This is the Year of the Lord 1984 and we are listening to The Police, featuring Sting. Right? Nope. It is actually present-day Train and their opening song Cadillac, Cadillac, even imitating the Caribbean lilt that the former and long dissolved band mastered so well. Speak about a truckload of transformation compared to their former offerings.
This is how the band’s new 7th studio album Bulletproof Picasso opens up and it is not really with a volley of deadly artillery fire that will boost you out to space. Kind of a weak start to what should be a stellar record.
It is also the first album without Scott Underwood, the long-time drummer, leaving only Pat Monahan and Jimmy Stafford as original founding members. And I have a hunch why that may be! Train has been with us for some 20+ years and, whilst remaining in relative obscurity from the world stage for a long time, they produced stuff that was not bad. Loads of original content with a few edges and sharp corners. For sure not perfect, but always set on track for improvements going forward. But now they have turned themselves so far around that we are not so sure where this is going to go. One thing is certain though. Train now morphed into some sort of a pop band. Rock about gone, no guitar solo far and wide. The fuck is wrong with them guys?
All of their songs and lyrics are so very whitewashed that I fear to be slaughtered on the altar of political fucking correctness when writing this review using F-words. And I am missing the originality that was present before. Just think back to relatively unblemished albums like California 37 or Save me, San Francisco. At least those were full of original content, holding the cheese at bay best they could.
But here we get served with a rosy, super smiley, pleasure-dripping share of feel-good music. And all of that is perfectly crafted, I’ll give them that. Not a jelly-drenched hair out of place. Something of an awful and malignant mix between Prince, Michael Jackson and a few doses of Backstreet Boys thrown in. And mind you as I said before, all perfectly slick. The equivalent of a gaping Hollywood smile in musical terms. I can almost feel John Travolta‘s grease spreading itself secretly on my head. Yuck!
No wonder they threw the only worthy tracks Cadillac, Cadillac, Bulletproof Picasso and Angel in Blue Jeans into the record straight at the beginning. The rule of three again, for fuck’s sake. People will have bought the album based on these three songs, only to find the rest to be of questionable quality.
Angel in Blue Jeans is by the way the only track I will vote for without reservation. And be it only that the video features Danny Trejo playing his character of Machete, whom I admire. He, who usually plays the bad guy, is now getting to save the broad. Of course fully pop as well, but catchy with some originality. Needless to say that this track is again sailing dangerously close to the edge of the abyss of overdone teenage wit thrown in.
Now a word to the producers. It is a whole agglomeration of them: Azeem, Espionage, Greg Kurstin, Jake Sinclair, Butch Walker, Whams. Ouch – sounds like the tower of Babylon to me. And this is why this whole gaggle of tracks sounds so disjointed. This was done – as the lore goes – to get the band more into mainstream. To get it to be more hip or cool. Hells, bells – Taylor Swift also went full blown pop in her newest album 1989, away from her country influenced roots. The difference with her being that she did it with style and a (hell of a) lot of savvy. But the Train performance here is just… well, let’s not go there. I do like pop as well (surprise…), but only if it is thoughtful and well done.
In short, the California sun ain’t shining anymore when listening to Bulletproof Picasso. Next time Train would perhaps be well advised to exchange the Hollywood smile with the clown’s face from the movie ‘It‘. That would bring some spice, crunch and substance back. And return the black humor that was very good in former productions. Plus inject some juice back into their tune. The friggin’ Cadillac is indeed on fire and they better fix it. Or things will continue to get worse.
If you like your whiskey with lots of soda on a sunny, quiet, laid back afternoon, then Bulletproof Picasso may be for you. If you like it on the rocks or straight in a dirty, smoky downtown club, go looking somewhere else. And I hope they will improve their performance for next time or I will drop them as well.