Title - ‘The Journey’ (Cherry Red Records)
Artist - Big Country
I have LOVED Big Country from day one. So, as much as this LP (yes, vinyl album!) review might well be slightly bias, there have been changes along the way re: band personal and actual sound.
So, to delve head first into the 12 tracks (oh boy, do I wish there was an expanded CD version of this - just can't get enough BC), I made sure to give it a first, second and third spin (literally, 'cause it's vinyl, remember!) before putting my thoughts down.
OK, so we're all on the same page, this 2013 version of Big Country now features The Alarm's Mike Peters on vocals and guitar and former Simple Minds member Derek Forbes (a friend of mine) on bass. The band also includes Jamie Watson (in for Tony Butler), who joins his father Bruce Watson on guitar. The elder Watson along with drummer Mark Brzezicki are the sole remaining members of the band's classic line-up present on this album.
And so, and some 14 years after their last album, and 12 after the death of talismanic front man Stuart Adamson; and so not quite knowing what to expect without both Stuart and Tony in the mix, the album kicks off with the raw Big Country-sweeping sounds of 'In A Broken Promise Land.' A song that incorporates everything BC stood for, it will send chills through you. The bouncy pop of 'The Journey' diverts away from BC territories, before 'After The Flood.' A song that still incorporates some old school BC within it, it also brings us to another subject: Does the fact that the trademark Peters+Alarm vocal tones hurt or help this new BC record?
Personally, I think change is evolution at its every day finest, but sure, they do say that in the music business you can afford to lose every original band member save for the original lead singer. Which is, of course, sadly what happened here many years ago. But instead of plowing through a host of wannabes, they took their sweet time and chose Peters. A man whose vocals can bring back the fans acceptance of this new album.
That leads us into 'Hurt,' the first single from the new album. And it is a total joy to behold. Peters is fab on vocals, not screaming, not "Alarming" anyone, and the pop beat to it is pure BC. At its melodic moments, of course. 'Angels & Promises' has a somewhat Celtic-vibe to it, and weirdly also; perhaps more in homage to Adamson’s lyrics, contains the ending verse of, "Oh Lord, where did those feelings go. Oh Lord, I never felt so low."
'Strong (All Through This Land)' is another BC-sounding song that literally fist pumps its way through into 'Last Ship Sails.' Which is a great metaphor for having had enough, and a wonderful song to boot. And backed by the appropriately named 'Another Country,' well, they bookend each other perfectly. Indeed, this whole album could well have just been entitled 'Another Country.'
The sounding-more-like Big Country 'Return' is next, and is followed by the hard, harsh lyrics of 'Winter Fire.' And as the sound of bagpipes end the song, it allows us to flow seamlessly into the final track, the impressive 'Hail And Farewell.' And so, for an album that was recorded in the Welsh border town of Wrexham in an old cold war nuclear bunker, The Journey is most definitely a stand-out collection of tracks that should please every true-bloodied BC fan.