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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
English Electric, Part 1
Format: Audio CD|Change
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2017
There are enough reviews here on the original albums. This review is specifically for the 2CD 2016 re-master which is a stunning improvement in sound quality over the original rather dynamically compressed release (DR12 vs DR 7 or 8 if you like to use numbers). This has really let the instruments "breathe". I can pick out much more detail and really enjoy the tone of individual instruments now. Many thanks to whoever made the decision to go for a quality listening experience over impact. I hope they re-release their earlier albums with the same care. It was a pleasure to buy this twice. Anyone who loves this album and plays it on even an entry level Hi-Fi owes it to themselves to get the re-master.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 September 2012
It's a sign of the growing importance of Big Big Train that original members Greg Spawton & Andy Poole have been able to convince some major figures to join them to form what they now regard as the definitive line-up of the band. In the last couple of albums they have been joined by David Longdon on vocals & flute, Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) and Dave Gregory (XTC), and the result was the huge leap forward that turned 2009's The Underfall Yard into one of the most satisfying albums of recent years (in any genre!)

English Electric is testament to the confidence that they got from the public response to The Underfall Yard. A long double album (this first volume is an hour long) to be released in two stages, this album has the sort of maturity and depth too frequently lacking in "prog" in general. None of the solos run on longer than necessary (one of the most striking is played on violin) and time-signatures show less of the A.D.D. that is symptomatic of the genre. The music has complexity and virtuosity, but never for their own sake.

Nevertheless, this IS a prog album: very like classic Genesis in feel and with hints of mellotron alongside the live strings, brass and vocal groups that ornament these deeply felt songs. "Winchester from St. Giles' Hill" strikes that typically nostalgic note ("the story in the stone and the lie of the land") but the lyrics only make apparent which is already implicit in the powerful music.

"Summoned By Bells" is another highlight (the album's nearest counterpart to the title track of The Underfall Yard) with soaring vocals and a more upbeat feel that gives way, unexpectedly, to a jazzy, laid-back passage where the brass players are allowed to stretch out a little.

I could go on & on, but I'll leave it by saying that this is one of the best things I've heard all year. If you have any interest at all in the folkier end of the prog section, it should be high on your Wish List.
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on 9 September 2012
"Tell me do you know
The song of the hedgerow?"

So goes the first line from Hedgerow, the last song of this marvellous album by Big Big Train. An album that frequently conjours up images of good old rural England. The album has echoes of Genesis, circa "A trick of the tail" and Wind & Wuthering, on a tour of the countryside! The album deserves to be considered alongside those mighty Genesis efforts. But while Big Big train might tip their hat in that direction, this is no cloning job. The band bring a wealth of sounds and ideas with this album - new charms revealing themselves on repeated plays. And this album has been on repeated play.

The band have already released a couple of stellar albums, most notably "The Underfall Yard" and "Far skies Deep time" (some people have described the latter cd as an EP - but being over 40 minutes makes it an album in my book. Unless close to the edge etc have now become EPs?!)

The guitar intro that greets the listener on the opening track, The First Rebreather, starts the proceedings and it has that typical Big Big train sound. Interesting that there is so much in it that the 8 minutes plus song flies by. Great, uplifting chorus - "Here she comes..the sleeper wakes." Great background harmony, the effective use of strings, flute, viola. But it doesn't come across as the bandshowing off - just excellent craftsmen. The song lifts and falls throughout its duration. Nice slabs of welcome keyboards too. Excellent!

Yet the next track, Uncle Jack, I find even more enjoyable! An infectious, 3+ minute toe-tapping, slice of fun - seems to start with a banjo - great harmonies. "Uncle Jack knows - a song of the hedgerows." the song manges to namecheck bees, honeysuckle, badger's sets and rabbit warrens - the only thing missing is cow dung.

And so the album continues going from one success to another. I love the chorus of Judas Unrepentant, the strings that grace the last song Hedgerow (about half way through) and the vocal performance of Winchester from St Giles' Hill. Too much good stuff to mention.

