Review Summary: When you gonna play that song, now, when you gonna earn that pay?
I’m a pretty positive person. I pride myself on seeing the merit in just about any musical venture, and possess the innate ability to pinpoint exactly why an artist made the decisions that they did and to whom those choices may appeal. It’s why I can get behind so many pop albums that others scoff at; deriving at least some semblance of meaning from what is often a largely vapid genre. But then there are bands like Train, who take that level of trust and optimism and shit
all over it, leaving me wondering how in the hell I ever came to spend forty minutes subjecting myself to the most stenciled, spineless, and sterile brand of mainstream music currently plaguing the airwaves.
Once upon a time, I actually enjoyed Train’s melodic brand of pop-rock. Like many people, my interest in them coincided with their popular breakthrough album Drops of Jupiter
, but to this day My Private Nation
remains my personal favorite and a not-so-guilty pleasure that I still spin on occasion. Of course, that was before Pat Monahan flipped the tables, exchanging a decent pop-rock aesthetic for washed over “adult alternative pop”, whatever that is. Save Me, San Francisco
represented that dreaded turning point, and they also totally exhausted their pool of ideas on that same record. Now four albums into an identical formula, we’re given A Girl A Bottle A Boat
, where the best thing about the album is the scantily clad, apparently patriotic woman on the album cover.
There’s a reason I’ve put off discussing the actual music for this long, but I suppose it had to happen at some point or another. The passion behind A Girl A Bottle A Boat
is so tepid that it feels like the songs were written for no reason other than to fulfill a contractual obligation for an eleven track album. It goes through the motions while checking off every possible mainstream pop cliché. Opener ‘Drink Up’ aims to be a feel good bar anthem (“so take this moment / and put it in a glass / if you want a sip, I got memories on tap”) but ends up sounding something like a version of ‘Cake By The Ocean’ meant for forty-five year olds. It admittedly has a little bit of a bounce to it, but it has been done so many times before – and not to mention better – that this rendition ends up going down like a flat glass of soda that’s been sitting out for two days. ‘Play That Song’ is clearly designed to be the album’s big hit, but it directly rips its entire melody from the popular piano tune ‘Heart and Soul.’ It’s not technically plagiarism as the original composers are credited, but it doesn’t lessen the desire to wonder why Train even bothered. Copy-pasting another melody and changing the lyrics is as blatantly lazy as it gets, and the whole exercise just ends up feeling pointless.
Unfortunately, that’s about as good as A Girl A Bottle A Boat
gets, and it’s infuriatingly bad to begin with. The fact that it still manages to go downhill from there is the egregious part. ‘Lottery’ hits us with a metaphor about falling in love and hitting the lottery (“every time you're here with me / it's like I won the lottery), which is as resoundingly impactful as other trite clichés like “I’m lost without you” or “the party don’t stop.” They’re just useless sayings that are used to fill space and that haven’t meant anything in decades. They make an even further case for outsourcing their lyrics on ‘Valentine’, in which they do that annoying thing where every last syllable that rhymes is elongated and emphasized: “baby, it's all in your HEAD / Do you remember what I SAID / when we sat there on your BED” or better yet “I'm never gonna tell ya' LIES / I'll always stand by your SIDE / So when're ya' gonna realIZE / I'm never gonna say goodBYE / cause baby you're my valentINE.” I shortened it out of mercy because I’m not a terrible person. Also, that song is completely in the style of acapella, so there’s that. Another noteworthy lyrical moment comes when Monahan rhymes “game” with “Aspartame”, “thang” with “boomerang”, and “been” with “Ritalin” all in the same song. There’s so much more where all of this came from, but it’s honestly too easy to continue finding embarrassing word selections, so I’ll just stop.
Whether Train is trying their hand at acapella, doo-wop, or reggae, writing bland and hackneyed alt-pop, or slaughtering the English language, A Girl A Bottle A Boat
fails on every single conceivable level. It’s an identity crisis for a band that has already been losing its grip on relevancy for years. Writing about A Girl A Bottle A Boat
feels a bit like beating a dead horse, thus in many ways making this review as futile as the record itself. Don’t even trick yourself into thinking this is the type of album to spin for a carefree listen or a quick rush of meaningless ear candy, because it’s not catchy enough to fulfill that menial purpose and it’s fun for nobody. I suppose this is what anyone should expect from Train these days, so I’m not even disappointed – more just amazed that something could end up being this bland, either accidentally or on purpose. I’d make a pun about a Train wreck but I simply don’t care enough.