English Electric [Release date 17.05.19]
Big Big Train return with ‘Grand Tour’ – the first since the band’s inception without founder Andy Poole – and they are joined by five brass players and 18 string players. Vocalist David Langdon helps out on bass along with sole original member Greg Spawton and joining the band is Robin Armstrong (guitar, keyboards).
As for the album’s themes, Nick D’Virgilio says: ‘There are songs inspired by the legacy of the Italian Renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci; songs telling the story of the rise and fall of Rome; of the beautiful mosaics of Ravenna, and of the shipwreck of a great poet, lost in a tempest off the coast of Italy. Along the way, the story of mankind’s greatest ever journey is told.’ Vocalist David Longdon adds ‘Grand Tour is a celebration of the human experience, of science and art, and of what it means to be alive.’ Nick D’Virgilio also provides his first music writing in the band.
The album scored a first for the band, debuting at number 35 in the UK album charts and number 2 in the rock charts.
The gentle opener ‘Novum Organum’ has a hint of Marillion in its sound, although Big Big Train often get compared to Genesis. To be honest they have their own distinctive sound, something a lot of bands lack nowadays.
Big Big Train have a wonderful knack of not only creating marvellous epic songs, but equally they are masters of producing melodic rock/pop like ‘Alive’. With its train-like rhythm courtesy of a mellotron and upbeat lyrics, it makes it one of the band’s best songs to date. A real ‘pick me up’ song, complete with a 70’s prog feel.
The instrumental ‘Pantheon’ seems to be over in an instant, despite being six minutes long. The band again use their multiple musical talents to the full.
‘Voyager’ harks back to earlier albums, as the ‘Grand Tour’ in general sees them move away lyrically away from English pastoral and industrial themes. The song features gentle use of brass and the guitars/harmony vocals meld superbly on the chorus. The mid-section keys solos are sublime, matched equally by the subsequent guitar solo.
‘Homesong’ closes the album and in a way brings the band back to where they started, being a classic Big Big Train song about the joys of English rural life and a homecoming for the world traveller.
Big Big Train inform, educate and entertain on the ‘Grand Tour’, with musical and lyrical treats to be found throughout this magnificent opus. ****1/2
Review by Jason Ritchie
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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