Producer: Ajay Bhattacharyya, William Wiik Larsen, Neff U, Jake Sinclair
Release Date: January 27, 2017
I’ve never liked Train. Then again, I’ve never really listened to them beyond their hits. They’ve never been truly off-putting, I’ve never just found a reason to take a closer look. At best tracks like “Drops of Jupiter” are just boring, at worst they’re like “50 Ways to Say Goodbye”, which is, if you pardon the expression, a trainwreck of singer Pat Monahan’s verbal homicide combined with tacked on mariachi influences. To be fair, I’ve never listen any of their deeper cuts. I guess their tenth studio album A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat works as good an introduction as any.
The first impression is that of crippling unoriginality: the lead-off track “Drink Up” is a standard 2010’s nu-disco track, almost a carbon copy of DNCE’s last year hit “Cake By The Ocean”; meanwhile “Play That Song” borrows its chorus melody from the often-covered oldie “Heart and Soul”.
However, after that the things take turn for the better: “Lottery” features a heavy samba instrumentation on its choruses, but this time it’s much better incorporated into the song than the mariachi elements in “50 Ways”. Same can be said for most of the tracks: “Silver Dollar” features an adequate hip hop beat, “Valentine” is packed with delightful Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, and the three and a half second horn hook looping throughout “Lost and Found” is simple enough not to lose its charm despite the endless repetition. Even the more unoriginal tracks on the album are bathing in unashamed, almost disarmingly cheesy cheerfulness: Train is cornier than your average maize maze, and proud of it. The album ends with a piano ballad so grandiose and glitzy it makes “Don’t Stop Believing” seem tastefully minimalistic. The whole thing would be almost infectious if it wasn’t so irritating.
Interestingly, to counterbalance the tastelessly jubilant, overproduced soundscape, most of the lyrics are just merely tasteless. It’s almost as if a studio executive sat behind Monahan, carefully monitoring every line he writes, threatening to axe the record if he spots another “lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left side brain”. Whatever the reason, Train derails (no pun intended) into the weird territory on the album thankfully rarely, settling on the “gray oatmeal” level of bland unoriginality instead. “Valentine” is a lyricist’s starter pack collection of clichéd love song banalities such as “I’ll always stand by your side” and “I’m never gonna say goodbye”, and the two opening tracks are lyrically every single drinking/clubbing song made since 2009, so much so that if you printed out the lyrics, cut them into pieces and arranged them in a pentagram, you could summon Pitbull.
But what good was Train if it never got lyrically off the rails, even just a little bit? The incredibly confused “What Good is Saturday” tries its best to be a long distance love song about missing your partner when you’re not together. However, most of the lyrics are just listing foods he misses when she’s not cooking for him. In fact, if the singer did not refer to the woman as “baby”, I’d assume the song was about a small child missing his mother. Similarly, “The News” is an incredibly mind-boggling monologue framed in form of a phone call, telling the person in the other end of the line to open the news to see them telling how the singer is crazy. I just cannot wrap my head around the scenario presented here. Lines like “They wanna see me explode upon emoticon” certainly do not help.
There’s not much pushing me to either direction about A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat. On one side it is undeniably catchy and full of joy; on the other hand it’s overproduced, sugary, shiningly sleek collection of vapid pop songs with haphazard lyrics ranging from boring to baffling. So if you can live with their corny and cheesy lyrics, overly glossy studio production and kitschy, almost cheap hooks, I can do nothing but recommend this album for you. I personally wouldn’t risk the diabetes, but it did make interested in whatever future endeavors the band might have.