Common Ground is the thirteenth studio album from progressive rock band Big Big Train (BBT) released on the thirtieth of July 2021. It was recorded between November 2020 and January 2021 at various studios including Real World and was self-produced by the band.
There have been a few line-up changes to the band but the core of David Longdon on vocals, Greg Spawton on bass, Rikard Sjöblom on guitar and keyboards and Nick D'Virgilio (NDV) on drums has remained since the last album. Newer members featured on the album (and may play on the tour) include Carly Bryant on vocals, Dave Foster on guitar and Aidan O’Rourke on violin.
The album has nine songs and a running time of sixty-one minutes, and we will look at each song in turn below.
The album opens with “The Strangest Times”. Driven by piano, it has quite a jaunty uplifting sound that is quite like “Alive” on the last album. Lyrically, it is about the current (at time of writing) worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected our lives but that we will get through it.
“All The Love We Can Give” is a little unusual vocally. David sings in a lower register but it works well. I especially love the change in style to a hard rock song about half-way through and the Hammond organ sounds throughout. I can hear a Deep Purple and Dream Theater influence on this song.
Somebody said that “Black with Ink” sounds a lot like Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” and I would have to agree. It has a definite eighties vibe but is a few minutes longer than a pop song and becomes a little tribute to “Supper’s Ready” with plenty of Hammond organ and Mellotron.
“Dandelion Clock” is one of the shortest songs on the album. There is a lot going on in the song and lots of lovely melodies and different sounds that gives it equal parts a simplicity and a complexity. There is even a vibraphone in there.
“Headwaters” is a short piano instrumental. It is a beautiful and calming piece that fits in very nicer with the two faster songs on either side.
“Apollo” is another instrumental. It was written by NDV who also plays synthesizer, CP70 electric grand piano and Fender Rhodes as well as drums. There are lot of different keyboards on this song and apart from a guitar solo, there is almost no guitar at all.
“Common Ground” is the title track. It was released as a single and was written by Longdon. It has more of a folk influence that is recognizable to fans of the other albums. It many ways it could be considered a love song but love between all of humanity as well as a couple.
“Atlantic Cable” was written by Spawton and is about the telegraph cables under the Atlantic Ocean and how they were built in the 1850s. The cables are now obsolete and have been replaced by telecommunications cables connecting Europe to the United States of America. BBT are big fans of history and engineering and always have these sorts of songs on their albums. Divided into five parts, the first part is instrumental and has one of the best Hammond organ solos I have ever heard. The second part is built around acoustic guitar. It is the longest song on the album and probably my favourite.
“Endnotes” is slower tempo song with piano and acoustic guitar. I love the violin on this, and the horns give it an epic feel. A nice way to close the album.
Despite lineup changes and the limitations caused by the pandemic, Big Big Train have made an outstanding album. They have played to their strengths and not tried to write a pop album, a jazz album or a metal album, to give a few examples. Despite this there are still a lot of recognizable influences across many different genres that are all put together into the BBT sound we know and love.