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Big Big Train: The Difference Machine

England's Big Big Train have released The Difference Machine, their 5th album. For those unfamiliar with the band, they hail from southwest England and began their career in the late 80's with a decidedly late 60's King Crimson sound (think In The Wake Of Poseidon).

The Difference Machine hails back to that early Crimson sound, especially in the stop/start of the arrangements, the bass and drum production, and the usage of wind instruments such as alto and tenor saxophone, viola and predominant use of the mellotron. The classic prog arrangements are spiced up with some modern technology, including digital loops and industrial sounding distorted vocals. This infuses the album with a schizophrenic quality.

The curious lead vocals by Sean Filkins sound more like an instrument than like a human voice—there is little to any variation of pitch (or emotion) within a phrase; they are delivered more as a sample would be from a keyboard controller, which adds to the industrial quality.

It's tough to classify The Difference Machine or to figure out where it's headed, which appeals to some, and not to others. If you're looking for songs that make a definite statement with structure, groove and melody, you might want to skip it; if you are enthralled by diversity of instrumentation, timbre, time signature and post rock meets old school, it's likely your cup of tea.

Track Listing
1) Hope This Finds You (3.12)
2) Perfect Cosmic Storm (14.40)
3) Breathing Space (1.47)
4) Pick Up If You're There (13.39)
5) From The Wide Open Sea (1.20)
6) Salt Water falling on uneven ground (12.38)
7) Summer's Lease (7.34)

Added: October 25th 2007
Reviewer: Steve Fleck
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 6127
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Big Big Train: The Difference Machine
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-25 22:44:36
My Score:

When this CD first arrives, give yourself some dedicated time and listen to it from end to end - in one sitting. Your reaction - like mine - might be something like "Well I'll be damned!"

That surprise is driven by a familiarity with Big Big Train's previous work. Those CDs were good - but The Difference Machine is in a different league. It's stronger, more interesting, more melodic, more ... ballsy! And despite the increased power and aggression, there's also more more sophistication and, dare we say, a bit more bombast that will ensure it finds a place in many progressive fans' favorites lists.

There's an abundance of 'Crimson inspired dissonance that gives it an edge that was previously missing, and a few sections - such as most of "Summer's Lease" - which will have you thinking classic Genesis. In fact Sean Filkins's voice lends a Collins-era Genesis tone to the vocal sections - thanks to a sort of reedy timbre that permeates a well controlled, delivery. Notwithstanding those Genesis references, this is third wave progressive rock - and not neo.

Many passages feature classic 'Trons, but they're used in a modern, powerful context that yields a blending of old and new. But it's the extensive use of viola, sax (Alto and Tenor), flute and Hammond that give The Difference Machine a wonderful refinement and some of its more important textures.

The album is arranged in a sequence of short-song followed by long-song, and although the 15-minute "Perfect Cosmic Storm" is clearly the standout track, it's hard pin down any other favorites. There's enough variety to keep your interest, yet it maintains its character throughout. It isn't a concept piece - rather, it follows a theme: Per Spawton, it examines chaos theory. You've heard it before - a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and there are hurricanes in Florida ... well all of the songs describe events that occur within a moment in time, where small events can have huge effects. You'll have to hunt for those references, though - they aren't very apparent.

Besides the band's 6-man lineup, including his own excellent compositional skills and his keyboard and guitar work, Spawton has recruited well established progressive rock artists Dave Meros, Nick D'Virgilio and Pete Trewavas - who add further character and credence to the record. Listen to "Pick Up If You're There" and you'll quickly pick up the powerful, extremely melodic bass lines - courtesy of bass powerhouse Pete Trewavas.

The Difference Machine is one of the better CDs of 2007, and ought to put Big Big Train on the tracks to critical and commercial success.


Big Big Train: The Difference Machine
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-03 10:04:49
My Score:

The Difference Machine is the latest from UK progressive rock band Big Big Train, who've been around for a bit and have released a string of melodic albums with plenty a nod to the greats of the 70's. Featuring loads of vintage keyboard sounds, some jazzy sax, tasty guitarwork, and emotional vocals, the band offers up some nice pieces here like "Perfect Cosmic Storm", "Saltwater Falling On Uneven Ground", and the epic "Pick Up If You're There". If you dig waves of Mellotron washes like what King Crimson used to do in their early days, you'll relish instrumentals like "Breathing Spaces" and "Hope This Finds You", both sure to scratch your retro itch. While at times some of the vocals sound just a tad flat and one dimensional, there's an obvious passion for what they are doing that comes through on each track, more than making up for what the band lacks in vocal dynamics. Funny thing is, this release is being billed more for the guest appearances of Spock's Beard members Nick D'Virgilio & Dave Meros, as well as Marillion's Pete Trewaves, which is kind of odd considering that none of them really make much of an impact here and appear sparingly. The Difference Machine really succeeds due to the contributions of Big Big Train, not some all-star guests.

Fans of King Crimson, Genesis, as well as newer bands like Little Atlas, Sigur Rios, etc. should find lots to like here.

» Reader Comments:

Big Big Train: The Difference Machine
Posted by Frank Urbaniak on 2007-10-27 12:47:52
My Score:

To continue Sean's comment, some of the highest rated CD's leave me flat. But in the biggest surprise, best of year category, BBT ranks right up there with Phideaux Doomsday Afternoon and Gazpacho Night. I actually cannot understand what people are hearing giving this less than top ratings.

My first listening was end to end and it blew me away from that time. Since early September I've listened to BBT Difference Machine more than any other CD. Vocals are fine, instrumentation and production is outstanding, and rhythm section is awesome. I think it is the some of the best bass/drums since the glory days of Yes Krimson and Genesis. This CD just does it for me and I hope others give it a try. Even with shipping you pay less than a normal Amazon price buying directly from the band.
Great stuff and I look forward to the next.

Big Big Train: The Difference Machine
Posted by SEAN FILKINS on 2007-10-05 11:13:39
My Score:

Reviews are funny things. They are just one persons opinion of what one hear's , see's etc Take the two recently posted by you of Big Big Trains New album the Difference Machine. Steve Fleck it seems only listened to Perfect Cosmic Storm, and states the vocals lack emotion. So the vocals on Pick Up If Your There, and Salt Water.. lack emotion, I had to laugh. Pete Pardo states the album has emotive vocals, which is great, then contradicts himself by saying the band lacks vocal dynamics and are one dimensional, make your mind up what you want.
I see opposite where I now type there is a link for people to Visit Your Friends at Progressive Ears. Progressive Ears happened to be our first review of The Difference Machine. The last line of which states "For symphonic Prog however, again I'll say, It just doesn't get better than this. It truly is that good".
Like I said at the top, reviews are funny things, one persons opinion.
Better to take a listen and make up one's own mind.
Sean Filkins

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