Sean Filkins – War and Peace and Other Stories

Best known for his vocal duties with the modern prog rock band Big Big Train, Sean Filkins has decided to go and make music under his given name. While I have not yet listened to the music of that band, I would trust the numerous accolades I’ve heard given to the band; suffice to say, Big Big Train tickled the fancy of many of prog listener, especially with their latest record ‘The Underfall Yard’. Being that I am not yet a fan of his previous flagship project, I approached his debut solo record without any preconceived notion of what the music will be like, besides the fact that it would likely fall under the prog category. As one could even derive from the track lengths of ‘War & Peace And Other Stories’ alone, Sean Filkins has certainly made a vast undertaking with this album, and sought to go out and compose a masterpiece. While the music here is generally great though, there is the feeling that things may have been stretched out a little too far for its own good here.

Of course, progressive rock is meant to be overindulgent; the music is generally bombastic, and intentionally takes more steps than are necessary to make a point. In Sean Filkins’ case, his excellence as an artist is evident here, although I do think that he may have been a little too deadset on composing ‘epics’ here, when the music may have done alot better in a more conventional format. This is not to bash the man’s songwriting abilities however; the music throughout is warm, leaning towards a symphonic sound, but rocking and ultimately tasteful. It just remains ironic that for an album that bases itself around not one, but two epic suites of music, that the two songs that have the most resonance with me are the two shorter songs, ‘The English Eccentric’ and ‘Learn How To Learn’.

Disregarding a fairly typical introductory track for a prog album that consists of some rather domestic soundscaping, ‘the first of the mentioned tracks breaks out into a fairly strong keyboard and heavy guitar riff, and then into a more symphonic sound that’s indicative of the longer pieces here. The instrumentation here is fairly well done, although typical for the prog style that Filkins plays. The real delight in the sound- as someone would expect of a singer’s solo project- are the vocals though; while Filkins’ skill on the instruments is not particularly outstanding save for some great guitar solos here and there, its his vocals that really stay with me. His vocals remind me of Peter Gabriel’s, or Mark Trueack of Unitopia’s for the sake of a modern comparison, and his grasp of melody is great. The chorus of ‘The English Eccentric’ is beautiful, and a really mellow contrast to the sort of hard rock that the album introduces itself as.

As for the epics here, ‘Prisoner Of Consicence’ is a great epic that naturally grows after a few listens, but it does feel as if Sean Filkins concentrates a little too much on instrumental passages rather than where his real strengths lie; being with the vocals and melodies. Like the second epic ‘Epitaph For A Mariner’ though, it feels like these epics are drawn out for the sake of being longer, when they could have made a more profound statement were they cut down. The first segment of ‘Mariner’ is the biggest offender, verging on symphonic ambient music, which is ear candy by all measures, but wears thin a while before it’s over. Filkins’ lyrical topics are often narrative and- as indicated by the album’s extended title- it does feel like the man is using his music to tell stories, and this helps balance out the album’s flaws, and only intensify the moments of strength here.

Sean Filkins is by all means a talented man, and one of the best vocalists in the more orthodox prog rock scene. For the skills and promise I hear evidently in the music that ‘War And Peace & Other Short Stories’ delivers though, I can hopefully see the man trimming a little fat off of the bones of his work, and creating something a little more to-the-point, and powerful. This is not to say that the man should disregard his obvious penchant for epic writing completely, but as far as his solo work goes, the man’s talent is most readily demonstrated when he lets his voice do the talking.


1 Are You Sitting Comfortably?
2 The English Eccentric
3 Prisoner of Conscience, Part 1: The Soldier
4 Prisoner of Conscience, Part 2: The Ordinary Man
5 Epitaph for a Mariner
6 Learn How to Learn


* Sean Filkins – Vocals and Instruments


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