Search
Close this search box.

share

Big Big Train “The Likes Of Us” Album Review by Marc Fernandez

006 BigBigTrain ph Massimo Goina w credit scaled

Two Thousand and Twenty-four sees Big Big Train reach many milestones, including an extensive transcontinental tour in support of their newest studio effort, The Likes Of Us, the first full-length LP to feature new lead-singer Alberto Bravin. The band now features the multi-national septet with newest members Bravin and Oskar Holldorff on their first studio release, with returning members Dave Foster  and Clare Lindley (who joined in 2020 and 2021 respectively), and long-time multi-instrumentalists Nick D’Virgilio and Rikard Sjöblom. And of course, at the core of every BBT line-up, bassist and writer Greg Spawton, the only remaining founding member still on-board since the group’s inception in 1990. Fast-forward thirty four years and we arrive at their latest effort, which features eight songs of varying length and style, mood and emotion, and perhaps a little bit of something for every fan.

Opening the album is “Light Left In The Day”, a mostly instrumental piece, although it begins with Bravin singing a short three-stanza lyric over some gentle acoustic guitar. Following that is a brief brass interlude into some piano and guitar interplay before launching in the song proper, which feels like an epic overture for the whole album. The meat of this opening track seems like a powerful statement by the band musically that they are pushing forward with new members, new life breathed into their music, with a carefully curated blend of familiar sounds and fresh ideas. 

This track reminds me of so many of the Neal Morse “Overtures” on his solo albums and with Transatlantic. There’s a lot of musical ideas pieced together in a through-composed manner but in a very coherent way that feels fluid and seamless. While I’ve listened to the album a fair number of times, I’ve still yet to discern if any of these themes or melodies appear elsewhere on the album, but they all evoke the quintessential “BBT Sound” as various instruments take the melodic lead. As the album unfolds, there are several melodic and lyrical motifs repeated between its varying songs, lending itself to feel very cohesive and almost conceptual in a way that more recent BBT albums have only barely touched.

As the opening piece closes, it crossfades into the album’s first official single “Oblivion”, opening with a glorious harmonization of the title before going into the first verse. This is another powerful, anthemic BBT song, which the band have proven they could craft as evidenced in earlier albums with songs like “Make Some Noise”, “Folklore”, and “Alive”. The song seemed well-received upon release, and was a solid choice for the first single as it exemplifies the band’s ability to move from strong vocal choruses to quieter, gentle bridges, while providing some expert playing from all members involved. Bravin’s vocals really shine here as they run the gamut, echoing the instrumentalists’ intensity throughout.

“Beneath The Masts” sees the band stretch their musical muscles, giving us their longest song since 2010’s “The Wide Open Sea” (from their album-length EP Far Skies Deep Time). Anyone familiar with the 2022-released song “Last Eleven” (the first officially released recording of the band with Bravin on vocals), will recognize some of the vocal melodies in the opening portion of this piece. While Spawton was the original brainchild behind this album’s requisite epic, it was transformed by the rest of the band into its final state, resulting in a song that stands alongside some of the band’s other notable epics like “A Mead Hall In Winter”, “Voyager”, and “Atlantic Cable”. It is in this song where the band begins to show some of their newer influences and style, particularly a jazzy interlude in the middle with some powerful brass hits and expert drumming by D’Virgilio. The album features some heavier moments here and there, though not quite like the dark-heavy style that earlier albums like The Difference Machine or The Underfall Yard had, so it’s not quite reaching into progressive metal territory. These new sounds also seem reflective of the band’s continual move from pastoral folk stories and myth to more personal reflections and lyrics based on band members’ own history and lives.

Lyrically, “Skates On” feels like a message to enjoy life, while instrumentally it reminds me a bit of “Made From Sunshine” (from Welcome To The Planet) with its jaunty compound meter. There are some gorgeous backing vocals throughout this song’s verses before going into the chorus, which urges us to “get your skates on / we’re here and then gone.” There’s a sense of bittersweet melancholy, a bit of nostalgia but also optimistic hopefulness, feelings that seem to permeate this record.

“Miramare” was the first significant collaboration between Spawton and Bravin, who approached Spawton with ideas of this storytelling epic, based on a 19th century Spanish castle. A slightly edited version of this song was released as the band’s second pre-release single for The Likes Of Us, and being another piece rooted in a historical setting, there’s a lot of drama both lyrically and musically. The middle section features some bombastic mellotron hits and more great fills from D’Virgilio’s drums, as well as the ever-powerful brass section. Of all the pieces on the album, this song reminds me the most of 2010’s era Big Big Train. 

“Love Is The Light” sees the band enter into slower territory, offering up a gentle ballad about love, but not in a shmaltzy way. Filled with brass and a broad and sweeping guitar solo in the bridge, this song will have you singing along with its backing vocal “whoas” as you ponder lyrics such as “Here with our broken wings / it’s so hard to believe / that we can learn to fly / together again.” This was the album’s third pre-release single, appropriately coming out on Valentine’s Day.

