Funny things, genres. Take ‘Prog’ for instance. My mere mention of it here will, I suspect, have half of the regular DiS contingent running for the hills, clutching their Fugazi records and howling “Who dare mention that branch of Rock’s fair tree?” Reason being that it conjures up images, doesn’t it? Images of grown men in pointy hats, spangly capes and spanglier beards, enveloped in a cloud of dry ice whilst either singing about medieval rituals or being so masturbatory with their organ solos that it almost makes the keyboard look even more phallic than the guitar. In other words they think of… whisper it… Wakeman.
But take a look around you. Lord of the Rings is officially Cool for the third year in a row. Bands like Mars Volta, Cave-In and Oceansize are pushing musical boundaries and developing “sonic cathedrals” without fear of universal ridicule. And, spotting their chance, Big Big Train STRIKE! Having toiled on the underground progressive scene for a good few years, the Train are back with ‘Gathering Speed’, a concept album – you heard – about the endeavours of a Second World War fighter pilot. Their influences are evident throughout the album – most tracks are in the style of Gabriel-era Genesis (if they’d left off the flower monologues and stuff), with El Rodriguez providing harmonies and Emerson caressing the keys. Opener ‘High Tide, Last Stand’, despite the subject matter, wouldn’t seem out of place in an Amphitheatre, ‘Powder Monkey’ sounds almost like an initial draft of ‘Televators’ in between fits of stadium-straddling guitar action, and ‘Pell Mell’ is… well, it’s prog, basically. All of it. And it is mighty.
Admittedly you’d need a broad acceptance of the ‘epic’ to really appreciate the album – it’s likely that concentration might wane as ‘Fighter Command’ reaches its tenth minute – but those who like to absorb music rather that let it flow past their ears will surely find something saddening yet wondrous in ‘Gathering Speed’. And not a goblin in sight. Hurrah!
7Thomas Blatchford's Score