Big Big Train - Welcome To The Planet,
On 20th November 2021, BBT vocalist David Longdon died in hospital after an accident at his home. This obviously had a major impact on the band and everyone who knew him, yet they had just completed their latest album so what to do with it? David was very proud of the recording, and in conjunction with his partner, the band made the decision to release it in January 2022. Of course, this meant I had not heard it prior to David’s passing, so it is quite possible that my review is impacted due to that knowledge, but I will attempt to remain as objective as possible. Although the band had changed to a quartet for the previous release, ‘Common Ground’, they were now operating as a septet with no guests whatsoever. David Longdon (lead vocals), Gregory Spawton (bass), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums, vocals) were now joined permanently by three musicians who all performed on the previous album as well, Carly Bryant (keyboards, lead vocals), Dave Foster (guitars) and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals).
Unlike most progressive bands, Big Big Train have become more prolific as they have got older: it took them twenty years to release their first seven albums, yet in the last ten they released eight, and at a much higher quality as well. Not bad for a band I have now known for more than 30 years, and this was their fifteenth (yes, I include the CD version of ‘From the River To The Sea’ as their debut as that was how we regarded it at the time). They have increased much of the complexity which was found on ‘Common Ground’ yet maintaining the freshness and light so that one never feels overwhelmed or smothered and instead is taken on a journey where one does not know where or how it is going to lead. The result is exciting and enthralling as one is taken into a world full of beauty and surprises. One can understand why David was proud of this as his vocals are outstanding, but there are lengthy passages where he makes no appearance at all, yet the music is still vital and engaging.
The violin lets the band move in folkier directions when the time is right, and they also allow themselves to play in standard time and be commercial when they want, and then go off at tangents at others, always with a harmony to the arrangements which is superb. Greg combines with Nick to provide wonderfully melodic and powerful basslines which cuts through the gentler aspects, grounding the music so it never goes too far in any direction but instead stays core to the vision. The result is possibly the finest BBT album of their career, but instead of looking forward to the follow-up we now wait to see what happens next. That there will be a next was never in doubt, and in March the band announced their new singer is Alberto Bravin of PFM.
This is a wonderful album. Do not listen to it in sadness at David’s passing, but instead treat it as the triumph it is, an incredible piece of work.