In 2009, Save Me, San Francisco rescued pop/rock act Train from obscurity, thanks to hits like “Hey, Soul Sister, “Marry Me” and the album’s extremely singable title track. Now, Train is seeking to make the most of its new lease on life, continuing the momentum with its latest release, California 37.
When you catch a wave, you ride it; you don’t look for another wave. In effect, that’s exactly what California 37 does: it rides the comeback wave created by “Hey, Soul Sister.” In other words, there’s no groundbreaking going on here; the record basically sticks to formula, with its combination of tongue-in-cheek culture references (more on that later), catchy pop hooks, and occasional sloshy sentimentality.
Two things in particular stand out to me about the record, and whether they are positives or negatives, I’m not yet sure. First—while this is a pop/rock offering, this “train” stops by several different genres along the way. Songs like “Mermaid” and the first single “Drive By” carry a bit of an island feel, while “Bruises” tips its ten-gallon to country, as frontman Pat Monahan shares the vocals with Ashley Monroe of Pistol Annies. “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” is just plain ethnically confusing, with a Latino mariachi-band vibe backing lyrics like “How could you leave on Yom Kippur?” And the title track “California 37” even dips its toes into hip-hop, while Monahan offers a friendly bird-flipping at nay-sayers who had written his band off: “Here’s to those who didn’t think Train could ever roll again.” So there’s that.
Second—and I personally think this is overdone—the constant pop-culture references on the record seem a bit fabricated at times. The opening track rattles off a litany of historic moments that draw immediate comparisons to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire;” from there, the references keep coming, as Monahan name-drops celebrities living and dead throughout the record’s lyrics, from Justin Bieber to Jimi Hendrix. Only a couple of times are the pop references particularly clever, as in: “I stopped believing, although Journey told me, ‘don’t’” and “an island so remote only Johnny Depp has ever been to it before.”
But enough nitpicking; the fact is, very few people thought Train could ever come back to the same popularity as its “Drops of Jupiter” days, and here they are, even more popular than before, with Monahan himself at a spry 45 years of age. So shut my mouth; these guys have found success (again), and for all the pop culture references they throw around, they now have several hits of their own that are destined to enter the pop-culture soup. In 10-20 years, someone’s likely going to write a song lyric referencing “Hey, Soul Sister.” And that alone is a feat worthy of applause.
And so, for the gimmicks I’ve just pointed out on California 37, I’m giving Train a pass—for now. The record is good, and it’s worth buying. Let’s just say, though, that this wave won’t last forever. Train will have to get a little bit creative to keep this momentum going—if not on this album, then certainly the next.
ALBUM RATING: 3 stars (out of five)