. I had all kinds of ideas about what Hollis was singing, but I later found I was mostly wrong in my interpretation and translation of those words into song lyrics.
In March 1988, Kevin and I found a copy of the British release of the album in a London music shop. There, on a brilliant spring day–I can still remember the sun streaming through the windows into that rather dark shop–I read the lyrics as Hollis had written them (even printed in his handwriting) for the first time.
I was, needless to write, emotionally overcome as my mouth dropped open and my eyes teared up.
The lyrics were far better than I’d imagined, in meaning and in form. I shouldn’t have been in the least surprised. Though, every listening from that point forward has meant more to me than each and any previous listening. Only a few other albums in my life have stuck with me as long as has The Colour of Spring. It has remained my gold standard, surpassed only by its immediate successor, The Spirit of Eden, and (finally–twenty-five years later) by Big Big Train’s English Electric vols. 1 and 2.
In every aspect of The Colour of Spring, Mark Hollis offered not only his genius, but his very being. That is, he was the music, and music reflected him. But, really, it did far more than reflect him. Without trying to become too metaphysical, I must state, the music seems to be coming from somewhere beyond anything known in this world, with Hollis merely reflecting the Divine itself, but putting his own personality on what was given to him. This is much like the way Tolkien claimed to have written his mythology–not as a creator, but as a discoverer and as a recorder.
Hollis expressed so much love of the world (its physical nature) and a profound respect for religion in interviews–along with his despising of the corporate media culture of the 1980s–that one can easily envision him in Rivendell, the Last Homely House, recording his work among the greatest artists of Middle-earth, lost somewhere in a timeless realm. Or, more classically, Hollis’s love of the created order makes me wonder if he somehow heard (or felt) the revolving of the Platonic spheres.
Back in 1986, Hollis admitted in interviews that the concept behind the album and the theme were quite simple: religion is wonderful, and war is horrific. An alliance of the two, however, makes for the worst of all possible worlds. Ultimately, Hollis claimed, the lyrics reflect the ideals of “life and morality.”
Prog fans, take pride: The Colour of Spring was a concept, to be sure.
The aim of ‘The Colour of Spring,’ he explains ‘is to present great variety in terms of mood and arrangement, treating the whole thing as a concept. An album shouldn’t be something from which a single is pulled, leaving the rest filled up with rubbish. [New Music Express, Feb. 22, 1986]
The theme, however, must be the only thing that was simple about the album. Certainly not the actual lyrics, or its song structure, or its production, or, even, its reception.
The album took Hollis exactly one year and two days to write and record. Having made an enormous sum of money with the first two Talk Talk albums, The Party’s Over (1982) and Life’s What You Make It (1984), Hollis fulfilled his dreams of moving everything toward the real and organic, away from the synths of the previous albums, there only because he couldn’t afford to hire a rock ensemble. Now, with The Colour of Spring, he could.
Interestingly enough, Hollis considered “It’s Getting Late in the Evening” to be the core of the album. For those of you who know The Colour of Spring, you’re probably scratching your head, as this song didn’t make it onto the final cut, and appeared at the time only as a b-side. Haunting to the extreme, “It’s Getting Late in the Evening,” presents an impressionistic look at American slaves discovering their freedom following the American Civil War.
The tide shall turn to shelter us from storm/The seas of charity shall overflow and bathe us all.
Today, though, we at Progarchy remember the last track of side one, “April 5,” perhaps the first post-rock, post-prog track ever released. At only 5 minutes and 52 seconds, it is a masterpiece of meandering brevity, a creative breath of freedom and beauty, a reaching and striving as well as a reflection.
Thank you for everything, Mr. Hollis. If you read this, I only request of you the same thing I requested of you a year ago. Please call Mr. Spawton. If you need his number or email, just let me know.
I dedicate this post to the genius and friendship of Greg Spawton.
Sources: Talk Talk, The Colour of Spring (EMI, 1986); “A Chin Wag with Talk Talk,” Number One (Feb. 8, 1986); “Talk Talk,” Record Mirror (Feb. 1, 1986); “Communication Breakdown,” New Music Express (Feb. 22, 1986); Rachael Demadeo, “Mark Hollis Interview,” Britannia Hotel in Manchester, May 5, 1986, posted at Within Without.
