Big Big Train have gotten bigger and bigger. I don’t mean just popularity wise. There are now 8 people in the band! It’s fine assuming all of the members are put to good use but I have yet to be convinced of that. I realize that all that I am about to say will just be sacrilegious for the prog world out there since BBT have become very popular over the last few years. Good for them though because they have earned it.
However, there’s really a sameness to what they do and their latest outing “Grimspound” is no exception. As I said, the band has 8 members yet only 2 of them write the music. That’s a HUGE waste of talent because both Rikard Sjöblom and Nick D’Virgilio are top notch song writers and I’d LOVE to hear them contribute a lot. While Sjöblom co-wrote two tracks, I’d like more! I assume this is part of the band agreeing as a whole but it comes at the expense of the music. There’s not a whole lot of difference from “Grimspound” to “The Underfall Yard,” for example. Even long time keyboardist Danny Manners got to co-write a track, “”On the Racing Line” and yet it still fails to deviate much.
This is not to say that BBT fans won’t love this album because let’s face it, if it ain’t broke…why fix it? I will say that tracks like the epic opener “Brave Captain” and “Experimental Gentlemen” are some of the best songs that BBT have ever done. But for a prog rock band, the issue for me is that they rarely “rock.” Much of what BBT does is more pleasant and pastoral. There’s a time and a place for that but I need more than that to hold my attention for very long.
And very long is what every BBT album is. So unless the band really work hard to make each track unbelievably unique, that sameness creeps in for me and yes it does here. “Meadowland” is a nice little track and I like it. But the title track is really the same type of track so things get a little bogged down. “The Ivy Gate” is different to a degree but it’s too folky for my taste and just gets skipped.
“A Mead Hall in Winter” is another epic which is nowhere near as good as “Brave Captain.” It’s definitely the standard BBT sound and has some really good moments in it musically (I imagine that is Sjöblom). Lyrically, it doesn’t work for me. The album closes with lead vocalist David Longdon sounding even more like Peter Gabriel than usual on “As the Crow Flies.” Not a bad track but calling something this obvious progressive seems weird to me.
I fully expect people to let me know how wrong I am about this album, which is fine. As you know, if you read my reviews, I am not one to just say something is great because everyone else does. This is no different. But I actually like “Grimspound” but to call it a masterpiece is really misplaced. I like it more than “Folklore” but there are better prog bands out there that are actually trying to push the genre forward and not backward. Still, nostalgia is nice so I always find myself giving time to BBT. “Grimspound” is a good album by a talented band but it could be so much more…band and album.
1. Brave Captain
2. On The Racing Line
3. Experimental Gentlemen
6. The Ivy Gate
7. A Mead Hall In Winter
8. As The Crow Flies