You can get this superb album direct from the band's website at a very low price. The amount of pleasure I suspect English Electric Part one will bring over the years makes this a steal. Bring on part two!
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on 16 March 2013
Having given up on the very idea of hearing ANYTHING melodically decent along the Prog lines of the golden era of 70's Genesis, 80's Marillion, 90's Radiohead, I bought BBT's English Electric merely because I was drunk, and liked the title (honest). And now, I con't stop listening to the damn thing. I have Hedgerow in my head and Judas Unrepentant in my soul most days, and so the album must be played, and, because of the musicality of it, it is EVEN acceptable to the wife and little ones, who, given the prog credentials of the thing, actually admit to Quite Liking It. I played it properly when abroad somewhere hot and dusty and the lyrics brought moisture to my peepers...ahh Britain... By any standards, it's a blinder, a grower, and a feast to be savoured. Hearty congrats to one and all responsible for making it.
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on 7 March 2017
Certainly nice to hear some progrock again in 2017, and for instance, for old Genesis fans, this is highly recommended!
No "violent" parts really and according to my taste iI love the frequent use of violins!
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on 9 October 2012
The previous BBT album, The Underfall Yard, was a complete revelation so any follow-up would really have to step up to eclipse it. English Electric nearly suceeds but I'm still trying to fathom out why it just falls short. Having said that, this album is still a cut above the rest of the new emerging prog bands and contains an electic mix of all the trademark sounds you would want to hear in a band that sits firmly in it's traditional English prog roots. Not only do you get great music, superbly played, you get a history lesson thrown in too! BBT like to celebrate all those known and lesser known people who have somehow shaped the industrial landscape and countryside of our great English nation. The First Rebreather is about Alexander Lambert who dived into the flooded Severn Tunnel in 1880 and the music is every bit dramatic as the story indicates. Uncle Jack reminds me of early Strawbs with it's banjo opening but the highlights for me on the whole album are Upton Heath and Hedgerow. The former is such a gentle, almost gospel-like song, that it just sends one into complete relaxation; truly beautiful. The latter is by contrast up-beat and features a fantastic violin solo. This is not a folk-rock album but a collection of songs inspired by early Genesis but informed by so much more. Listening to David Longdon it's not too surprising he has been likened to Peter Gabriel vocally. Along with Dave Gregory (XTC) and Nick D'Virgilio (Spocks Beard) it all adds up to the quality expected. Perhaps I'll come back and give it five stars later!!
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2012
You know how you sometimes get sucked in by the hype for a new album, the Internet being what it is? And so you buy the thing on pre-order and it arrives and you play it and, huh, big disappointment? Well, that's what DIDN'T happen this time!

So I don't know much about Big Big Train, except that Nick D'Virgilio is the drummer from Spock's Beard. And the guitarist used to be in XTC. But anyway, the early reviews all ooh-ed and ahh-ed and made favourable comparisons to early Genesis, so why not give it a go? I'm so glad I did!

Well, for starters, it does sound like early Genesis on first listening. Singer, principal songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dave Longdon DOES sound eerily like Phil Collins, except for the bits when he rather reminds you of Peter Gabriel. And the songs have that none-more-English leafy bucolic quality you associate with '70s British prog - yes, Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound, but also people like Wishbone Ash and Gentle Giant are clear influences here. So it's comforting, familiar, a warm bath - maybe a bit self-indulgent? Actually, I think it's better than that.

Opening track 'The First Rebreather' sets the tone of the album. Lyrically it concerns the heroic diver who sealed a breach in the Severn Tunnel in 1880 and the "descent into darkness" is a metaphorical conceit that resurfaces throughout the album. Structurally, it follows the multi-segment formula ordained by the Gods of Prog (ie Yes) with the obligatory jazzy keyboards and squalling guitars, but the presence of flutes, violins and cellos freshens the mix. There's a singalong chorus in there too, but stick around: this is by no means the strongest song on the album.

Sophomore track 'Uncle Jack' is where the magic begins, combining an aching, yearning sentimentality for the English countryside with affectionate memories of Longdon's uncle and his quasi-shamanic connection with the Derbyshire landscape. The multi-voice chorus builds deliriously like a dawn chorus... song thrush, yellowhammer, lacewings, ladybirds... it becomes mantric, hypnotic. It also reveals to me the compelling non-prog touchstone for this album: XTC's wonderful Skylarking, which ploughs a similar green furrow, to similar woozy effect.

