Review Summary: Steel Train’s attempt at a magnum opus ultimately dissipates into a conga line of homages.
Steel Train is a band that is not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve. The release of their first EP For You, My Dear introduced six retro-infused indie numbers that showed a band that was just getting comfortable with their sound. Before this EP could even be fully digested, another EP entitled 1969 would be released in the same year. This disc proved to be much different by featuring six spot-on renditions of popular songs from 1969, including tracks from The Beatles, Bob Marley, and David Bowie. These two ‘teasers’ brought forth much anticipation to what their full-length album would sound like.
In 2005, Steel Train finally released Twilight Tales From the Prairies of the Sun. Unlike the quieter tracks that graced For You My Dear, Twilight Tales tries to embark upon a much more grandiose sound with a vast amount of stylistic changes and increased auxiliary instrumentation. The end result is an album that feels disconnected as a whole. However, quite a few strong tracks save the album from falling into the pit of utter mediocrity.
As mentioned earlier, a large problem of the album is that it seems more like a springboard to display their homages then an attempt to write memorable music. From the Carlos Santana inspired ‘The Lee Baby Simms Show’ pieces to the mandolin saturated ‘Road Song’, many of the songs simply feel like they have been done before. Because of these stylistic leaps, the tracks on the album also feel estranged from one another. Combine this with the fact that there are 15 songs total on the disc, and it becomes very hard to identify with the album as a whole.
Despite these flaws, Steel Train still manages to sprinkle the album with some wonderful tracks. The opening cut ‘Better Love’ is a relaxed indie-folk number with good lyrics and catchy instrumentation. This proves to be possibly the best song on the album. Also worth mentioning are the heavily Beach Boys influenced ‘Dig’ with a dream-like pedal steel guitar and warm vocal harmonies and energetic guitar based ‘Gypsy Waves’ that shows that Jack Antanoff surely knows how to play his instrument.
Steel Train would go on to realize their potential after losing singer Scott Irby-Ranniar and composing the highly underrated Trampoline with Antanoff in full command. If anything can be taken away from their debut LP, it is that Steel Train is a band with a wealth of influence and talent. On this release, it just never was able to fully come together to create something endearing.