The UK based Big Big Train started in 1990 in what turned out to be a great career. The band nowadays is one of the leading flagships in the progressive rock scene. Therefor it needs no further introduction. Of course it's worth mentioning that the new album is made without the former members Rachel Hall, Danny Manners and Dave Gregory. The band decided not to replace them, but to work with additional musicians.
The line-up of Big Big Train is as follows: David Longdon (lead vocals), Gregory Spawton (bass), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, vocals). The additional musicians are:
Carly Bryant (keyboards, vocals), Dave Foster (guitars), Clare Lindley (violin, vocals), Aidan O'Rourke (violin), Five Piece Brass Ensemble.
Personally I was the most surprised by the pick of Dave Foster. I really love his guitar playing in Mr So & So, the Steve Rothery Band and all of his solo work. Can't help it, but I am a huge fan of him.
I myself stepped into the work of Big Big Train in 2012, when English Electric (part one) (see review) was released. The appreciation for the older albums came later.
Common Ground therefore was one of the albums which I really waited for in 2021. During the last year it was music that held me on my feet and 2021 for me is a special year. So far there have been a deluge of progressive rock albums which are great. I can reveal already that Common Ground is certainly one of them. So let's dive deeper into this incredible album:
The album starts with The Strangest Times. In general this is a rather up-tempo track with catchy choruses and hooks. Further on the track has a rather positive vibe. When I saw the title I hoped that it would not be some sort of “lock down” song, but it is. Luckily the theme is “clearing the brain” and isn't all that dramatic after all. My fears weren't justified. One of the highlights is the guitar solo of Dave Foster, which is fast and very, very melodic. The song is rather easy listening, but for me it's still more a prog song then a pop song.
The kick off for the album couldn't be better, in my opinion.
All The Love We Can Give is a typical Big Big Train mid-tempo track. The track contains strong harmony vocals. Lyrically it looks like the band want to deliver a rather positive album in these heavy times by bringing some love. After an atmospheric intermezzo the tempo of the track goes a little up and the track begins to sound a little edgy and much more heavy. It's a pleasant song to listen to.
The album continues with Black With Ink. The track has male and female vocals which alternate as in many Big Big Train tracks. Further on the vocal harmonies are high end. These kind of tracks are the trademark of the band nowadays. While I listen to this third track I must confess that although some band members left, Big Big Train stays Big Big Train. They sound quite unique and make music that does not compare itself with other bands. And yes, I know there are some Genesis influences, and probably a lot more. But through all of that, I find them quirky in the most positive way.
Dandelion Clock opens with a medieval-like guitar intro. The track is modest and has a mid-tempo. Personally I think the track is very melodic, has great hooks and contains fantastic keyboard parts.
It is one of the tracks that I like the most on the album.
Headwaters is a very modest and atmospheric piano intermezzo. It's 2 and a half of pure music to enjoy, which shows the incredible skills and talent of the band.
The album continues with a Jethro Tull-like intro of the track Apollo. The 8 minute instrumental track travels from atmosphere to atmosphere. All instruments get the space to speak and once more the great skills of the band members are displayed. The track is up-tempo and the musical surprises are coming over you in tidal waves. Great track that doesn't bore for one second.
The title track Common Ground is a track where the newcomer Dave Forster makes an appearance once more. Common Ground has a pleasant up-tempo beat. The vocals and especially the harmonies are phenomenal. The guitar solo, played with the wah-wah pedal is exceptional and very, very tasty. I can't help it, but I love Dave Forster's style of playing. I find him one of the most underrated guitarist of the UK. Forster certainly adds something to this band.
Atlantic Cable opens with a flute based intro which moves into a dark atmospheric intermezzo, which is up-tempo. This song of 15 minutes is the longest track on the album.
After the heavy intro the track develops into a low-tempo part where the vocals come in. Of course the harmonies are great. But this is almost kicking in an open door.
The choruses are very catchy and you don't easily forget them once heard. Further on the track is very alternating. It develops itself into a varying atmospheres. When you call all progressive rock tracks that are longer than 10 minutes and fulfil the “standards” epic, then this is certainly epic. In my opinion it is. Musically the track is mind blowing.
The end notes of this album are called Endnotes. The track opens with acoustic guitar, piano and vocals. The low-tempo and the melodramatic vocals, which are very melodic, create a rather sad feeling. And yes it's sad that this album has come to an end.
With Common Grounds Big Big Train delivers a great album once more, which is a great achievement. The band is active since the 90's and in my opinion their quality is still extremely high. This album probably isn't their best, but certainly it's a real good one. I like it very much and I came back to it many times and I am sure that in the future I will come back to the album also.
When you want to get in Big Big Train, this is a very good album to start with. It is accessible and very melodic.
That all said I rate the album with 4,5 out of 5. I really enjoyed listening to it!
****+ Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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