Big Big Train: The Underfall Yard
I had seen some buzz about Big Big Train on the interwebs, which was bolstered by the chatter amongst the NEARfest patrons. Many people said I had to get the new album, including some good friends. So, on the last day, I picked it up.
For most of my reviews, I give an album enough listens to really let it sink in. I did spin “The Underfall Yard” more than once, but this time my first impression captured best what I want to say. The album started out strong, with a vocal chorus that reminded me a bit of Moon Safari, accompanied by nice Mellowtron, and moody guitar work. The flute was powerful, and the like hasn’t been heard since classic Genesis, or John Hackett on brother Steve’s albums. The horns were a surprising, and welcome element. I was thinking this is pretty good.
Tight but mellow bass, drum and guitar opened the next track, and then the lead vocals were heard for the first time. There was something familiar in the voice. Phil Collins, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Mark Hollis all came to mind, only with more of a gutteral approach and strength. Once again nice Mellowtron, guitar and bass work, and this time some piano added. It built into a jam, and put me in the mind of Genesis, only the guitar work was not as inventive. But I was still impressed, and very grateful for my purchase.
The third track began solidly in Genesis territory (again), and even sounded a bit like a reworking “Blood on the Rooftops,” or “Mad Man Moon.” The nylon strings were definitely Hackett inspired. The instrumentals were well softly blended through the beginning, but the electric guitar ramps up rather abruptly for the next section. The jam was tight, and the Moon Safari harmonies returned. There were a few more changes, which was to be expected, as this is the first lengthy number of the album.
Then on to the fourth track, and now I will stop breaking down the elements of the composition. The reason being is that here is where I began to lose interest. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had heard this before. Then it occurred to me that this was because I had. Even though the band was really strong the music was absolutely bereft of any original ideas. There was also not a lot of dynamic variety (could have borrowed some of that too). I was listening to this in my car (on my way home from Pennsylvania), and wanted to give it a chance, so it kept playing. It got to be almost intolerable, and then mercifully it ended. At first I loved it, but once the revelation came it was unlistenable.
You may have noticed my referencing other artists, especially Genesis. It’s pretty much an amalgam of all the prog rock they have ever heard. On face value it’s not actually bad. It jams, but I want my new music to sound like something new. The only trace of originality here is in some of the instrumentation choices. I can enjoy completely derivative stuff. Just try injecting some ideas of your own (with this array of talent they must have some). The familiar can become over familiar, and cross the line to annoying.
So even though I know there are a lot of people out there that think this was on of the best albums of the 2009 (and I still respect your opinions my friends), I can’t recommend it. If I want to hear music like this, I basically already have tons of it in slightly altered forms. And I don’t mind if the artists that created these sounds in the first place still sound the same.
Andy Poole – bass, keyboards
Greg Spawton – guitars, keyboards, bass
David Longdon – vocals, flute, glockenspiel, mandolin, organ, dulcimer, psaltry
Nick D’Virgilio – drums
Dave Gregory – guitars, electric sitar, Francis Dunnery – guitar, Jem Godfrey – synthesizer solos, Rich Evans – cornet, Dave Desmond – trombone, Jon Foyle – cello, electric cello, Nick Stones– french horn, Jon Truscott -tuba