Big Big Train – The Likes of Us (2024)


As you can read in my review of Ingenious Devices, the album that was released last year as a kind of in between snack, Big Big Train and I have never quite been a match. The strong number of horns and the not always convincing guitar work were the main reasons for this. I know that I belong to the minority within the prog scene and that fortunately many people have fallen in love with the music of this now very international band that makes such typically English music.

After the death of singer David Longdon, the Italian Alberto Bravin is the new leadsinger and that has certainly not been a bad choice. In fact, I even like his voice a bit more than Longdon's. If you look at the current line-up, the quality is evident, so technically it is all of a very high level. If you have Nick D'Virgilio on drums, you know that the rhythm section is world class because Spawton is a bass player of the same level. So I'm going to assume that I'm finally going to be completely convinced and that's how I started listening to The Likes of Us repeatedly.

But oh dear, still not convinced? Ehh, no not really.

I hear beautiful things, beautiful melodies galore, and a number of songs would almost win me over. Opener Light left in the Day starts with acoustic guitar and Bravin's voice and then builds up to a very nice instrumental song with nice guitar work and indeed the necessary horns. However, they are not that upfront so that they bother me. If the rest of the album is like that, then.............. But with Oblivion they don't reach the level of the opener for me and I would almost call it a weak pop song with an somewhat obligatory piece with heavier guitar chords to spice things up.

The very long, more than 17 minutes, Beneath the Masts is an epic with all the ingredients we know from BBT with the addition of some heavy passages with a melody that doesn't suit me and reminds me a lot of Spock's Beard. And that's not quite my band either, despite the fact that I own several CDs of them. Of course we also hear the lovely pastoral pieces with a clear Genesis signature. The narrative lyrics with a melancholic character have remained, so Bravin can also write in this style and of course Spawton continues to compose and write lyrics in his own signature way. As is often the case with long songs, this one feels rather fragmentary and that's not a bad thing at all, but some parts just don't suit me and others I really like.

The relatively short Skates on is one of those pop songs in which I miss the musical depth. Beautiful but not special. So different is Miramare. After a start with beautiful harmony vocals, the piano and violin support Bravin with a fine melody and then move on to a typical BBT piece but without any real memorable hooks. After more than five minutes there is a nice bombastic announcement, by keyboardplayer Oskar Holldorff, of something beautiful, but that doesn't really come because despite the fact that the horns go full blast it doesn't really rock. Maybe that's what I'm missing, a bit of rock. When a nice guitar solo starts, I'm back to my senses and the end is very nice, although the violin could have been a little less present for me. Both guitarist, Rikard Sjöblom and Dave Foster, are good but their playing does not touch me that much.

Love is the Light, how do you come up with a title like this, lives up to its name and is a somewhat saccharine ballad with quite a bit of violin and a somewhat corny melody. And everything I just wrote actually applies to Bookmarks as well. It's all about Genesis at the time of Trick of the Tail, but I miss that extremely intimate feeling of this album.

So there must be something wrong with me because I just don't feel it and Last Eleven is also a nice song but ......, oh well, never mind.

Somehow Big Big Train and I are not, or too rarely, at the same train station. But when I look at the platform where their train departs, I see a lot of people getting on board and that's completely understandable because all the musicians are top level. I'm going to stop trying to figure out why I can’t get on board, it's just the way it is. I am convinced that The Likes of Us will be present in many annual lists because I only read positive reviews and also in my circle of friends there are people, with very good ears, who think it is a beautiful album. Don't worry, we'll still be friends.

It is with amazement that I see many vinyl variants of the album appear in almost all existing RAL colours but the beautiful cover comes out nicely in this bigger format. A picture of happily skipping children who storm into the world with all their feelings and expectations, but above all joy. Fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the album and the lyrics.

Now that I have committed to giving a score at the end of a review, I have to do so and I find it difficult. I hear the quality but won't buy the album and so according to my own explanation I would have to give a score below 60. However, that's not quite what this band deserves with this album. So let's make a compromise.

Music 63

Cover 70