Big Big Train Ingenious Devices (2023)


After the death of singer David Longdon, the (very) British band has decided to continue with the Italian Alberto Bravin as new vocalist. They have already performed and their show in the Boerderij in Zoetermeer has generated many good reactions.

To close the gap a bit towards the new album, that will be released in 2024, Ingenious Devices has been released and that is a daring experiment. This album contains four tracks that all clock well over ten minutes and three of which are reworkings of pre-existing songs with a lot of additions and changes, but I'll come back to that. An orchestral piece of just over a minute called The Book of ingenious Devices connects the first two tracks. The last song is a live performance of Atlantic Cable in the new line-up with Bravin on vocals. The first three all contain Longdon's original vocals that are neatly fitted in, a puzzle that came out quite well.

There is also a common thread in terms of lyrics and as the title already reveals, it is about technology that has led to impressive machines, cars, trains, etc.... All lyrics are from Gregory Spawnton who is responsible for almost all the music too. It is just so very English.(meant as a compliment)

Before I go any further, I need to explain a bit. I know that this band has a lot of fans and their albums are often ranked high in various annual lists and I understand that too. You can feel the “but” coming though, despite many attempts and buying several CDs, I have never been completely convinced. Every time I go through a listening session with good friend Paul on his beautiful audio setup, there is an attempt to convince me because he is really a lover of the music of Big Big Train. But alas, it doesn't really succeeds to catch me. Why is that? Phoe, that's hard to explain because basically all the ingredients I'm looking for in music are present. Maybe it's the use of lots of brass instruments because that's not my thing. Or is it possibly Dave Gregory's and Rikard Sjöblom’s guitar playing, which is really good but just doesn't touch me. ( I also have this with Steve Howe from Yes, very skilled guitarist but doesn't do anything to me) Or the many jazzy pieces? And as difficult as it is to say, the singing of David Longdon, who died far too soon, does not arouse any emotion in me. Sacrilege , I know but I can only be honest.

Nevertheless, I bought Ingenious Devices because if there is still a way to convince me, it is this album. This despite the fact that everything I described above is still present, but the addition of a 17-piece string ensemble, the Abbey Road string section, seemed like a real added value and yes, long songs still have an appeal and all three benefit from the use of the extended strings.

The key question, am I convinced?

Partly. In think Ingenious Devices is the best thing I've ever heard of this band. The songs are really epic and the adjustments work out really well. Given that there are only five, I'm going to go through them all.

East Coast Racer has been re-recorded by the 2019 line-up and, in addition to the additions mentioned, also includes a new guitar solo by Dave Gregory, who is no longer part of the current line-up by the way. Now this was already one of the better tracks but now it has really become even more beautiful. The bombastic part just after ten minutes comes across as even more impressive with the strings.

The orchestral interlude is nice but no more than that.

I think Brooklands is the most beautiful song of the album. The drums and bass parts have been re-recorded and that provides extra thrust and power and with Nick D'Virgilio on drums that can't be otherwise, what a class drummer that is. In terms of melodies, this song appeals to me the most. The guitar solos are definitely appealing and I'm starting to feel something of conviction. Is it going to happen? "I was a lucky man", how striking but unfortunately.

With Voyager we continue the album and this has also been tinkered with by adding violin and some extra guitar pieces but I feel that the change here is the least drastic but as I said, I am not an absolute connoisseur. Where bombast regularly comes into play, this is also an example of a real and complete Big Big Train song. The keyboard solo after more than eight minutes starts jazzy and then the next guitar solo also goes that way and then I notice again where the shoe pinches me. The finale is beautiful.

The choice to end with a live performance of Atlantic Cable is a very good one. In it we hear that Bravin is an excellent replacement for Longdon and that the future is open again for this band with class musicians, because that's what they all are. The opening with sultry violin playing is nice and then a busier piece follows where I do hear some Spock's Beard with transitions that are mainly due to the bass playing of Greg Spawnton and also lean toward Yes. When Bravin comes in after more than four minutes, it is a bit shaky, but as soon as he asks the audience to sing along and is allowed to give more volume a little later, you can hear his qualities. Personally, his voice suits me more than Longdon's, but that can be different for everyone. When we come rto the somewhat heavier section it is clear that we are going in a more rock-like direction, just listen to the beautiful keyboard work of keyboardist Oskar Holldorf and the spirited guitar solo of Dave Foster.

For the people who are already fans of Big Big Train, this is a mandatory purchase and they will have the album at home already. For doubters, like me, it is very worthwhile to give this album a chance. I notice that I listen to it regularly and that says something.

The band starts a short tour at the end of August and will convince many fans in the current line-up except for Dave Foster who has other commitments.


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