Big Big Train: ‘Ingenious Devices’ Review
Big Big Train has brought forth a new release titled Ingenious Devices featuring updated versions of three of their beloved tracks from different albums as well as one previously unreleased instrumental track. The previously released tracks used on Ingenious Devices include East Coast Racer from the English Electric Part 2 album, Brooklands from the Folklore album, and Voyager from The Grand Tour album. Big Big Train‘s goal for Ingenious Devices was to take the four tracks and turn them into one long-flowing musical experience with seamless transitions in between while enhancing the previously released tracks with an added 17-piece orchestra, new instrumental recordings from all active band members, and the vocal tracks from the original recordings by the band’s celebrated frontman David Longdon who sadly passed away in November of 2021.
Upon learning the concept of the album and without listening yet, I was sceptical of whether we really needed updated versions of the selected beloved Big Big Train epics. The ingenious part about Ingenious Devices is that they pulled off that vision for it perfectly and upon listening, it made me love the songs even more. Starting with East Coast Racer, immediately I noticed the presence of the instruments in the mix is much more upfront and full than the original starting right off with the opening solo piano motif. As the full band enters with the first high-energy introduction it hits hard and grabs your attention even more than its predecessor.
The clarity of the mix amongst all instruments also allows me to hear the intricacies that may have been there but covered up in the original mix. The addition of the 17-piece orchestra makes a big difference in adding depth to the brief breakdown section following the second verse and leading into the piano solo section. I also really enjoyed the addition of the guitar solo during the ending section when the opening motif returns to break up the repetition of the original fade-out ending. Since a goal for Ingenious Devices was to have each track transition into each other without break, Big Big Train did away with the fade-out ending of East Coast Racer in favor of a natural-sounding ending that brings a clear conclusion to the track as well as transitions right into the next track The Book Of Ingenious Devices.
The second song, which is the previously unreleased track titled The Book Of Ingenious Devices, is a minute-long instrumental string ensemble movement that acts as a great transition from East Coast Racer into Brooklands. Since it is the added 17-piece orchestra that performs the entirety of the track I’m curious to know if initially the track was meant to be played by the regular lineup of the band as it is listed as previously unreleased material, and the orchestra was only brought on for the recording of Ingenious Devices. Regardless of that unanswered question, the track accomplishes its goal of making a smooth transition between East Coast Racer and Brooklands.
Listening to the new version of Brooklands on Ingenious Devices I’m again struck by how much depth the added string section brings to it. Some of the highlights the orchestra provides on Brooklands include taking over the melody that follows the opening guitar solo which leads into the first verse. Around the 5:38 mark as the song transitions to the extended guitar solo section the orchestra becomes the driving force behind it with fast accented eighth note patterns. Altogether the orchestra adds a Live And Let Die cinematic sound to Brooklands which is fitting since the recording of the 17-piece string section for Ingenious Devices was done at Abbey Road Studios.
On a side note, I struggle to not shed a tear upon hearing David Longdon sing the final lyrics from Brooklands of “I was a lucky man, a lucky man…Just give me one more run on the racing line, one more time, one last time” following his untimely death.
Voyager makes up the final track of the nonstop portion of the album as the final drone of Brooklands transitions into the data transmission noises of Voyager. Overall, Voyager stays true to its original form the most compared to the previous tracks. Perhaps that is with good reason as The Grand Tour, the album Voyager originally appeared on, did win Album Of The Year from the Progressive Music Awards in 2019. In the end, you’re still getting the more present mix from Voyager on Ingenious Devices and it does make a fitting end to this uninterrupted suite of reworked Big Big Train epics.
The last track on Ingenious Devices is a look to the future as it’s a live performance recording of the song Atlantic Cable from a performance at Aylesbury in September of 2022. The performance included the band’s new vocalist Alberto Bravin. While the band has released video footage of live performances with Bravin, this is our first chance to hear them perform together on an album.
To summon it up Big Big Train – Ingenious Devices allows a Passenger to celebrate the past with its brilliantly put-together and enhanced suite of revered Big Big Train epics from the David Longdon era while getting that glimpse of what is to come with its current lineup. The reworked tracks on the album will now find their way replacing the originals on my playlists going forward. Physical copies of Ingenious Devices are available for purchase as of June 30th with streaming of the album available as of July 28th.