Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet track-by-track album review

13 01 2022

Big Big Train release their new album Welcome To The Planet on their own label, English Electric Recordings on 28 January 2022. The new album comes shortly after their 2020 release, Common Ground, and was completed before the untimely passing of their vocalist David Longdon in November 2021.

David is one of my favourite vocalists, and as each album from Big Big Train is released, it has been a joy to listen to the band progressing, exploring new lyrical themes and musical landscapes. David’s rich vocals, along with his powerful and intelligent songwriting, will be missed by all fans of the band.

Welcome To The Planet is the second album recorded during the pandemic, and with the new line-up of the band.

After teasing us with a series of stand-alone streaming releases, the album was confirmed late last year. Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton explained the short gap between albums: “The experience of the pandemic has shown us that we need to make the best use of our time on Earth. With that in mind and with new band members on board giving us a fresh head of steam, we decided on a speedy return to the studio to write and record Welcome To The Planet.”

The album opens with Made From Sunshine, a duet between David Longdon and Clare Lindley, the band’s violinist. An uplifting, optimistic take on new life and new beginnings bringing joy. It will bring a smile to your face, and acts as a perfect tonic for these troubled times we find ourselves living through.

“It’s clear to see, we’re on cloud nine.”

The Connection Plan is a Nick D’Virgilio song about connecting with others despite our differences. Driven by an insistent violin and a bass-line that cuts through from Greg Spawton, lovely mellotron lines feature to warm the hearts of the traditional prog-heads!

The vocal arrangement of the chorus is a real highlight of The Connection Plan.

“Kill the spotlight, power and might”

Two Greg Spawton composed tracks take their place in the album’s well-sequenced running order. Lanterna was inspired by the 16th Century Lanterna di Genova (the Lighthouse of Genoa).

Lanterna has a beautiful, slow-paced but intricate introduction section that highlights the warm timbre of David Longdon’s voice, before the tempo picks up and the band kicks in.

The riffs intertwine and fight for your attention, with some of the guitar lines reminding me of the work of Alan Murphy on Kate Bush’s Experiment IV single.

Capitoline Venus is a pared back recording featuring David on vocals / keyboards and Greg on 12-string guitar. A short, sweet and direct love song.

“I have seen enough. And found home”

A Room With No Ceiling is the first of two instrumental tracks on Welcome To The Planet. Written by guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom, A Room With No Ceiling is a jazz-hued progressive piece that drips with delicious hammond organ and rhodes piano, topped off with accordion and military paced drums. The refrain at the end of this song is very moving.

Proper Jack Froster kicks off the second section of the album. The lyrics tell the tale of Greg Spawton’s early childhood in the Midland’s. The song is a nostalgic and personal track, with a powerful vocal interplay between David and Carly Bryant. Wurlitzer electric piano and sleigh bells feature on Proper Jack Froster, as it perfectly captures the spirit of a 70s winter snowscape.

“Flying down the hills
On a sledge with rusty rails
One last run then home”

The album’s second instrumental is the Nick D’Virgilio penned Bats In The Belfry. One of my favourite tracks on the album, the percussive heavy piece is the most powerful performance I have heard from D’Virgilio as a member of Big Big Train. The drum section after the mid-song breakdown is stunning, and makes you want to go back to the beginning of the track to hear it all over again. And again.

Oak And Stone is the longest song on Welcome To The Planet, weighing in at just over seven minutes, so no “epics” on this album, but this is not an issue as all the tracks are so strong and the album works so well as a complete body of work.

Oak And Stone looks back at a life lived. The warm, laid back drums from Nick and the strong vocal performance from David (with powerful harmony vocals from Nick and David) in the coda make this such an enjoyable track, that will probably be an early favourite for many fans.

“Time to put this thing to rest
Time to leave the empty stage”

The album closes with the title track, and the band have saved the best till last. Written by new keyboard player Carly Bryant, and featuring Carly and David on vocals, the amazing rich harmonies, along with the dystopian lyrics, deliver a haunting track that give me strong J. G. Ballard vibes.

The space in the arrangement, with the sparse lyrics, make this track stand-out in the Big Big Train catalogue, and is a perfect example of how new band members are always welcome to add their creativity and personality to the mix with this most collaborative of bands.

The biggest surprise with Welcome To The Planet is the wide variety of styles and moods that inhabit the album. Having the writing split amongst the band members – both established and new – gives Welcome To The Planet a sense of vibrancy and playfulness that makes it one of the best albums from the band.

Buy the album (vinyl, CD plus bundle packages) at Burning Shed
Buy the CD from Amazon
Buy the vinyl from Amazon

Part One
Made From Sunshine
The Connection Plan
Lanterna
Capitoline Venus
A Room With No Ceiling

Part Two
Proper Jack Froster
Bats In The Belfry
Oak And Stone
Welcome To The Planet


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