The next piece, “Bookmarks”, opens with Bravin’s vocals over acoustic guitar and keys, setting the tone for another reflective piece that feels like a dedication to long lost friends and memories with them, but amidst that melancholy is the hopeful optimism that we can find them, or that they will find us once again. Long-time fans of BBT will recognize the oft-used metaphors and analogies of bodies of water (rivers, streams, oceans), words and ideas prevalent throughout the band’s history, but used quite appropriately here to effectively communicate the song’s lyrical meanings.

The final track, “Last Eleven”, was technically the first song heard with Bravin on lead vocals, released back in August 2022 ahead of the band’s The Journey Continues mini-tour. Originally written before Bravin joined the band, this piece was repurposed from an abandoned album titled Shallow Enders. Written by Spawton, this song is about growing up and doing your own thing, being the kids who were left-out or singled-out by the popular crowd. The album’s title comes from the final, inquisitive lines “Can the likes of us / find a place to call our own?”, which close the album in a curious place, leaving the listener to ask if this new incarnation of the band can stand alongside those who have come before.

While the band has always had an ever-evolving roster, with no more than three consecutive studio albums by a single line-up, there have been numerous (and sometimes surprising) changes in the past five years alone. Of course, the one most felt was the loss of David Longdon in late 2021, who seemed to reignite the band with his first BBT album, 2009’s The Underfall Yard. Since then, the band have skyrocketed both critically and musically, garnering attention from prog rock fans old and new, and gaining many awards and high chart postions. 

Many may feel the absence of Longdon on this album, whose last (and posthumous) appearance was last year’s Ingenious Devices (a compilation of spruced-up epics from previous albums), but his spirit is definitely honored throughout this record, the band’s first full release without him. While they have already performed twenty very well received concerts in 2022 and 2023 with Bravin at the fore, fans who could not yet see the current line-up will get their first full taste of the band through this studio album. As a fan of BBT, colloquially known as a “Passenger”, for over a decade now, I’ve followed their progress carefully, with every new album, EP, and single, and I can confidently say that The Likes Of Us continues to see them push forward on the path to success and creative fulfillment, both in the studio and, not long after the album releases, on the road across North America in the spring and the UK/Europe in the fall of 2024. 

Marc’s Rating: 9/10

The Likes Of Us releases March 1st, 2024, through InsideOut Music, available on CD, CD/Blu-Ray Mediabook with 5.1 Dolby Atmos Surround mix, various colored vinyl LPs, and digital download.

Pre order your copy HERE

Big Big Train album cover

Tracklist:

1.Light Left In The Day 06:10
2.Oblivion 05:27
3.Beneath The Masts 17:26
4.Skates On 04:28
5.Miramare 10:17
6.Love Is The Light 06:11
7.Bookmarks 06:23
8.Last Eleven 07:55

BIG BIG TRAIN:
ALBERTO BRAVIN – Lead vocals, guitar, keyboards
NICK D’VIRGILIO – Drums, percussion, vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, vocals
DAVE FOSTER – Guitars
OSKAR HOLLDORFF – Keyboards, vocals
CLARE LINDLEY – Violin, vocals
RIKARD SJÖBLOM – Guitars, keyboards, vocals
GREGORY SPAWTON – Bass guitar, bass pedals, 12-string acoustic guitar, Mellotron

BIG BIG TRAIN online:
www.bigbigtrain.com
https://www.facebook.com/bigbigtrain/
https://twitter.com/bigbigtrain

www.instagram.com/bigbigtrain

The band have also just announced UK & European tour dates for September/October 2024. The full list of dates is below:
 
17th September – Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, UK
18th September – The Riverfront, Newport, UK
19th September – Playhouse Theatre, Whitley Bay, UK
21st September – Queens Hall, Edinburgh, UK
22nd September – Palace Theatre, Newark, UK
24th September – Stables Theatre, Milton Keynes, UK
25th September – The Stoller Hall, Manchester, UK
27th September – Stadthalle, Weinheim, Germany
28th September – Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
29th September – Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
1st October – Cosmopolite, Oslo, Norway
2nd October – Viften, Copenhagen, Denmark
 
The band will also perform for the first ever time in the USA in March 2024, including an appearance on Cruise To The Edge. The full list of shows can be found below:
 
1st March – Sweetwater Performance Theatre, Fort Wayne, Indiana (sold out)
2nd March – Rivoli Theater at the Williams Center, Rutherford, New Jersey
3rd March – Rivoli Theater at the Williams Center, Rutherford, New Jersey
5th March – Regent Theatre, Arlington (Boston), Massachusetts
6th March – Electric City, Buffalo, New York
8th-13th March – Cruise To The Edge (sold out)
 
The band have also confirmed two summer 2024 festival appearances at the final Night of the Prog Festival in Germany on 21st July, and Cropredy Festival in the UK on 9th August.
 
Ticket links for all shows are at www.bigbigtrain.com/live

Are you a band, artist, or record label interested in having your music showcased on our page and social media platforms?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

most read

Subscribe to our updates

Most Viewed