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You've got to make the journey...
on 16 April 2013
Big Country enjoyed massive success in the 1980s, notably with their first album, The Crossing, but sadly the band folded after the death of singer and guitarist Stuart Adamson at the turn of the millennium. They lived on through a series of Rarities albums and occasional bootleg albums released over the next decade, together with a brief reformation as a three piece a few years ago, until old friend of the band Mike Peters, singer with The Alarm, came on board as vocalist at the start of 2011. They've played a series of live dates since that time, both on their own tours and at festivals, and The Journey album, their first in 14 years, is the end product of this time.
From the first few tracks, it's immediately obvious that far from being a pale imitation of the 'old' Big Country, this is something else entirely. As a long-time fan of the band, I was worried that the album would be 'The Crossing-lite', rehashing old themes and styles in a bid to appeal to those who have followed the band for the past 30 years, but instead The Journey, whilst never forgetting the band's roots, is an at times surprisingly punky and rocky mix of old and new.
Several tracks could have been recorded in Adamson's day, and would have stood happily side-by-side with the old material - In a Broken Promised Land, The Journey, Strong, Return and Another Country would have graced a Big Country album of any era. There's the single, the slow and moving Hurt, as well as the other downbeat track on the album, Angels and Promises, originally recorded as a tribute to Stuart Adamson, and re-recorded for The Journey. It's a track guaranteed to be found moving by older fans of the band, with its lyrical references to Chance, one of the singles from The Crossing.
What is a surprise though, and in my eyes the best sign of things still to come from the band, are the remaining tracks. After The Flood welds Adam And The Ants style double-drumming (courtesy of one drummer, Mark 'The Octopus' Brzezicki) with at times Robert Plant-style vocals from Mike Peters, the hints of Led Zeppelin being reinforced by the lyrical references to the houses of the holy in the awesome Winter Fire, in which the bass of ex-Simple Minds member Derek Forbes will blow your socks off. Home of The Brave and The Last Ship Sails are punchy punky affairs, the latter of which sits quite happily alongside anything recorded by The Skids, Adamson's first band. Best of all, perhaps, is the closing track, Hail and Farewell. Complete with a hint of actual bagpipes, Mike Peters exhorts listeners to 'let the bells ring out', in a song destined to be played at Big Country New Years's Eve shows for as long as they continue.
Is this farewell? Well, as Mike sings on the title track, 'sometimes, you've got to make the journey'. And who should make the journey? There will no doubt be some fans who think that Big Country without Adamson isn't to be contemplated, and that's to be expected. However, hopefully many of the fans will come along for the ride, and I don't think they'll be disappointed. Let's hope the journey is a long one, and that it's all as good as this.