BIG BIG TRAIN – The Likes Of Us (Album Review)

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Big Big Train has made many stops along its journey over the past decade, with musicians coming and going more often than a band like Yes (though largely under much more agreeable circumstances). Still, the changes made after David Longdon’s tragic death a few years ago have likely been some of the most impactful of the band’s career. What was left as a core trio (Greg Spawton, Nick D’Virgilio, and Rikard Sjöblom) has now blossomed into a 7-member band, including new lead singer Alberto Bravin. To say the resulting debut album of this new incarnation would be pivotal is an understatement. 

Happily, Big Big Train rose to the challenge, delivering an album brimming with inspiration, masterful compositions, and performances. It’s hard to imagine “The Likes Of Us” not appealing to most every fan of the band, from the die-hard “passengers” to relative newcomers who may make this album their starting point. Quite simply, it’s some of the best music the band has produced in their 25-year career. At the same time, it can be hard to make comparisons to previous albums, as there clearly is a new tone in the band’s music, even as they retain key elements that are the DNA of Big Big Train

Bravin makes his first appearance immediately, singing-in the opening track “Light Left In The Day” with a 12-string guitar as the sole accompaniment. His melodious voice is entrancing, but it’s only a 30-second vocal section before the more-familiar brass band opens up a 5-minute instrumental ride – an overture to the album, of sorts. Ironically, this new lead singer penned the extended instrumental section of the song, while Spawton wrote the vocal line. As it turns out, Bravin isn’t just the band’s new lead singer, he is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who ended up co-authoring much of the album’s material. The band chose quite well, apparently. 

“Light Left In The Day” is a glorious opener to the album – at times truly breathtaking – especially as the full arrangement culminates with rousing lines from new keyboardist Oskar Holldorff, doubled by violinist Clare Lindley. The piece then segues seamlessly into the first single “Oblivion”, written by drummer Nick D’Virgilio and guitarist Dave Foster. Boasting gigantic harmony support from the band’s 5 singers, this is a perfect hard-driving song that shows off Bravin’s vocal strength and the band’s dynamic range. 

“The Likes Of Us” Album Artwork

We then launch into a 17+ minute epic ride “Beneath the Masts” which is largely based on Spawton’s reflections of the ending of childhood pasts as family members pass away. Overall this is a much more personal album than most in the Big Big Train catalog, which proves to be a welcome approach as the band continues to experience more vulnerability in its evolution. Twelve-string guitar is also extremely present throughout the album and guides much of this epic’s structure, apart from a wonderful middle instrumental section that rocks out. 

There’s another lengthy piece on the album, the 10-minute “Miramare”, written about the castle not far from Bravin’s home. This is the one piece on the album that tells a historical story but even here, the connection of the castle to Bravin’s heart is apparent. The song also is an album highlight, bringing more of the other band’s singers to the fore as well as truly impassioned lead violin playing from Lindley and Spawton’s marvelous bass playing. Sumptuous. 

The shorter songs easily equal – if not surpass – the epics. “Love Is The Light” is a gorgeous anthemic ballad from Bravin, featuring some of the most inspired guitar solos on the album as the brass supports in the background. Hairs stand up on your arm as Bravin crescendos for the closing “liiiiiight” while the band chants a refrain of “Ohhh’s”.Skates On” transforms a potentially melancholic subject matter into a carpe-diem refrain, as layered backing vocals draw their inspiration from the Beach Boys or even Jellyfish. “Bookmarks” runs the risk of being entangled in the ripples of one-too-many 12-string Genesis-inspired songs, but ultimately it’s a strong enough song on its own to belong in this collection. 

Finally, “Last Eleven” closes the album on a strong note, amidst a flurry of bass notes and D’Virgilio’s precise percussive hits. Speaking of D’Virgilio, his voice gets into the mix here with Bravin, which seems fitting since they inhabit a similar range. An impassioned closing number, it’s yet one more highlight (of many) on the album, which finds Bravin and the band taking a Spawton composition to new heights once again. 

What’s not to love? On an album that truly counts, Big Big Train brings it into the station right on time. Long-standing Big Big Train engineer Rob Aubrey once again ensures that the recording sounds brilliant, impressive given the number of singers and wide range of instruments including the brass band and guest cellist Brian Mullan. The newer and older musicians blend seamlessly together. Big Big Train has been reborn yet again, with more lives than a cat, and is sounding all the more impressive for it. Bravo!

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Gregory Spawton / Bass
  • Nick D’Virgilio / Drums and vocals
  • Rikard Sjöblom / Guitars, keyboards
  • Alberto Bravin / Vocals
  • Dave Foster / Guitars
  • Clare Lindley / Violin
  • Oskar Holldorff / Keyboards

“The Likes Of Us” track-listing:

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

Pre-order “The Likes Of Us”: UK, Europe, Rest of the World HERE, North America HERE, and digitally HERE.

9.1 Excellent

Experiencing a brilliant rebirth, Big Big Train keeps on rolling with their 15th album, arguably one of their best yet. Newer band members gel seamlessly with the veteran core of the band, yet it’s new lead singer Alberto Bravin who confidently moves the band a giant step forward, as much through his songwriting as through his playing and vocal performance. Surely one of 2024’s best has been unveiled

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 10
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