'Winchester From St Giles Hill' surveys the Wessex landscape and takes in the swoop of prehistoric settlements, Roman and Saxon forts, ruins, castles, cathedrals, a dizzying tumble through the English centuries and a ramble through the stream-beds of the chalk hills at the same time. This is the best sort of intelligent music, where the poetry and the melody harmonise to complement each other beautifully. It's great.

As if sensing this could all get a bit bogged down, the following track 'Judas Unrepentant' is a bouncing pop-rock number, telling the tragi-comic tale of art forger Tom Keating, undone by his own skill and poisoned by his own paints. It doesn't really fit, musically or lyrically, with the rural themes, but every concept album has one odd-one-out track that's so catchy and energetic you're glad the band stuck it in regardless and this is certainly one of those.

'Summoned By Bells' continues where 'Winchester From St Giles' left off, now moving through the railway embankments of Leicestershire, building up to the apogee of 'Upton Heath' where anything that might be dismissed as twee or precious in the earlier songs is subsumed into an aching soaring ballad, all sunbeams and blue sky breezes and a pantheistic epiphany. I contemplated re-arranging the tracks on my mp3 library to get 'Winchester', 'Summoned By Bells' and 'Upton Heath' to flow together as a triptych of nature-worship, but somehow 'Judas Iscariot' refuses to budge, at least imaginatively: I guess the band are right and it belongs where it does. And where else could it go? Not at the end, because the penultimate track is the dark, Wagnerian 'A Boy in Darkness', the darkness being the colliery where 11-year-old Godfrey Fletcher was sent to work and also (I take it) the darkness of illiteracy, injustice and ignorance to which his generation were condemned. Strong notes of Jethro Tull emerge here in this, the most muscular composition on the disk.

We surface for air and light at the end, with 'Hedgerow' sampling the chorus of 'Uncle Jack' and painting a vision of quintessentially English paradise for the souls in subterranean darkness. Very, very sweet.

I don't normally write track-by-track reviews, but this album demands such consideration. It's a concept album in the best sense of the word and progressive in the best sense of that word, the sense of being ambitious and grown-up. The Genesis comparisons are superficial because Big Big Train are clearly following their own muse; if anything, XTC from the Skylarking/Oranges & Lemons period or Jethro Tull from Heavy Horses / Songs From The Wood provide a better template; the unified construction and nostalgic tone references Marillion's Misplaced Childhood and the wild English whimsy seems to draw on Kate Bush' Hounds Of Love. Regardless, I'll be ransacking their back catalogue looking for more clues, while keenly awaiting "English Electric, Part 2" in 2013.
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on 10 October 2012
Big Big Train had the world to do after their wonderful latest two releases, The Underfall Yard and Far Skies Deep Time. And they have delivered a brilliant album. You know, I`m not English, but listening to their music is like taking part in the most sofisticated 5 o`clock tea ever organised. It`s a pleasure. Their music has this power of taking you away to some distant places which all are very English. My standout track on the album is Judas Unrepetant. It requires at least 4-5 good listenings. Very solid songwriting and brilliant musicianship. On the of the biggest prog bands out there at the moment.
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VINE VOICEon 12 February 2013
I've been listening to BBT for a few years and, like some others, heard the similarity to Genesis (at times), but they have achieved a level with this album that at least matches Gabriel and Co at their best and have developed their own strong and individual style. At times this reaches the heights of Underfall Yard and that's an achievement in itself.
The strong points are that the material is engaging, catchy, intelligent and incorporates an incredible breadth of sounds seamlessly - flute, colliery brass band, male voice choir and also banjo !
Judas Unrepentant is just awesome and just about every other track is brilliantly composed and played. The singing is stronger than it's ever been and there is nothing self indulgent - i'm not even sure that's a positive as i like my explorative solos. The other nice feature is that it sounds "English" - musically and lyrically, not a mid atlantic AOR hybrid, european metal pomp rock or jazz fusion. It's great. I've already pre-ordered Part 2.
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on 25 February 2013
English Electric definitely is one of the best progressive albums of the year. It is among the greatest albums of the decade. This is a true masterpiece of symphonic and progressive rock music. There is nothing worse than try to describe fantastic music with dry words. You ought to listen to it. Give it a try and you will understand what I mean.
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