CV: Train, a girl a bottle a boat

February 7, 2017

The title of Train’s newest album, a girl a bottle a boat, reflects the band’s excessive effort to appeal to pop trends, but hardly matches the album’s actual emotions in the way audiences may expect. Train attempts lighthearted, carpe diem anthems reflective of relaxing and summer yacht parties, but the actual product is weighed down with sappy, cumbersome emotion. The title would apply beyond the first two tracks if the “girl” of the title is constantly testing vocalist Patrick Monahan’s fortitude, the “bottle” is a weak method of coping, and the “boat” is a hollow escape from the cold realities of life.

Photo: Columbia Records

Over the course of the a girl a bottle a boat, Train proves that they are capable of producing tracks in a few genres outside their own, from dance-pop to doo-wop, but only at the cost of abandoning much of the style that previously set the group apart from other pop bands. The album opens with “Drink Up,” a song with a standard carpe diem theme that embodies Train’s merger with trending motifs. The only difference is the dominance of minor tones amid the upbeat chorus and and dancebeat, properly setting the tone for an album that is bittersweet at best and refuses to abandon nostalgia, even while proclaiming the importance of enjoying the moment.

If the album is experimental, it’s only experimental relative to Train’s past sound, as the band tries to fit its classic hopeless-romantic theme into cookie-cutter musical formats that are slightly different from their soft-rock origins. “Silver Dollar” falls into the dance-pop genre, with keyboard and percussive dance rhythms that are completely foreign to the band. The bold change in sound refreshes Train’s unchanging message and is surprisingly successful, but other attempts are dominated by their shortcomings. “Lost and Found” is simply Train’s version of a dance-toast to the ups and downs of life, while “You Better Believe” is everything to be expected in a piano ballad: a parental motivation from Monahan to the audience, based upon what Monahan’s own father supposedly said, to carry on believing in yourself through life’s struggles. Train attempts to step into new genres, doing so by remaking the most basic aspects of each.

At times, this failed effort is tedious. “Loverman” falls short of a couple’s dialogue due to the embarrassing oversimplification of Priscilla Renea’s contribution: “All night long I wait for my loverman / Cause only my loverman can.” The song crosses the line of romantic longing into the tricky field of demeaning romantic gender roles. Monahan’s instrumentally minimalistic, poetic verses have potential, but are overshadowed by the less articulate portions of the song. Doo-wop track “Valentine” is similarly simple and falls short of success, again presenting minimalism that could be used to emphasize unique, creative aspects, but instead that mirrors the monotonous, overworked sentimentality permeating every track without sparking any enlightenment. “What Good is Saturday?” poetically encapsulates longing for an absent lover, and is more lyrically compelling than most of the album, as Monahan contrasts mundane realities with more idealistic scenarios. Unfortunately, even the most intriguing verses drip with cumbersome, overdone emotions and struggle to compete with the overwhelmingly unoriginal melody, which begins with wholly unnecessary electric pulses that contrast the softer tones of the remainder of the song. Suddenly, the band that dropped emotional masterpieces like “Drops of Jupiter” struggles to produce something memorable.

In a painful perpetuation of cliches, a girl a bottle a boat seems to be, with the exception of a few tracks, the album released as a once-energetic, veteran band settles down and reflects with calmer, simpler, and subtler tracks. However, Train has been nostalgic since their debut, and in settling down, have surrendered to popular appeals rather than continued to strive for artistry. This should have been foreshadowed when the melody of the lead single was merely borrowed from 1938 track “Heart and Soul,” as though Train had doubts in their own creations.

Amid its failures, a girl a bottle a boat manages to find hints of success and potential in two scenarios: when Train stays truer to the unique style that brought them to fame, and when Train’s experimentation occurs outside of established pop trends. At best, the album is a transition, as Train’s career hits a midlife crisis and faces the question of whether to milk what remains within the confines of their original style or to step into a new, unfamiliar genre in hopes of new creative prospects. Following the success of “Hey, Soul Sister,” it’s no surprise that Train chose to dive into pop — and audiences can only hope that Train will emerge from a girl a bottle a boat with lessons learned and new ingenuity discovered.

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Emily Jaster
Emily Jaster is the former features editor and former Halftime Leisure editor for The Georgetown Voice. When she's not writing for the Voice, you can usually find her writing poetry or wandering around art galleries and concert halls.

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