Wednesday 13 March 2024

Big Big Train - The Likes of Us (2024)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2024
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Here's something new that I feel that I need to listen to a lot more to appropriately review it, but I simply can't put everything else on hold to leave it on repeat for the next week. Part of that is the fact that I don't know this band at all, so this sixteenth album for them is my introduction to them. They were formed in 1990, right before rock music shifted in a completely different direction and I was coincidentally shifting away from it after a decade of deep diving because real life knocked on the door and said hi.

However, part of it is that Big Big Train play deceptively deep British prog rock. It's all pleasant on a first listen, the tone very accessible. Light Left in the Day is a strong opener, the first song to get inside my brain, and there are hints of old school Marillion in some of its guitars and drum fills, an easy way to get close to my heart. However, the band's overall sound is more new school Marillion than old and even then not particularly often. There's plenty of Solstice here too, especially in the songs that have pastoral sections, like the opening of Beneath the Masts, with its dominant fiddle and delicate acoustic guitar. There's some seventies Genesis as well, especially on Bookmarks.

Talking of Beneath the Masts, it's the album's epic at seventeen and a half minutes, outstripping Miramare at a mere ten, and that means that there's plenty of opportunity to get imaginative. I would call its jazzy midsection the closest to traditional complex prog that the album gets, and it's one of the best sections in any of these tracks. Its closest competitor is Miramare's midsection that hints towards choral music and space rock. However, even these proggy sections aren't enough to define the band's sound as they travel so much more musical ground over the hour and change that the album runs.

There's brass on both Light Left in the Day and Love is the Light. There's interesting percussion on Oblivion. There's pop music in Beneath the Masts along with the most overt prog. Skates On has a Beatles-esque vibe to it that also hints at ELO harmonies. And that's just to mention the first four tracks. There are four more to come, beginning with the ten minutes of Miramare, a host of which feature what sounds like a teasing xylophone and some of which bring back that brass. The Likes of Us is a long album, but it's a constantly inventive one, if we dig beyond its accessible surface as we really should.

I can't say where this fits within Big Big Train's broader body of work, as their die hard fans surely can. However, there have been changes within the band to suggest that this might be different in some ways. The two mainstays in the band have been the two founder members, Gregory Spawton and Andy Poole, but the latter left in 2018 after almost three decades. That leaves Nick D'Virgilio with the next longest tenure to Spawton, having joined in 2019 along with another couple of long term members, David Longdon and Dave Gregory. However, Gregory left in 2020 and Longdon died in 2021, prompting a host of relatively new members.

This is the first album for Alberto Bravin, their new lead singer, who does a great job at conning us newbies into thinking he's been with the band forever. It's also the first album for Oskar Holldorff on keyboards. It isn't the first album for Dave Foster and Clare Lindley, but they both joined since 2020, meaning that four of the seven members weren't there before COVID. That has to affect the sound of any band, especially one this versatile. I look forward to dipping into earlier albums as a way of seeing where they came from and how different this truly is.

In the meantime, I'm still digging into this one. That first impression of a pleasant and accessible sound held true on repeat listens, but a second time through deepened every track considerably and a third took me further again. Light Left in the Day was the most immediate track for me, but Miramare matched it on my second listen and Beneath the Masts keeps growing on me, as I start to see its bigger picture. However three listens just isn't enough to do this album justice. It's good stuff, clearly, enough for me to not feel hesitant about awarding it an highly recommended 8/10, but I can't imagine that it's let me in on all its secrets yet. I hope to be able to listen to it more to let it grow as it should.

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