Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Deep Cuts: Big Big Train's "Winkie"

Our 'Deep Cuts' feature highlights album tracks that (1) have not been released as the A-side of a single, (2) do not appear on an album titled "Best of..." or "Greatest Hits..." and yet (3) represent a high point in an artist's overall catalogue.

Completing Side 3 of the lauded Folklore album, "Winkie" finds Big Big Train simultaneously at their most progressive and their most accessible moment. After a brief intro featuring flute, the track opens with booming drums and bombastic organ--a clear signal that this 8.5 minute song is intended as an entry to the canon of progressive rock epics. Almost immediately, the bombast drops and Logsdon delivers the opinions of character Major Osman in a voice lifted almost directly from classic XTC.

"Winkie" continues--across several distinct musical movements--to recount the story of a heroic pigeon whose faithful flight facilitates the rescue of a WWII bomber crew stranded in the ocean. The song could almost serve as a definitional initiation into the world of progressive rock: this is a narrative track, traversing several time signatures and musical dynamics, featuring non-standard rock instruments (flute, organ, brass) and non-standard rock subject matter (the National Pigeon Service in WWII, the superiority of the natural world over technology). Nevertheless, "Winkie" proves more accessible than many progressive epics in its unrelenting directness. The 7 distinct parts of the song are distinguished more by their place in the unfolding plot than by progress of musical movements. No musical moment extends for long without the return of lyrics and melody to anchor. The lyrics themselves tell the story straightforwardly, without requiring additional explanation from the artist.

While Folklore includes many songs focused on the natural world ("Lost Rivers of London," "Wassail," "Telling the Bees"), "Winkie" stands out as the most musically expansive and lyrically immediate of the bunch. It also perfectly encapsulates its album's theme and its band's style, without duplicating any other track in the Big Big Train catalogue.

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