“An album of genuine warmth and quiet wonder – and if it’s a little safe, well, that’s understandable”: Revamped Big Big Train return with The Likes Of Us

Unsurprisingly, there are differences after Alberto Bravin replaced the late David Longdon, and the band seeks to regroup and consolidate

Big Big Train - The Likes Of Us
(Image: © InsideOut)

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New Big Big Train singer Alberto Bravin was eased into position on last year’s Ingenious Devices, tucked away at the end of the album on a live recording of 2021’s Atlantic Cable. With the other tracks fronted by his predecessor, the late, much-loved David Longdon, this positioning felt like a carefully orchestrated step towards gentle transition and a changing of the guard.

But it’s Bravin’s voice that introduces this follow-up, as if to emphasise the permanence of the shift and the trust the rest of the band have in their new hire. By and large, that trust is rewarded. Bravin’s voice is pure and pretty and pitched in the same range as Longdon’s, so nothing’s going to terrify the fans, but there are differences. 

Longdon was a naturally dramatic performer, and this drama was reflected most in his singing’s euphoric highs. In these moments he sounded liberated, transcendent, and Bravin doesn’t. Instead, he sounds as if he’s concentrating, like an actor so committed to precisely annunciating his lines that his performance fails to truly soar. It’s a smooth start, but a cautious one.

The Likes Of Us sounds like an album by a band regrouping and consolidating. On 2021’s Welcome To The Planet, Longdon’s final studio album with the band, there were moments – most notably on the title track, and on Bats In The Belfry – where all musical inhibitions seemed to be thrown to the wind. This album is frequently the opposite, as if Big Big Train are keen to reestablish a firm footing.

But it works. First single Oblivion is a reasonably straightforward rocker, but BBT have always done sharp and snappy alongside the long-form pieces, and the epics are here too.

Beneath The Masts (17 minutes, 26 seconds) successfully transitions from gentle, piano-guided introduction to rapturous climax via a series of dizzying instrumental sections, some of them almost violent. The beginning of Last Eleven crashes in like Dance On A Volcano-era Genesis before slowly spiralling skywards, and bassist/founder Greg Spawton continues to conjure up the ghost of Chris Squire with his rumbling Rickenbacker.

There are also moments of genuine loveliness: the forlorn brass on opener Light Left In The Day, before the song goes a bit Market Square Heroes; the close harmonies on the introduction of Miramare; the swooping guitar solos on Love Is The Light, which finishes with a choral section perfectly crafted for mass audience singalongs.

It’s an album of genuine warmth and quiet wonder – and if it’s a little safe, well, that’s understandable.

The Likes Of Us is on sale now via InsideOut.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.