Review Summary: An enjoyable albeit average album from a band capable of so much more.
Long gone are the days that hits like “Drops of Jupiter” and “Meet Virginia” regularly cycled through radio stations and mp3 players (maybe even walkmen, remember those?) around the world. Enter 2010, where Train is as good as forgotten by most. The album “My Private Nation” saw one hit song in “Calling All Angels”, and then 2006’s “For Me, It’s You” was a resounding commercial failure. All of this led to the near demise of the band and also caused them to become a 2000’s afterthought in general. With the release of “Save Me San Francisco”, Train sought to reassert themselves as a rock band relevant to this decade by changing their sound and overhauling their musical identity. The results? Let’s just say they are as average as the band’s legacy over the last ten years.
The one song that everyone is sure to have heard by now is “Hey Soul Sister”. This song is the album’s major single and also serves as its radio hit. Going into the studio, Train’s lead singer Pat Monahan decided that he wanted to record a song in the mold of INXS. While the song is undeniably different from Train’s regular style, it doesn’t quite succeed at reaching its goal. Yes, it is upbeat and bouncy, but it has an almost Jason Mraz-like vibe to it that doesn’t fit the band very well. As listeners will find, this isn’t limited to “Hey Soul Sister”. “If It’s Love” follows suit with a slightly groovy chorus that is certainly fun to listen to, but in a way that also makes you feel like you are listening to something entirely different. And when that is the case, it makes you want to just go ahead and listen to whatever it is Train is trying to “sound like”. Similar flaws can be found in “I Got You” where Monahan attempts higher pitched vocals and a sublime-like funk that just doesn’t fit. This isn’t to say that bands shouldn’t have influences or shouldn’t attempt new things. Especially in Train’s situation, as a band in decline, attempting to branch out and reach for new sounds is at the very least respectable. Unfortunately, all of their experimentation ends up sounding forced, not to mention inferior when compared to their straight-up, no-strings-attached rock tracks.
This also brings us to the points where Train succeeds the most. When they revert back to the formula that made them a success to begin with, Train ends up sounding more comfortable, natural, and as a result…well, better. This is to be expected, as with any artist who perfects a sound and then continues to go with it. Songs such as “Parachute” and “You Already Know” combine hard rock with a certain amount of pop-sensibility that takes them right back to where they were meant to be: masters of accessible, radio-friendly rock. The piano-driven “This Ain’t Goodbye” is also a successful trip to the past, one that shows Train’s penchant for creating power ballads. None of these tracks match their own measuring stick, “Drops of Jupiter”, but they are still quality songs crafted for the pleasure of rock fans everywhere who enjoy an easier listen from time to time. They also serve as a buffer for long time fans who may not approve of the band’s newfound direction revealed in the aforementioned “catchier” pop songs. Those listeners can still take solace in the fact that Train hasn’t lost what made them into a respectable rock band during the 90’s and early 2000’s.
What we end up with is an album made up of two styles: Train’s new direction, and Train’s staple sound. The songs that feed off of their old success are accomplished and enjoyable tunes. However, they don’t bring anything new to the table. Then the material that ventures into newer territory for the band falls rather flat (with the exception of the radio success of “Hey Soul Sister”). It’s a vicious cycle that goes from “pretty good, but heard it before” to “this doesn’t sound like Train at all…” and then back to the beginning again. It works as radio-friendly, and it works as good background music. But the problem lies in all of the untapped potential of this band. They proved to us before that they can consistently create quality music, but they have failed to measure up to the high bar that they set for themselves so early on in their careers. Train obviously set out to re-establish themselves, and from a musical standpoint, they failed to do so. “Save Me San Francisco” will do very little to bring them back into the picture right now or in the next few years. There is still hope that they can accomplish this with their next album, which may become a do-or-die moment for this band. But until then, we are left with an enjoyable albeit average album from a band capable of so much more.