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(58:44, ‘EER’/GEP Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The First Rebreather 8:32 2. Uncle Jack 3:49 3. Winchester from St Giles' Hill 7:16 4. Judas Unrepentant 7:18 5. Summoned By Bells 9:16 6. Upton Heath 5:39 7. A Boy in Darkness 8.04 8. Hedgerow 8:52 LINEUP: Greg Spawton – el. & ac. guitars; keyboards Andy Poole – basses; keyboards David Longdon – vocals; flute Dave Gregory – el. guitar Nick D'Virgilio – drums With: Andy Tillison – organ, Moog, synthesizers Dave Desmond – trombone Edo Spanninga – recorders Ken Brake – string section Eleanour Gilchrist – violin Geraldine Berreen – violin Teresa Whipple – viola Abigail Trundle – cello Martin Orford – b/vox &: Ten more musicians!
Prolusion. “English Electric Part-I” is the eighth full-length album by BIG-BIG TRAIN (BBT hereinafter), one of the most creatively stable bands from Britain’s modern progressive rock scene. There are eight tracks on this 58-minute output, and all of them contain vocals with a lyrical content. Click here to visit the group’s section on this site and learn more of our vision of its work.
Analysis. The first three BBT albums are Neo-oriented creations, but all of the subsequent ones are closer to classic Symphonic Progressive in style, most of those having quite a lot in common between them in general. In short, much of “English Electric” finds the band once again re-exploring symphonic Art-Rock of a classic Genesis mode, which they often do in a truly progressive way, although their songs are normally richer in vocals than those by the most influential sympho-prog act of all time, at least during the relevant period of their activity. BBT members are at their best when they drive toward full-scale instrumental development, such as on tracks like The First Rebreather, A Boy in Darkness, Winchester from St Giles' Hill and Judas Unrepentant, with spotlight Moog, Hammond and guitar leads, which build into grand passages. On each of these they blend classic era Genesis with their own approach to the style – and it works. Only occasionally the influence borders on plagiarism, while more often, it is used as a springboard for developing the group’s own ideas. Quite traditionally, the Genesis factor is most apparent in David Longdon‘s vocals (he skillfully imitates each of the legend’s singers, more frequently Peter Gabriel and Ray Wilson than Phil Collins, though), in the instrumental interludes with piano, flute and acoustic guitar in the arrangement (the one on Judas Unrepentant instantly evoking the mid section of ‘Firth of Fifth’ from “Selling England by the Pound”), and also – partly – in the guitar work of Greg Spawton, who at times uses that wonderful Steve Hackett approach, especially effective when playing the acoustic version. Andy Tillison’s keyboard work lays the foundation; the Tony Banks sounds appear in places, but Andy is a strong player, soloing almost ceaselessly, within the vocal sections in particular. Not enough can be said for the rhythm section of bassist Andy Poole (the most original voice in the band, to my mind) and drummer Nick D’Virgilio, of Spock’s Beard and Genesis’s fame. Their precise grooves create a concrete base for all the symphonic elements. One significant difference is that the lead vocals here are fairly often accompanied by a mixed choir, although the involvement of a string quartet in the songs adds a much stronger sense of identity to their sound, all of which, in addition, makes a dramatic mood give way to a romantic one more often than probably ever before. None of the described songs are as intricate as the classic Genesis ones. On the other hand, while the arrangements aren’t too complex, each of them has a lot of interesting material within itself. The other tracks show that the band’s design was not to omit any of Genesis’ main phases of work (only why?). Save those within its next-to-last move, Summoned by Bells consists of more restrained arrangements, reminiscent of ‘Ripples’ from “A Trick of the Tail”, albeit it finishes in a rather unusual manner – with a brief trumpet-led theme. Still, this is a good composition. Unfortunately, the remaining three are heavily derivative and are too trite compared to the others. The concluding piece, Hedgerow, appears as a kind of potpourri which, however, isn’t of the same nature as ‘Los Endos’. It consists of variations on ‘Keep It Dark’ and a few other songs from “Abacab”, with Longdon singing like Phil Collins now – almost throughout, to be more precise, since the piece’s last section is a hybrid of Yes’s ‘Onward’ and ‘Captured’. Finally, Uncle Jack and Upton Heath are both folk-tinged pop tunes molded upon ‘Congo’, a song from the “Calling All Stations” album, which has been used as a single, but failed to reach any heights in Billboard or any other major charts either.
Conclusion. In summary, this album is both well worn and well done, although it’s the former aspect that stands out for me personally. Heard a lot of Genesis-style creations? Still can’t get enough of those? Then get your regular happy ending by purchasing “English Electric”.
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