This is a brief review of the 2008 re-recorded version of 'English Boy Wonders'. I haven't heard the original recording, so I can't compare the two. Two years ago I acquired BBT's last new studio album 'The Difference Machine', which was my first exposure to the band. My initial impression was favourable, but somehow I didn't get round to listening to it much after that. I guess I had mentally consigned them to the B-list of contemporary prog bands. My recent acquisition of 'English Boy Wonders', which I've got into in a big way, has prompted a re-exploration of the back catalogue, followed by a revision of that perhaps over-hastily formed opinion.
Generally, the albums seem to get better and better: 2002's rather unformed 'Bard' was not my cup of tea, but since 'Gathering Speed' (2004) it's clearly been nothing but onwards and upwards. This most recent release is an absorbing collection of musically proficient, well-crafted and well-recorded, reflective and melodic songs. I feel the progressive element here comes more from the overall conception and presentation than from the musical style itself. On English Boy Wonders, BBT have a pop-sensibility reminiscent of XTC, but generally have a unique sound that defies neat categorisation.
I particularly liked the unexpected piano-led jazzy moments that popped up at various points in the eclectic blend. EBW is a lengthy album - about 78 minutes longs, but to my ears not a dull moment. I now eagerly await their forthcoming studio album (December 2009) 'The Underfall Yard', which will surely, and deservedly raise Big Big Train's profile further.
Later in October 2009 edit: The 23 minute title track to 'The Underfall Yard' is now available for free download from the band's website. Sounds like this album is going to be another huge step forwards.