Review Summary: Steel Train expand their pop-rock and have some fun with it
Sure, Steel Train may have wowed a few listeners once their sophomore Trampolines
hit the shelves three years ago, but it largely fell under the radar. The band’s indie-folk rock that comprised the whole of their debut full-length, 2005’s Twilight Tales From the Prairies of the Sun
, was largely flattened out and placed down as a foundation for a pop-rock aesthetic that proved to be much stronger than your everyday Lifehouse imposter. The album invoked a sense of Arcade Fire grandeur, minus the melodrama – or any of that indie credibility
, for that matter – with equal parts Santana and contained a collection of hooks that didn’t capitalize on the routine radio cuts and those big-shot choruses. Suffice it to say, Trampolines
was a fresh take on pop-rock that surprisingly failed to allow Steel Train to have a large impact on the mainstream that many thought they deserved to make.
This year’s self-titled is out to change that. Steel Train have traveled further down the road that they detoured onto three years ago and have made the album that reflects the high ambitions of the band: this is bombastic
material and is just brimming with potential. Right out of the gate, the band hits you with the strongest cut of their career. “Bullet” is a summer anthem of daunting proportions: honey-sweet oh, oh, ohs
dance around Jack Antonoff and companion voices, bassist Evan Winnicker and guitarist Daniel Silbert, proclaiming a sunny tale of running away for a better life, all pre-loaded with the band’s strongest chorus hook yet: “Run, run, run from the Devil in disguise / Like a bullet, a bullet, a bullet into the night
”. Unfortunately, the album isn’t quite able to match the ambitions of the opener, though; however, that doesn’t mean that Steal Train don’t attempt to do so.
Second cut “Turnpike Ghost” details the new fun. of 2010, so to speak, happy gang vocals ascenting with melodies while unconventional instruments and arrangements tinker with the usual pop-rock layouts. Steel Train have a knack of genuinely surprising you on this album. What might appear to be the start of the band’s movement to the more conventional takes at songwriting - say the sleepy-eyed balladry start to third cut “You and I Undercover” or the routine acoustic sentiments in “Bloody Lips” near the album’s end, as examples - only acts as a precursor to the band’s antics and fun, but more importantly, unexpected switches in direction for their pop-rock songs. For this reason, much of Steel Train’s self-titled is unpredictable while still seemingly able to hold onto a verse-chorus format. This gives the band’s brand of pop-rock a longer shelf-life, which is needed given their often direct, upfront approach, hitting you with their strengths all at once.
Like fun.’s Aim and Ignite
before it, Steel Train’s self-titled is a very happy and soaring-to-momentous-heights album, quickly contrasting some of the darker lyrical touches of the 9-11 reference-filled Trampolines
. Even when Antonoff pleads for listeners that are leaving home on “You and I Undercover” to “cut the cords to those you know will love you back
,” he comes off with an air of confidence and hope, looking at the positives of the situation and moving on from there. The band’s orchestration of acoustic and lightly distorted guitars, strings, bells, and even a glockenspiel is the perfect backing for this, and as such, the mood Steel Train go for on this album is generally reached when sought after. A few cuts near the end of the album do betray the band’s initial ambitions and fall short of the superb first half, however, but on average the band is very consistent and does a great job of making their pop-rock fun to listen to, sing to, and play on repeat. This is the sound of a band reaching for new heights, and they will seemingly only go upwards from here.