Album Review: Big Big Train — Grimspound ★★★★★ @bigbigtrain

Big Big Train (BBT) blew me away with the double LP of Folklore. (And yes, that is how you have to think of this band: in terms of the analog experience they engender.)

Folklore is such a toweringly great album, how do you follow it up? Perhaps the only thing you can do is assemble Folklore outtakes or B-sides, which is what Grimspound purports to offer us.

But that is not quite accurate: Folklore was the outcome of such a supernova explosion of creativity, that what BBT had was simply an overabundant creative surplus to draw from, in order to issue in a sequel.

As I heard the first track, “Brave Captain,” I was thrilled. It ranks with the most exciting of BBT’s songs. But then, on first listen, the rest of the album settled into a series of songs that sounded like nothing new, but rather more of the same thing that BBT has become good at.

My first thought, then, was that BBT had now become a brand: i.e., no musical surprises here. BBT had slipped into a distinct sound and into their own unique way of doing music, one that is now very familiar. Problem?

See if you can spot the familiar pattern (i.e., pick other songs from other BBT albums that match this template):

Songs about the English countryside, with obligatory mentions of hedgerows? Check! (4. “Meadowland”)

Songs about historical figures and episodes of antiquarian interest? Check! (1. “Brave Captain” and 3. “Experimental Gentlemen”)

Amazing prog virtuosity that sounds like what Gabriel-era Genesis fans can never get enough of hearing? Check! (2. “On the Racing Line” [instrumental!] and 5. “Grimspound”)

Pagan imagery (e.g., crow) on the album art and in songs? Check! (8. “As the Crow Flies”)

Songs about artists and about drinking beer? Check! (7. “A Mead Hall in Winter”)

Maybe the only real surprise here is that we get a super-awesome Greg Spawton bass solo on one track (6. “The Ivy Gate”) at 3:46. It’s so fantastic you’ll wish for BBT to start transforming from a Genesis fan band and turning more into a Rush fan band. Greg is amazing when BBT lets him channel his inner Geddy Lee. But to be fair, the bass sound here is vintage Chris Squire. Thus, the track is a ghost song in more ways than one!

In any case, the song is unmistakably still a folktale folksong… in other words, more folklore! Am I right? Another resonance with the “never fails” BBT template… Check!

Okay, while it may seem at first that you might want an album with more surprises, and not an album that so snugly fits a template for the BBT brand, maybe you really don’t. I have decided… I don’t.

After listening to Grimspound many more times, I decided I didn’t need BBT to be taking any wild left turns (although more bass solos are always welcome). If I wanted something completely unexpected and dazzlingly ever-changing in bizarre ways, I could go listen to Steve Hackett‘s The Night Siren (also one of 2017’s very best releases) instead.

Go to Steve for this year’s wildest and craziest experimental prog virtuosity. But go to BBT for good old comfort prog.

So, I am more than content to have the high quality problem of BBT offering us even more examples of the superb high quality prog that we have on the best of their previous albums. It allows me to imagine what it would have been like living through the issuance of a new album, year-after-year, during Gabriel-era Genesis. (I bought all those LPs later in history, after the fact; but what if my parents had played me them as a kid instead, as they came out? Alternate universe!)

Sure, Grimspound may be more of the same BBT genius, but so what? Just like “you know what you like” about Genesis, darn it, why complain if they can keep on doing what they do best? It’s their sound. Very few bands attain that much: their sound.

So celebrate BBT as a successful (not a failed) band brand. Because eventually, one day, it will all stop. Just like with Genesis.

Until then, it would be crazy to complain about the high quality problem of an over-abundance of excellent music by BBT.

I say:

Prog on, gentlemen!

Well done. Very well done.

[Progarchist Grimspound rating: Upper echelon of prog! Five stars. Ten out of ten!]

One thought on “Album Review: Big Big Train — Grimspound ★★★★★ @bigbigtrain

  1. Bryan Morey

    Great review, Time Lord. You’ve perfectly encapsulated my exact thoughts on Grimspound – thoughts I couldn’t quite make sense of, but after reading your review, I get it now. I’m so happy BBT is cranking out so much material, because it is just like the 70s when Rush, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, etc. were all releasing albums every year. We just don’t get that these days, so for me, as a young progger, it is great to experience that through BBT.

    Liked by 2 people

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