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





Tim Bowness – Flowers At The Scene

13 02 2019

Tim Bowness’ fifth solo album Flowers At The Scene is released on InsideOutMusic/Sony on the 1st March 2019. Described as being “produced by no-man and Brian Hulse”, there is definitely the spirit of no-man in the DNA of some of the songs, whilst there is also a feeling of renewal with the wide-ranging guests and new musicians, who have breathed new life into this run of solo albums.

Flowers At The Scene has its own very clear musical identity and a cohesive sound, but still with plenty of variety in tones and mood. Album opener I Go Deeper features powerful (treated) drums from Bowness newbie Tom Atherton, and a great Mick Karn-like bassline from Colin Edwin. The edgy kitchen-sink drama lyrics perfectly suit the musical ebb and flow of the track.

“Wild, desperate kisses, fire escapes, near misses.”

The Train That Pulled Away feels somewhat like a distant relation of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, before exploding into a more powerful outro section (drummer Tom Atherton is a real find by the way).

Rainmark is the first track that really channels the spirit of no-man, dressed to impress, wearing a lovely Flowermouth outfit. One of several tracks to feature the trumpet playing of Ian Dixon and also home to a fine guitar solo from Jim Matheos (Fates Warning / OSI / contributor to Memories of Machines).

Not Married Anymore is the first song to feature Dylan Howe, and probably the albums saddest track. Which of course, makes it one of my favourites. Building on the recent Plenty album (and featuring Brian Hulse and David K Jones from the band), Not Married Anymore is simple, uncluttered but devastatingly melancholic. An early album highlight.

The title track dials in further sadness and regret, over a mesmerising drum and double bass pattern (the bass reminds me of Danny Thompson). A tale of visible signs of a painful loss (we have all seen wilting flowers at the scene of someones passing), Flowers At The Scene is achingly beautiful.

It’s The World is a musical oddity on the album. Metal guitar (along with Comsat Angel-like harmonics) from Jim Matheos, plus guitar and backing vocals from Peter Hammill and a synth coda from Steven Wilson, leads to the most startling / jarring piece on the album. It is uneasy listening.

Things calm down a little with Borderline, which features a vocal (and flute plus melodica) appearance from Big Big Train’s David Longdon. The organ and interplay between the flute and trumpet lift this song to a higher plane, and over the past few months this song has become one of my favourites from the album.

“Friends keeping tabs – You just say that you’re fine,
They’re watching you slip, across the fragile borderline.”

Ghostlike features instrumentation and a mix of styles that on paper simply should not work. A post-punk, seemingly (Banshees) Budgie inspired drum pattern underpins a Drive / LA synth soundtrack, topped off with some wonderful guitar tones. The haunting mood is deepened by the voyeuristic lyrics, heavily treated lead and backing vocal lines and frenzied guitar. If you were a fan of Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth album from the mid 80s (particularly Screen Kiss), you will love Ghostlike.

The War On Me strips the arrangement back to the electronic textures, whilst channelling no-man’s My Revenge on Seattle and Heaven’s Break for good measure. The War On Me is my favourite Bowness vocal performance on the album. Like Tony Visconti with David Bowie, Steven Wilson knows how to add that extra sheen to the production of Tim’s vocals.

The most uplifting song on the album is Killing To Survive, with its inventive, constantly evolving vocal arrangements, and it’s Plenty on steriods musical palette.

The album ends on one of its strongest pieces, and what I consider to be a Bowness career highlight with What Lies Here. With Returning Jesus recalling treated electronics, What Lies Here features Andy Partridge (XTC) delivering an emotive guitar line and Kevin Godley (10CC / Godley & Creme) supplying a rare guest vocal. With both guests shimmering in and out of the mix, it is an inspired collaboration.

Godley’s vocals are sadly missing from the current musical landscape. I personally think that the first four Godley & Creme albums are some of the most interesting and influential releases of the late 70s, early 80s, and its great to hear his voice again. The abrupt end to What Lies Here catches me out every time.

“You, you’ll never make your way back home”

Flowers At The Scene is perfectly sequenced, and whilst it is not as obviously musically framed as Lost In The Ghost Light, the variety of moods and stylistic twists and turns makes this the most satisfying solo release to date from Tim. Lost In The Ghost Light also only really worked as a complete listening experience for me (which suited the theme), whereas a lot of the songs on Flowers At The Scene stand up in isolation.

Tracklisting
I Go Deeper (4.16)
The Train That Pulled Away (4.04)
Rainmark (4.15)
Not Married Anymore (3.31)
Flowers At The Scene (3.05)
It’s The World (3.04)
Borderline (3.46)
Ghostlike (5.09)
The War On Me (3.48)
Killing To Survive (4.00)
What Lies Here (4.01)

produced by no-man and Brian Hulse
mixed by Steven Wilson, mastered by Steve Kitch
no-man is Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson

Flowers At The Scene is available as a CD in deluxe digipak, 180g black vinyl in gatefold cover with insert and CD, and a Burning Shed only 180g red vinyl edition in gatefold cover with insert and CD. All pre-orders from Burning Shed come with an exclusive signed greeting card and an mp3 EP of alternate versions.

Pre-order (CD / vinyl) from Burning Shed
Pre-order the CD from Amazon
Pre-order the vinyl from Amazon








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