Welcome to day 26 of my ‘Album of the Year 2017 top 30 countdown’.
And, just like that, I find myself tackling my top 5 of 2017. Thank you to everyone who has followed the previous 25 instalments so loyally and diligently. I applaud your stamina and your resilience because, if nothing else, you’ve had to wade through 25 of these waffle-filled introductions as I try in vain to build the suspense just a little. I suspect most of you just scroll through this bit, but for those of you who read everything: thank you…and I’m sorry!
As a reward, I’ll not say any more except offer my usual reminder to the casual reader or latecomer that links can be found below for all of my previous posts in this year’s series, along with a couple of ‘honourable mentions’ posts and the entire series from 2012-2016. If you explore any of these, I hope you enjoy what you read.
And with that, here’s the first pick in my top 5 for 2017…
Big Big Train
English Electric Recordings
“…this entire record borders on genius as far as I’m concerned now. How else can you explain the fact that these eight musicians have returned so quickly and effortlessly with another eight superb, intricate and captivating progressive rock compositions?
Big Big Train have always followed a path of progressive rock that veers down the pastoral route and they probably always will – it’s in their blood. But this is not a group of musicians to stagnate either. So, whilst the music here is recognisable as Big Big Train, there are some differences to be heard between ‘Grimspound’ and previous albums.
‘Grimspound’ also sees Big Big Train experimenting with longer passages of instrumental expression. So it comes as no surprise to learn that ‘On The racing Line’ for example is a five-minute instrumental piece, whilst other compositions have plenty of space for some indulgent instrumental flamboyance. Normally, I would baulk at the notion but where Big Big Train are concerned, they pull it off with style and elegance. Their music has always had the ability to tell a story and this is true whether or not there are lyrics being sung over the music; the dynamics and ideas at play here within the instrumental passages are such that the stories are able to continue very eloquently.
It seems like I am uncontrollably waxing lyrical about this album, but that can’t be helped I’m afraid, with every positive word being well earned and justified.
Just when you thought that Big Big Train couldn’t possibly get any better, they do. ‘Grimspound’ is without doubt the best progressive rock album I’ve heard since…well, since ‘Folklore’ to be exact. Big Big Train have become an integral part of my musical life, to the point where I cannot imagine what my life was like before I discovered them. Right now, I can’t think of any bigger compliment that I can pay or one that is more justified and thoroughly deserved. Without question, Big Big Train are my favourite progressive rock band on this planet, bar none.”
Read the full review here.
It wasn’t love at first listen with ‘Grimspound’ but, after a few spins, the magic kicked in and I knew that Big Big Train would feature in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list. What I wasn’t sure of at the time was just where in the order it would fit. Well, as it has turned out, it deserves a place in my top 5. Allow me to explain why:
Firstly, the eight compositions that feature on this, the band’s tenth release, are some of the best that they have penned. They are multi-layered, multi-textural, complex and intricate, meaning that they require time to blossom, just like proper progressive music should. However, Big Big Train always to inject warmth and beauty into their songs through an exceptional understanding of melody and hooks. They are not always evident at first, but believe me when I say that they are there and they are just waiting to reveal themselves when you least expect it. And when they do, it’s like a ‘eureka’ moment, where everything suddenly falls into place and before you know it, you are snared. You have to listen to the songs again, regardless of the situation. I have been caught out by this too and have ended up listening into the small hours or found myself taking the dog on an impossibly long walk just so I can hear a certain section or two of the music again. And every time, it was worth the bleary eyes or the tired legs. Every time.
Through the lyrics, Big Big Train are also incredible storytellers, able to bring people and places, both past and present, to life. It means that you begin to emote with the central characters, you see the vistas and you can almost smell and taste it all, as if you are there, standing in the meadhall or flying with the brave Captain in his wartime cockpit. When the lyrics and music combine at their best, the sense of drama can be huge. But equally, the experience can be a very emotional one, where gentle, fragile melodies intertwine with powerful words to bring a tear to the eye.
The other reason why this record has found itself within the top five is because it has taken on a whole new dimension following the live show that I was lucky enough to witness earlier in the year at Cadogan Hall. Hearing the thrilling and equally poignant ‘Brave Captain’ in all its might on stage, accompanied by emotive photographs projected on the wall behind the band, was a game-changer for me. It opened up new aspects of the song that I had not noticed or heard on the recorded version. The same can be said for the epic ‘Meadhall In Winter’, whose melodies began even more vibrant and compelling in the live arena.
This was a top ten gig of all time for me, possibly even better than that. And what it has done is provide me with a better understanding of this stunning album, an album that had already fully captured my imagination. But now, when I listen to ‘Grimspound’, I realise that Big Big Train have created musical magic and in so doing, they have captured the heart of the Man of Much Metal once again.
If you missed either of my 2017 ‘honourable mentions’ posts, here they are should you be interested:
Previous posts in my 2017 Top 30 countdown:
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 21
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 30
And from previous years: