Big Big Train -
Welcome To The Planet

(CD 2022, 47:12, English Electric Records)

The tracks:
Part One:
  1- Made From Sunshine(4:04)
  2- The Connection Plan(3:55)
  3- Lanterna(6:29)
  4- Capitoline Venus(2:27)
  5- A Room With No Ceiling(4:52)
Part Two:
  6- Proper Jack Froster(6:38)
  7- Bats In The Belfry(4:54)
  8- Oak And Stone(7:12)
  9- Welcome To The Planet(6:41)

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What a tragedy happened between this new Big Big Train album and their previous one entitled Common Ground (2021, see review), because November 2021 singer David Longdon died, due to a fatal accident, what a loss, the world of prog is still shocked. But the band and his partner Sarah Ewing decided to continue and release this new album, featuring the late David Longdon, his final contribution to BBT. How sad, but on the other it's also a way to pay tribute to him. The other members are Gregory Spawton on bass, Rikard Sjöblom on guitars, keyboards, and vocals, Nick D'Virgilio on drums and vocals, Carly Bryant on keyboards and vocals, Dave Foster on guitars, and Clare Lindley on violin and vocals.

During my first listening session I became more and more delighted, what an impressive album, and BBT strongly showcases variety, skills, ideas, and an own musical identity.

Made From Sunshine: Referring to the title this song delivers a cheerful'sunny' atmosphere (“cloud nine” sings David), in a mid-tempo with a tight beat and the pleasant warm voice of David Longdon, embellished with organ, a brass sound, sparkling piano runs and sensitive guitar solo. What a strong start, BBT sounds accessible and melodic, but also elaborate, and very tastefully arranged.

The Connection Plan: First propulsive violin work and melancholy vocals, blended with vocal harmonies, in a catchy beat. Halfway a bombastic eruption with powerful vocals, with an energetic mid-tempo featuring fiery guitar. Now the atmosphere becomes pretty exciting, rock opera-like, with subtle Mellotron choir drops, BBT art-rocks!

Lanterna: A dreamy atmosphere with emotional vocals (evoking Peter Gabriel solo), tender piano, vocal harmonies and soaring Mellotron choir, simply wonderful. Halfway an
acceleration with rock guitar, a tight beat in a mid-tempo, with sparkling piano runs. Then the music returns to mellow part with piano and warm vocals, culminating in bombastic with heavy guitar solo. A track with a lot of tension and dynamics.

Capitoline Venus: This is a beautiful ballad that blends twanging acoustic guitar, melancholy vocals (with that distinctive Peter Gabriel melancholic undertone), soaring Mellotron violins (in the vein of early King Crimson) in a very intense way.

A Room With No Ceiling: The first instrumental, it starts with an ambient, hypnotizing climate featuring atmospheric keyboards, a buzzing bass and slow drum beats. Halfway the mood shifts to a mid-tempo with a tasteful colouring by Hammond organ runs and accordion, gradually the sound becomes more bombastic and dynamic, very compelling. Finally back to mellow and hypnotizing, what a strong musical journey.

Proper Jack Froster: First a slow rhythm with warm violin and vocals, with tight beats. Next a slight acceleration that contains a brassy sound, then again a dreamy climate with warm vocals, topped by a sensitive guitar solo with tender piano runs. Halfway the atmosphere turns into powerful and dynamic with fiery guitar and a propulsive rhythm-section, blended with majestic Mellotron choirs, wow! Finally back to mellow, with a brassy sound and intense vocals (again in the vein of Peter Gabriel solo), supported by vocal harmonies.

Bats In The Belfry, the second instrumental: Here BBT surprise us with a fat funky synthesizer sound, a swinging bass and a Mellotron flute sound, in a very compelling atmosphere, did the band ever play this kind of music?! Next more funk with a trumpet sound and swinging bass, blended with powerful drum beats. Halfway an exciting catchy break, bombastic, dynamic, with excellent interplay, top notch prog! Now the mood shifts to dreamy with soaring organ, it sounds atmospheric and a bit experimental, with majestic Mellotron choirs. Finally another musical surprise, with a catchy sequencer sound, blended with a powerful and dynamic drum solo, how original!

Oak And Stone: Back to a ballad featuring again Peter Gabriel-like vocals, intense and melancholy, blended with tender piano play. Halfway a jazzy piano and moving violin play, backed by slow drum beats. Gradually the music turns becomes more lush and dynamic, the focus is on intense vocals, then Mellotron violins join the emotional vocals, another strong musical idea by BBT.

Welcome To The Planet: Finally the title track, a varied and captivating goodbye. It starts with sumptuous keyboard layers and powerful drums, then the atmosphere changes to dreamy featuring brass, warm male vocals and celestial female vocals, blended with tender piano and a soaring flute sound, the climate is very hypnotizing. Next Seventies Pink Floyd seems the main inspiration with David Gilmour kind of slide guitar, and strong female vocals that evokes the legendary female part in The Great Gig In The Sky. Halfway almost soundtrack-like music that contains a sitar-like synth sound and slide guitar. The exciting conclusion delivers a blend of jazz and gospel with swinging piano and powerful female vocals, it sounds dynamic and cheerful. Finally tender female vocals and a brass sound, subtle, simply beautiful.

I am sure this new BBT album will please many progheads, perhaps it is their best effort, highly recommended!

**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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