I’ve been in love with a band called Big Big Train since late 2011. It was very many years since I got so moved by music as I have been by the music of BBT. Many great posts have been published here at Progarchy about the music and lyrics from the pens of David Longdon and Greg Spawton. So now it’s my pleasure to here in my blog premiere make a little detour to the world of birds… Why, you may think, is that? Well for starters I couldn’t add much new to what’s already been said about the themes in the music and lyrics and then I’m a birdlover and have been so delighted by the use of birds in the lyrics and even in songtitles (Brambling). It’s apparent that the songwriters are quite familiar with some of the common birds in Britain (they’re also common in Sweden. I mean the fantastic Hedgehoppers’ Chorus line where blackbird, redwing, song thrush and yellowhammer are mentioned is something that I can connect to as well. Those are birds that are typical for the Swedish countryside too. And they are all birds that signal springtime by letting us enjoy their melodic songlines from March onwards until Midsummer or something.
The thing that distinguishes Big Big Train from many other bands and artists is that they not only use the general expression “birds” in the lyrics but actual names of real species. You also find the partridge in the lyrics on Uncle Jack and Hedgerow. This precise way of describing what kinds of birds that inhabit their lyrical landscapes is something that put Big Big Train in the same league as literary giants such as our very own (Swedish giant) August Strindberg who was a keen naturalist and knew much about birds and plants. In his novels you always find the names of actual species as well, not only the general terms “birds” and “flowers” for instance. This way of namedropping species adds much to the feel of a very alive lyrical landscape within the musical landscape that is Big Big Trains. And for me who know what all those different birds look like, when they can be expected to come back from their winter quarters, when they start singing and also what they sound like when they do it, the picture widens and gets deeper colours so to speak.
So is birds in music a novelty then? Of course not. We all remember the second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (No. 6) where several birds lend their voices to the great master’s musical creativeness. There we can hear the nightingale, the quail and also the cuckoo. Within the bird theme Big Big Train also connect in a very fine way with Vaughan Williams. How is that? Well, Mr Williams wrote that absolutely wonderful piece of music called The Lark Ascending which makes us think about the eighties masterpiece Skylarking by the wonderful band XTC whose guitarist Dave Gregory nowadays as we all know resides in…Big Big Train. Skylarking is by the way such a fantastic album title. For me the word skylarking doesn’t actually mean what it’s supposed to mean (playing boisterously or to sport or something like that) but to lie flat on the back in the sun on a green meadow watching the skylark hanging there on its invisible string singing its heart out about spring, love and joy underneath the deep-blue dome….but that’s a meaning I’ve made up all by myself. But the music of Big Big Train’s always makes me want to go skylarking – in my meaning of the word.
by John Deasey
Just looking at the artwork of EE2 and taking in the song titles is a pleasure all of it’s own.
I savour the industrial art and the titles such as ’Swan Hunter, ‘Keeper of Abbeys’, Curator of Butterflies’, ‘East Coast Racer’ ……
To those with a passing knowledge of English industrial heritage, it goes without saying we are back in the land of The Underfall Yard, back to The Last Rebreather and back to the land and communities that so shaped our country.
Big Big Train with this, the second part of English Electric, take us further into the arms of working fathers, loving sons and warm families to extract beauty from industry and agriculture like no other art I know.
With a gentle piano introduction along with a typical BBT signature motif that will be repeated, we are soon driven by Nick d’Virgilio’s intricate drum patterns along the same tracks the famous Mallard steam train once flew. A stunning tour de force restlessly moves along evoking the men who rode the plates of this famous flying machine. The overall sound returns to the rich warm tones of The Underfall Yard, beautiful bass patterns underpinning a whole host of instruments including viola, tuba and cello.
David Longdon has never sounded better and the guitar fills from Dave Gregory are typically tasteful and restrained.
Big Big Train are masters at creating great soundscapes that swell and build and finally spill over into something quite beautiful. Think of the Victorian Brickwork ending where I defy anyone not to shed a tear as the guitar overplays the brass section to create a crescendo of beauty.
Well, at 9.24 into ‘East Cost Racer’ they only do it again, and do it better, and do it in such stunning style it really is hard not to find a tear escaping …..
If the album finished at the end of this 15 minute track I would be more than delighted – I would be ecstatic. But you know what ? The beauty just keeps on coming …..
Just as we’ve finished the great Mallard story we taken into the magical and harsh world of ship building at the Swan Hunter shipyard
A melodic and rather gentle opening, reminiscent of the whole feel of EE1, tells of the father to son continuity of such industries but with the sad caveat
Tell me what do you do
When what you did is gone
No one throwing you a lifeline
How do you carry on?
