I am always nervous when it comes to listening to a BBT album, and especially when writing about it, as I am probably the person who has been reviewing them longer than anyone else in the world. The band have reinvented themselves multiple times over the years, but the one constant has been Greg Spawton, and last year’s ‘Common Ground’ saw them take another jump sideways as the band undertook a serious culling. Although they had some guests (including the wonderful Dave Foster who cut his teeth on the same circuit as the original BBT), the band was now David Longdon (lead vocals), Gregory Spawton (bass), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals).
BBT’s style has changed over the years, but somehow, they have always seemed very English, even though that has not been the nationality of all those involved. Here that pastoral sound has been combined with a freshness and openness as they used David’s vocals to even better effect, although they also demonstrate that here is a group of musicians who can really play. There are times here when they come across as mid Eighties Gabriel with some fairly commercial elements, yet they also use dated keyboard sounds when the time is right, throw in weird time signatures and an angular quirkiness which brings a smile to the face. There is even a guitar-led section towards the end of “Black With Ink” which could have come straight from Spock’s Beard.
However, that being said, one of the joys of Big Big Train is that they are themselves, and not trying to be anyone else. In their early days they had very much their own sound, and the same is true today in that the music supports the vocals, placing David strongly in focus, yet when studying the arrangements, one quickly realises there is a great deal going on underneath and they are doing far more than provide support and instead have the right mix of complexity and commerciality to really elevate.
It is a very different album indeed to ‘The Grand Tour’, as the band have gone back to their roots and into themselves and have then thrust their ideas outwards to create something which is very special indeed.
9/10 Kev Rowland