The past two years have finally seen the arrival of the British band Big Big Train that has been steadily building up a reputation as suppliers of thoughtful, intelligent prog shot through with nostalgic themes and fascinating strands of history. Such was the volume of material they had built up, they recorded two superlative albums: English Electric Part 1 (2012, see review) and English Electric Part 2 (2013), both of which have found their way into many 'best of' lists for 2012 and 2013. Such has been their recent rapid ascent and as a result they won the Prog Award in September for Best Breakthrough Act.
English Electric: Full Power brings these two albums together under one cover. And what a cover it is, comprising a beautifully illustrated 96-page booklet with the stories behind the songs and the musicians. On top of that, four new songs have been added and the whole collection has been re-sequenced over two discs. Starting the first disc of Full Power is Make Some Noise , which is nothing like anything else they are currently producing, being a real throwback to another time with its retro feel, big flute sound and some deft changes of tempo. This could be the Dave Gregory (XTC) influence kicking in, but the song by vocalist-flautist David Longdon reflecting on his childhood days of playing with his first band.
This then segues seamlessly into part one's stunning opener The First Rebreather. Two more of the new songs appear on disc one. Firstly Seen Better Days, another gorgeous homage to the past with Danny Manners's plaintive piano − a key feature − and on which Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) puts in a guest appearance on backing vocals. This goes straight into Edgelands on which Manners again demonstrates his expressive, silky piano playing which suddenly morphs into the epic East Coast Racer, perhaps the greatest long track of the year and finally the wistful piece Summoned By Bells.
Disc two contains the fourth of the new songs, the emotionally charged The Lovers on which Longdon again takes the centre stage with voice and flute. Again this song shows their great feel for melody and changes of mood; it's ending on a jazzy note with choral effects. For those already possessing English Electric (Part One) and Part Two, there is the alternative of an EP Make Some Noise containing the four new songs and some reworked tracks from the two albums. However, for the incredible artwork and the way they have completely changed the order of the songs, Full Power is an essential addition to any prog collection.
Big Big Train have defined their own distinct sound, which contains echoes of the past, notably Genesis, but this is a band very much at the top of its powers and to see how they emulate this masterpiece will be worth the wait.
***** Alison Henderson (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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