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Tracklist: 1. The Last English King 5:50 2. Broken English 14:09 3. This is Where We Came in 5:22 4. Harold Rex Interfectus Est 1:02 (inst.) 5. Blacksmithing 3:03 6. Malffose 0:53 (inst.) 7. Love Is Her Thing 3:50 8. How the Earth From This Place Has Power Over Fire 1:53 (inst.) 9. A Short Visit To Earth 6:18 10. For Winter 16:47 11. A Long Finish 8:20 (inst.) All music: by G. Spawton, except 2 (by Spawton, A. Poole, P. Hogg) & 10 (by Spawton & Poole). All lyrics by G. Spawton. Produced by A. Poole. Line-up: Gregory Spawton - guitars, keyboards, backing vocals Andy Poole - bass, backing vocals Phil Hogg - drums & percussion Tony Muller - lead vocals, piano & synthesizer With: Ian Cooper - keyboards (on tracks 2, 10, & 11) Jo Michaels - female vocals (on 2, 3, 5, 7, & 10) Martin Read - another male vocals (on 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, & 10) Rob Aubrey - wind chimes (on 11) Recorded, mixed, & mastered by Rob Aubrey at "Nomansland" studios, New Forest, UK.
Prologue. "Bard" is the third album by Big Big Train. Until now, I've heard only their debut album. However, it was back in the middle of the 1990s, and I have already forgotten most of that album's contents. I only remember that the band's style at that time was Neo Art-Rock.
The Album. First, I'd like to describe those three short instrumentals that are located in the middle of the album. Harold Rex Interfectus Est (track 4), which is the best of them, consists of interplay between passages and solos of classical acoustic guitar and passages of keyboard, which sounds not unlike the Mellotron. The mellow passages of two different keyboards are featured on both Malffose and How the Earth From This Place Has Power Over Fire (tracks 6 & 8). Although all three of these pieces are on the whole nice, they're nevertheless too short and look like the sketches of some of one incomplete piece. In my view, their presence on this lengthy album was not obligatory. Especially since all eight of the other tracks that are featured on "Bard" were created within the framework of a unified stylistics. The level of complexity is the only parameter, by which a few of these songs differ from the others. The Last English King, This is Where We Came in, Blacksmithing, and Love Is Her Thing (tracks 1, 3, 5, & 7) present a melodious and mostly mellow Neo Art (Symphonic) Rock. What is interesting is that although all four of these songs are mostly based on the vocals, the instrumental arrangements flow nonstop throughout all of them. Unfortunately, these arrangements are both simple and rather monotonous. The parts of the soloing instruments change just a little in the course of each of these songs. Which doesn't allow them to reach the status of Classic Progressive. However, the main merit of these and all four of the remaining tracks on the album is their obvious originality, which, by the way, aren't that typical for the performers of Neo camp. Apart from the second song Broken English, all three of the other excellent tracks on the album were collected in the 'tail-end' of it. These are two songs A Short Visit To Earth and For Winter, and the instrumental piece A Long Finish (tracks 9, 10, & 11). I think it is quite significant that all four of the best tracks on the album are the longest ones. On two of them, - A Short Visit To Earth and For Winter, - the vocal and instrumental parts are balanced very well. Although the arrangements that are featured on them aren't that complex, they, however, are very diverse and tasteful. All four of the tracks that I just referred to, are worthy to be called the works of the Classic Symphonic Art-Rock genre. However, Broken English (track 2) and the last track on the album A Long Finish are the absolute winners. While the vocals are featured on only the first (and smaller) part of Broken English, A Long Finish is a purely instrumental piece. The point is that the band's compositional and performing skills are becoming apparent (at least on this album) in the instrumental parts, most of which are truly impressive. Whereas the presence of quite a big number of lead singers on "Bard" has nothing to do with the integrity of the ProGduction as a whole.
Summary. Personally, I regard the originality as a major trump, and Big-Big Train have it up their sleeves. I haven't found any distinct traces of alien influences on this album. Although there are only four tracks on "Bard" that I really like, they last 45 minutes, which is quite enough for a full-length album. Certainly, I doubt that "Bard" will be highly appreciated by most of the 'classic' Prog-heads. On the other hand, I doubt that it will be disliked by most of the Neo-lovers. In any case, this original and, in many ways, interesting album should please a large audience and get more than a merely decent niche within the framework of Neo.
VM. March 26, 2002
Big-Big Train discography: 1994 - "Goodbye To the Age of Steam" (released by IQ's "Giant Electric Pea") 1997 - "English Boy Wonders" (also by "GEP") 2002 - "Bard" (by the band's own label 'Treefrog')
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