Portents, portents. They usually are legion when things start to go South seriously and are very visible to those willing to see. It is no different with Train, the formerly snarkily cheeky Californians, now seriously on their quest for cool, giddy happiness in all its sugary forms.
Their very own portents already came home to roost in their 2014 edition Bulletproof Picasso. Now that album got them some important flak – and deservedly so. Ironically, it actually blatantly missed the cool-boat and ended up on some whitewashed beach in nowhere land.
This obsession with coolness is nothing new by the way. It already worked them over when California 37 came out. And you know what? Indeed it was cool – more so than ever. This was the album that tried the mighty footsteps of Save Me, San Francisco – and beautifully succeeded.
Now following Bulletproof Picasso, Christmas carols on boats and playing Led Zeppelin did not really revive things to any former greatness neither. To add insult to injury, A Girl A Bottle A Boat really accentuates this rush down the pop canal that bubbled to the surface already on their 2014 record. In addition, Train lost Jimmy Stafford – the last founding member – along the way too. This leaves only Pat Monahan in charge of things. Now, a captain without a seasoned crew does not exactly bode well for the sound and style Train used to represent. And – frankly – it shows.
In times past Train sported a somewhat immature, yet spicy teenage wit, which was – in the context – acceptable. I’d even call it brazenly good at times. Nothing like that on A Girl A bottle A Boat. Their creative, witty style of former times is pretty much out the door. This is all so whitewashed and bland that the brownie point calculator rusted over and broke down.
The record now embraces all sorts of new and ‘modern’ currents and nuances totally at odds with their former savvy and style. This just makes them tracks sink into the lukewarm, shallow style modern disco-crazed kids seem to be most comfortable in. It looks like the vile mainstream reached Train, whelping another rosy, sweetish clutch of tracks. All of them cut at more or less of the same length, so radio stations will play them.
Want an example? Just take the disco-heavy track Drink Up that just makes me want to go hang glitter-balls somewhere in the room, so that we get the ambiance. On top, the boring song structure and throw-away lyrics just drove me to depression. So, track #1 already fails on more levels than only one.
Yet to state that all sucks because Train changed styles would be a bit too easy. With their trademark sound almost gone, they now explore other flavors. Like the aforementioned disco style or some fake House Music after pretending to be The Rasmus. What really threw me is stuff like this pseudo hip-hop followed by Ska and Reggae like sounds. I guess you see what I am driving at?
A Girl A Bottle A Boat gorges with beats and melodies that we kinda heard before. Yet the presentation is still in a slightly different newish robe, lest it be called copycat. Or you’ll find tracks like Loverman with a simplistic one-dimensional song structure only beaten to the punch by lyrics that are so dumb I want to hit my head against a wall. Not sure what Priscilla Renea was thinking when she signed on to feature on this track. Want a taste? And I quote from the chorus – “..all night long I’ll wait for my loverman, ’cause only my loverman can!”. In fact the whole record boasts lyrics that are shallow at best and beyond terrible at worst.
Yet, some inkling of what could have been in a better world still exists on A Girl A Bottle A Boat. The second-before-last track Lost and Found gives you an idea on where they could have gone with a tad more creativity. But only just. And then there are tracks like Working Girl that may offer a trifle more promise than the others do. But again nothing to turn up the volume for.
And don’t get me wrong, this is not a blues attack of ‘I wanna get my old style back’. I am seeing this record as a jumble of more or less well executed songs thrown onto a wall. To see what sticks and what doesn’t. In comparison, other artists like Taylor Swift also went full tilt pop, but boy the execution exceeded excellence. There was no shallowness, nor any loose ends to tie up. If anything, the record gives you this cold impression of over-control – which again is typical of Swift and her working style.
You might have guessed it. This whole gingerbread construct for sure did not impress me too much – to say the least. A Girl A Bottle A Boat is indeed the train wreck I feared would happen so long ago. Pop bands can be good, but their tune needs to be savvy and deep. And this record is anything but.
It is this shallowness that really pulls Train down into the abyss to Davy Jones’ Locker. Since the quest for coolness took over the band’s capable minds, the quality of their tune took a death spiral to sugary sweet pop hell. Decked out in bright colors and covered with smiley faces.
Will they ever come back to some re-incarnation of their former reckless and refreshing self, cheekily conquering the world? Probably not, but let’s not abandon hope that things will improve going forward. In the meantime – however – I hope that I will never have to listen to this album again.