In terms of perfectly integrated, fully coherent masterpieces, I thought BBT might have peaked with The Underfall Yard. The Far Skies and Wassail EPs, and the multiple versions of English Electric (with no definitive track order), all contained fantastic music, but evinced an unmistakable prog version of ADD, as BBT and their fans were fiendishly enabled by the latest technology to “build your own” concept album, with your own favorite track order: S, M, L, XL, XXL, Full Power, whatever.
But now with Folklore, we have a stunningly coherent concept album that has absolutely perfect flow. And here’s the best part: the perfect flow is found not on the CD version (because “London Plane” works best not coming after “Folklore” but after “Salisbury Giant”) but on the glorious vinyl gatefold edition that has the definitive order for the tracks.
This is the way that you must listen to Folklore, because it forms a coherent masterpiece that, when you think about it, actually doubles down on everything involved in the epic prog greatness of Underfall:
Along the Ridgeway 6:12
Salisbury Giant 3:37
London Plane 10:13
Lost Rivers of London 6:02
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun 7:20
Telling the Bees 6:02
The puzzle presented by the Wassail EP is solved here, when you realize that the two genius tracks that seemed to be abstracted there from something larger, actually form a perfect whole on Side 2: “London Plane / Mudlarks / Lost Rivers of London” is a flawless long-form masterpiece.
But let’s start back at the beginning. On Side 1, we open with the highly accessible “Folklore” which, amazingly, sounds like Peter Gabriel circa So. Once I realized that, I got all nostalgic and fell in love all over again.
Then “Along the Ridgeway / Salisbury Giant” shows BBT vaulting higher in achievement than ever before. There’s even a total shout-out to “Apocalypse in 9/8” (from Genesis’ “Supper’s Ready”) as BBT integrates everything awesomely Genesis into their own unique style. These two tracks are irresistible: I’ll always want to be running up that hill, climbing up Solsbury Hill, along the ridgeway, to meet the Salisbury Giant, no problem.
Next, Side 3 has three perfect tracks in succession. “The Transit of Venus Across the Sun” may be the most ambitious and musically perfect thing BBT has ever done: you have to hear the guitar solo over the brass at the end to believe it! Utterly transcendent.
“Wassail,” as we all know since the EP, is one of the coolest songs ever. The perfect drinking song for you, your friends, and your Wassail Queen. Wha’s the ale for today, guv’na?
“Winkie” now rivals “The Wide Open Sea” for sheer greatness in telling a short story through music. I thought “The Wide Open Sea” would always be my favorite BBT song, but now we have “Winkie” sounding like something from an early Peter Gabriel solo album. Wow, Longdon’s ability to sound like Gabriel, and yet also be his own man at the same time, is amazing. Is he a clone, born from Rael at the end of The Lamb? Don’t know how else to explain it.
Side 4 continues the Folklore pattern of three killer shorter songs in a row (Side 1) followed by a super-long long-form prog-fest (Side 2), because now after Side 3 (killer-killer-killer) we get the mind-melting greatness of “Brooklands” with all its amazing change-ups and its sprawling Spawton-ing.
The debriefer closing track “Telling the Bees” made me think of Fleetwood Mac, for some reason. So, I listened to all of Rumours on a lark, and what can I say. This one BBT track blows away everything on that zillion-selling hit album. Music technology and performance has come a long way since the 70s, baby!
But, that said, I still think Stevie Nicks would do a great version of this track. I think David and BBT should team up with her and the Mac for a charity single.
Here’s the bottom line. Before I had even heard Folklore, I had my review all written up in my head: “BBT has peaked with Underfall,” blah blah blah. And, I was having trouble shaking that very thought on my first listen, with the CD running order. But then, when I tried out the definitive vinyl running order, I surrendered. Unconditionally.
I hereby declare Folklore to be BBT’s greatest masterpiece. Just make sure you listen to the vinyl, or in the proper running order. Sure, you can go your own way, but why not do it like in the olden days?
With the unsurpassable gatefold vinyl glory of Folklore, BBT faithfully preserves the precious legacy of prog ages past. And, unlike album reviewers, they never look back. Maybe that’s why they were able to go full steam ahead with Folklore.
The band has never been bigger or better.