The Big Big Train sphere of influence continues to grow as the band's former drummer Steve Hughes (drums, bass, percussion, keyboards, vocals, guitar) unleashes his debut album and what a first it is too. Enlisting the help of ex Big Big Train bandmate Sean Filkins, who provides both vocals and lyrics, and several other musicians including Hughes' long time partner, JC Strand (guitars). Tales From The Silent Oceanis a collection of varied and superior symphonically-driven pieces, which are haunting and beguiling in equal measure.
There's a story at its heart that tells of a troubled writer with manic depression who systematically destroys himself, loses his family and finally surrenders to the sea.
However, the musical picture Hughes and his cohorts paint sweeps across a broad canvas of moods encompassing a variety of effects such as bird song and the sounds of the fairground. These add elements of life to the glorious music and thoughtful lyrics which make this album such an absorbing journey.
Filkins is in his element belting out the opener Will We Ever Be Free, a frantic maelstrom touching on madness, Big Brother, reality TV, beheadings on the internet and politicians: “How can they sleep at night, how can they live to lie another day?”
Tapestry Of Change really lives up to its name. It is a huge composition which keeps shifting its musical shape. Hughes' kickass drumming gets into gear at one point, a heart-stopping guitar comes at another, followed by a sonic wash of synths over which ethereal voices gather and cry out.
There are less frenetic songs such as One Day that takes a semi-acoustic arrangement, to which he keeps adding features such as lush vocal harmonies and orchestral passages.
The Days Without You is a very sad love song running to less than two minutes, which ably demonstrates how Hughes can mix it up with his longer epics.
Hughes and Filkins work well together vocally on Gonna Make It which has spoken dialogue in the mix to give extra texture to the central story of a man losing everything.
The longest track Sunshine Willow is synthesiser-driven and again uses different “normal” sounds such as a baby crying. This is followed by the brief instrumental Willow's Lament and finally the plaintive Goodbye My Love.
The album is a triumph for Hughes in both content and style. Though the storyline may sound rather convoluted, the way the songs express the many emotions and events the central character experiences is a true feast for the senses.
**** Alison Henderson
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