Review Summary: Nobody deserves this.
In listening to ‘Drive By’, the first single off of Train’s sixth studio album, it is hard to imagine that this is the same band that wrote ‘Drops of Jupiter.’ At one point far closer to its inception, Train was actually a rock
band. Sure, Patrick Monahan always had a soft spot for infectious melodies that drew him towards sunnier pop pastures, but the band’s refusal to abandon their roots kept them from changing course altogether. As their exposure gradually decreased over the middle and latter portion of the decade, they began to cling a little more tightly to their pop tendencies - thus resulting in the runaway success of the unabashedly mainstream Save Me, San Francisco
. Even though opinions were deeply divided upon its release, there are still very few listeners to this day who can objectively deny that it was an infectious pop album. However, that’s the point in the story where one utters the old adage “quit while you’re ahead” in hopes that Train will realize the good timing of their efforts, enjoy their fortune, and return their focus to what they do best. Unfortunately, as is the case with many bands blindsided by success, Train voluntarily dives even deeper down the rabbit hole…coming out on the other side immersed in a world filled with puffy clouds and lollipops.
If you thought ‘Hey Soul Sister’ was a little too perky, then the whole of California 37
is likely to make you question your sanity. The album is basically a round up of the happiest sounds Monahan could muster, placed overtop of cute jingles and packaged in the most radio-friendly format possible. Even though that is the mark of a shallow record, it isn’t anything different from what listeners should be expecting from the band at this point. After all, if Save Me, San Francisco
hinted at anything, it certainly wasn’t a return to hard 90’s-influenced rock. But the real dagger in your ears comes via the repugnant lyrics, which insult your intelligence and challenge your patience on a nearly constant basis. Just take the line from the second single, ‘Feels Good At First’, for instance: “Ooh, every spring needs a honey bee that stings…some things can't change.” This atrocious attempt at meaningful writing demolishes whatever hope initially stemmed from the song’s gorgeous melody, effectively tainting one of the few moments on California 37
with some legitimate musical merit. Lesser songs obviously don’t fare any better under Monahan’s infantile lyrical contributions, and the result is a long list of songs that would have had the benefit of being forgettable if they weren’t so damn irritating.
Even when viewing the album strictly from a “catchiness” perspective, it’s extremely difficult to get past Train’s brought-to-you-by-Disney approach to songwriting. They try almost everything here, and it isn’t for the benefit of their artistic perspective. ‘Bruises’ is a shameless exploitation of country-pop’s rise to prominence, jangling along to ukuleles and inserting guest vocals from country music’s very own Ashley Monroe. It’s not insightful or progressive, it’s just stupid. ‘You Can Finally Meet My Mom’ strains for an old fashioned western feel, but ends up sounding like any other ballad in addition to suffering from idiotic lyrics that share the song’s title. ‘Drive By’ and ‘Mermaid’ both strive for an electro-pop sound, but end up sounding like N SYNC if they were older and used less autotune. The closing track, ‘To Be Loved’, is actually relatively normal by this album’s standards. However, it is mind numbingly repetitive, it tries to make profound insights about love, and it predictably/laughably fails. So to get back on point, yes, California 37
is a catchy album – but it comes begging the question “is your mainstream satisfaction worth mental frustration so potent that you’ll want to chew through the CD case"” If your answer is no, steer clear – there’s plenty of other infectious but equally intelligent pop out there for your consumption.
In the end, the best thing you can hope for here is that you’ll discover a few redeeming moments amidst this trite, superfluously cheerful mishmash of failed ideas. The ability to tune out lyrics is also a huge plus. Take this album as you normally would (with a grain of salt) and then add further cause for doubt and suspicion. California 37
erases Train’s original identity, simply leaving us with a train wreck. Thus emerges another boy band, ripe for the plucking by enthusiastic tweens everywhere.