fri 19/08/2022

Album: Big Big Train - Welcome to the Planet | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Big Big Train - Welcome to the Planet

Album: Big Big Train - Welcome to the Planet

The band's 14th studio album is a tame affair

Big Big Train: a soft machine?BBT

Six months after the release of Common Ground, neo-proggers Big Big Train return with another album of meticulously crafted songs urging human connection, closing communication gaps, and celebrating what it is to be alive; the opener and closer of Welcome to the Planet are addressed to newborns. The sole love song is an ode to a wife.

And just as “happiness writes white on the page", so naive idealism roars with silence in the ears. 

These ears anyway. Like its predecessor, Welcome to the Planet is not the most expansive or melodic BBT opus, but diehards will likely adore its typically impeccable musicianship and lush arrangements. The production is crystalline: violin, guitar, flute, mellotron, and Hammond organ each shine in the mix, and the vocal harmonies are outstanding. Economically used brass adds loungey and cosmopolitan colours, redolent of ‘60s pop and soundtracks, and gives the tunes some clarion sharpness.

Sentiment is understandably high, too, because this will be the last full BBT studio album to feature the singing of David Longdon, who died at 56 on 20 November after a fall – an acutely tragic loss. After the multi-instrumentalist joined BBT in its tenth year in 2009, his earnest, husky voice supplied the music's soulfulness, notably on such narrative- and history-driven projects as The Underfall Yard, the English Electric diptych, FolkloreGrimspound, and the Far Skies Deep Time EP. Longdon's singing on the coalmining track "A Boy in Darkness" alone should have convinced Genesis they made a mistake in not hiring him when he auditioned to replace Phil Collins.

Longdon’s legacy is his entire BBT output, not Welcome to the Planet particularly. He and violinist Clare Lindley kick it off cheerfully enough with a vocal duet on “Made From Sunshine", though no rock band worth it’s name should sanction the lyric “Your toes are tiny perfection-shaped/ It’s true/ They’re so/ Kissable too".

Longdon’s voice is at its most yearningly Gabriel-esque on “Oak and Stone” and toward the end of “Proper Jack Froster", a nostalgic recollection of childhood sledding days that darkens into disillusion with its sense of Eden passing: “Mum can bark and shout the house down/ But there are hens with sharper teeth". The dusky singing of Clare Bryant, the band’s new pianist, ratchets up the plaintiveness during the song’s middle eight.

But that's the only track with a hint of danger. Musically and lyrically, Welcome to the Planet is empty of anguish, lust, brokenheartedness, rage, jealousy, excitement, or any kind of neurosis, irony, or humour: the very stuff of pop and rock. It’s an overtly pleasant album largely devoid of drama, tension, or the expression of passion, which brimmed in the rich, dynamic music of the Moody Blues, a classic prog group whose songs also ached to make the world a better place. Maybe BBT’s true genre currently is “adult-oriented prog” – prelapsarian though Welcome to the Planet sounds, babies or not.

No rock band worth it’s name should sanction the lyric 'Your toes are tiny perfection-shaped'

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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