By Gregory Hicks, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 15, 2012
Train is a failure — a failure at disappointing. Though the band hasn’t changed its style very much, the years have been kind to the group’s likability. Save Me, San Francisco put Train back on the radar after its three-year production hiatus and California 37 proves that the previous album’s success wasn’t just a stroke of luck, but a result of the band’s skill to generate consistently catchy material.
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Perhaps this comes from the merger of two undying qualities: humor and love. Lyrics from tracks such as “You Can Finally Meet My Mom” have an air of self-aware stupidity that can be described as nothing less than cute — forming an image that’s induced fainting from Pat Monahan fans since 1998. “(He’ll) just lie down and close (his) eyes and think about stuff,” sung with a slight pause, as though he’s putting deep thought into the choice of the word “stuff.” One can’t help but giggle.
This album also wins the award for most name-drops on a single record — or even a single song. The opening track on the album, “This’ll Be My Year,” consists entirely of a timeline filled by brand-name inventions and movie, music, and locational allusions. “In ’85 … Nintendo comes, Live Aid too, ‘Back to the Future,’ where were you?” Many songs tell a story, but Train is willing to go so far as to include actual dates to narrate the given events.
Lyrically speaking, the record’s lead single “Drive By” is one of the weaker tracks on the album, but not nearly weak enough to be criticized. This Billboard Top-20 hit also has a sister track, “50 Ways To Say Goodbye,” which is a sort of “Drive By” meets the Latin fiesta of J. Lo’s “Ain’t It Funny.”
“Drive By” was a brilliant choice of a promotional single for not being too stylishly silly — and because “everything is groovy” is in the melody — but the group’s second single release, “Feels Good At First,” might not be so brilliant. It has that same medium-paced, guitar-accompanied rhythm used by the Plain White T’s in all of their popular songs. One might call this the “Rhythm of Love.” Not that one group has any stylistic influence over the other, but listeners have probably had their fill of this type of song.
Breaking its former musical pattern, Train collaborates with country singer Ashley Monroe on the album. A featured collaboration is a first for Train, let alone one of a country style. Though “Bruises” is the group’s first country number, Train is of the pop-rock genre, so it isn’t like country is a complete 180 on its sound. But a country duet does combine a fascinating handful of firsts into one track.
The album won’t produce any hits on the level of “Hey, Soul Sister” or “Drops of Jupiter,” but if this is a cause for disappointment, drown it out with the record’s goofy, charming content. It’s sure to cure these bitter feelings — though in an ironic sort of way. Train shines with confidence in California 37, blooming heaps of lyrical originality and feel-good melody. The album is more fun than fun. itself.