‘Swan Hunter’ is a stately track that has simple elegance in it’s phrasing and tones and once again has a gorgeous build-up and release towards the end combining brass, guitars and vocals.
From the shipyards we move to the coal face with ‘Worked Out’ and again we have this magnificent connection with time, place, community and industry. Father and son, working together, regular shifts, routine, warm and generous folk who forged communities but realise “.. we had our day, our day is over”
Despite the subject matter there is a real drive to this track with some sublime moments where viola, cello and guitar inter-act to build a warm wall of sound. Flute interjections from David Longdon lead into a real jam type session where Dave Gregory adds subtlety and skill proving that a masterful guitar solo does not need a million notes.
After such an astonishing triumvirate of tracks, some space is needed and breathe needs to be drawn.
We are given this chance with ‘Leopard’ which, if I am honest, does not work for me just yet. As a breathing space though, it is perfect ….
The pace picks up again with ‘Keeper of Abbeys’ – a joyous and infectious track in the style of Judas Unrepetant with a drive, vigour and melody to die for which at 2 minutes in, goes places where other musicians must dream about. A typically sweeping refrain with soothing organ and cello sweeps into a section where you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a Greek taverna or a Russian vodka bar. Stoccatto guitars, flutes, viola and an incessant drum beat will have you tapping along infectiously then you are swept up unknowingly into the most beautiful choral-backed guitar solo you have heard which builds and builds into something far greater than I have words for.
The next track, ‘The Permanent Way’ is a real surprise.
Big Big Train have a knack of returning to refrains throughout their albums – think of the opening to The Difference Machine, or Evening Star for example
A pastoral opening about the farmer working in the fields soon gives way to a soaring re-working of Hedgerow which takes you by surprise on first listen as you are suddenly thrown back to EE1 and thinking ‘Blimey – where did that come from !” It’s stunning.
And then – wow – we suddenly have the fantastic soaring refrain from The First Rebreather.
This is like a celebration of everything that is so warm, honest and true about Big Big Train. They are making music they love and it shines through like the brightest light.
‘The Permanent Way’ is an encapsulation of everything that is so perfect about Big Big Train – recurring motifs, connecting with land and industry, streams, hills, high moors, dry stone walls, far skies, the mark of man.
I cannot recall music that so connects with time, place or community that this does. As I live in an old industrial town surrounded by beautiful countryside filled with relics of a bygone age it maybe resonates clearer for me as it seems the music was set to to the sights and sounds that surround me.
Now if you thought ‘Hedgerow’ on EE1 was a good album closer, wait till you hear ‘Curator of Butterflies’
I cannot think I will hear any music more moving, relevant and genuine than this superb album for a long time.
That is all I can say. Simply stunning and beautiful.
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!!!
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.
by Craig Breaden
Bedeviled or blessed, progressive rock’s classic bands took it upon themselves to discover what can happen when rock frees itself from the restraint of the three-minute single. And because Procol Harum, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and ELP didn’t merely see what would come out of jamming, but meticulously planned and executed album sides worth of material, there was an idea that these bands were making some sort of…progress. Codified as “prog rock,” the body of work that emerged from the late 60s and early 70s continues to inspire failure and success in groups intent on recapturing the form, if not always the spirit, of progressive rock.
Forty-some years on, and thirty years after most of the original prog bands found that trimming their sound back to that three-minute (or so) mark could bring substantial commercial success, progressive rock is in the middle of a full-blown and full-length revival, international in scope and as layered and interesting as the first generation. Many of the musicians associated with prog today are less revivalists than rock veterans, pursuing for years their passion with little fanfare but with fierce fandom. One of their leaders appears to be Big Big Train.
A disclaimer: I am one of the few Progarchist writers who was not familiar with Big Big Train during the genesis of Progarchy, which owes its existence at least partly to the enthusiasm Big Big Train inspired in its editors. I tend to watch prog from the edges, my tastes running to the rougher cuts, the drones, freakouts and new music noise-fests. Classically-inspired keyboard soloing — noodling — isn’t really my thing. I like the dirty-ness of art’s residue, big messy riffs that fray at the edges with some punk abandon, like you might hear in King Crimson’s “Starless” or Amon Duul II’s “Archangels Thunderbird.” In other words, I probably lean more towards the rock than the prog in prog rock. Which is why early listens to BBT impressed me with the musicianship I heard and the obvious dedication of the group, but left me wanting…something. Read the rest of this entry