Album Review: a girl a bottle a boat

WonkeyDude98
Mini-Description: In my twenty-eighth album review, I finally piece apart Train's wreck of trying to appeal to a more modern audience.

Best Songs: "Loverman" ft. Priscilla Renea, "Silver Dollar", "You Better Believe"
Worst Songs: "The News", "What Good Is Saturday", "Play That Song", "Working Girl", "Lottery"

4/10

I don't know much about Train's discography (mainly because I don't have the patience or sanity to go through hours of Pat Monahan), but even from a cursory glance you can tell that they sorta chugged off the face of the earth, if you catch my drift.

Starting out making pop rock that varied from forgettable to downright amazing (in case of Drops of Jupiter), I think it's been made abundantly clear that over the years Pat Monahan has absolutely lost it. I force myself to not hate Hey Soul Sister out of nostalgia even with the gangsta line, but that's as far as I'll go. Then came the cheesy/boring 51 Ways To Say Goodbye and the revolting yet fittingly titled Drive By, which respectively barely missed and easily made my worst of 2012 list, and everything went downhill, until TRAIN COVERED THE ENTIRETY OF LED ZEPPELIN'S SECOND SELF-TITLED ALBUM. I don't even like that album at all, but at least it was the grating Robert Plant we had to deal with instead of Pat "I Elongate Every Single Syllable In A Falsetto" Monahan!

And then came Play That Song, which easily stands a shot as one of the worst hit songs of 2017 (though at this rate it'll probably be a dishonorable mention), and then I heard that it was gonna be featured on the new Train album titled A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat, and I got really, really sad. But I figured, whatever, and checked it out. What madness did we find?

Honestly, even by the low standards I set for this album, I expected more. That's not to say it was worse than I expected, I daresay it's a little better in fact. But this album is bad, and it's bad in the worst way possible for a Train album in that it's boring.. Oh, there are still technical issues across the board, but overall I just come out thinking "eh".

Let's start with probably the best thing about this album, and that's Pat Monahan himself. I'll admit I was a bit hard on him off-review, he's not a bad singer. He doesn't have a lot of bass or tightness, but his lower range is actually very listenable, along with being naturally charismatic with a lot of personality and presence. It's just that he doesn't use that lower range a lot, and more often than not just caterwhauls in a falsetto that makes me think a lot of Adam Levine's, except even worse. Monahan's isn't as stiff, but that also makes it far more grating, like on the choruses of Play That Song, Working Girl, Lottery, and What Good Is Saturday, or the entirety of The News, or worst of all that horrible screeching on the bridge of Loverman. Sure, at his best he sounds more enthused and bassier on Drink Up and Silver Dollar or more earnest on You Better Believe, but he still sounds awful throughout the album, I really hated most of what he had to offer.

(Also is it just me or did he sound vastly different from track-to-track?)

But the worst thing about Pat Monahan's contributions to the album is less his voice and more the lyrics. Keep in mind this is the band that wrote lyrics like "my heart is bound to leap right out my untrimmed chest", "if they don't like it sue me, the way you do me", and "looking for a two-ply Hefty bag to carry all of my love", you'd think there'd be more gems like that here. But since Save Me San Francisco, this is easily the most normal-bad album Train has ever written. We start out with what's practically "here's to gold diggers" on Drink Up, but then we cut to the most horrible POV mismatch since Deuces by Chris Brown on Play That Song, a song about Pat Monahan telling a DJ to play a song for his girl, but in the middle of the chorus he says "the one that makes me think of you", which implies that there's some unintended correlation between the DJ and the girl.

Of course, that's not as bad as it can get. No, where you'd find that is on The News. I'll get to more on why this song is an utter catastrophe later, but the lyrics on this are so...Train. It's the closest we get to an average Pat Monahan writing on this album. Coasting off the cliché "I'm going crazy for your love", he takes it to such bizarre extremes with weird non-sequiturs (however you even spell that) like "covered in red from your lips", "schizo from your fingertips", "they want to see me explode upon emoticon", and "I'm a wreck-ening", to the point where I actually thought it was a song about Pat Monahan going to an insane asylum, and given how people have said he's lost his mind over the years, it's not like I'd argue.

That's before getting to Lottery, where Pat Monahan is drowned in a bunch of weird vocal effects as he starts singing in this awkward willowy "double staccato" as I like to call it that's so uncomfortable and doesn't even resolve in a way that fits the meter. Other than this, for the most part the song is just vapid comparing love to winning the lottery, besides Pat Monahan dropping random brand names right before each chorus for no reason. Or Working Girl, where Pat Monahan -- all the while dropping every line as a random non-sequitur, mentions go out to "see inside a real man" and "if you don't like the bacon I bring, let me get the door for ya" -- is either hailing his love for a prostitute (which I find highly unlikely) or a girl who works which...good for you I guess.

Of course, trying to analyze the back half of this album which ranges from good filler to filler filler is a fool's errand, as shown by Silver Dollar and What Good Is Saturday. The former song is....literal nonsense. The latter song, however, seems to be about Pat Monahan's girlfriend coming back to him on Sunday of all things, and how boring life has become (special mention goes out to "Cartoons ain't funny no more, Cap N Crunch tastes like cardboard, keeping up with FIFA scores") and how much he resents Saturday because of it. I could go on a long rang on how I'm lowkey offended by Monahan shunning Saturday, but you know what I'm already a big enough target. And then there's Valentine, which exists I guess.

But then...then this album's lyrics slightly brighten up. Loverman is the only song on the album to even toy with the sailor iconography that the title and cover suggest, and while it's still awkward and has a nursery rhyme chorus (we'll get back to it), it's harmless enough. But the last two songs on this album, Lost and Found and You Better Believe are actually endearing, sweet songs dedicated to Pat Monahan's daughter, the former song about wanting more time to spend with her and wanting to keep every precious moment, and the latter assuring her that even as they both grow older, she'll be fine. Both songs are a rather good way to end the album, I have to admit.

Of course, that praise doesn't exactly last long, because now we have to talk about the instrumentation and production, and what really sinks this album for not just me, but apparently even Train's fans. Simply put, this is not a Train album. It's Pa Monahan trying desperately to imitate what's popular right now. And honestly, we should just be glad he missed the mark because otherwise this album could have been worse.

But yeah, this album's exactly what you can expect from a description like that. Everything here feels so sanitized and colorless, it's like a blank chalkboard. One of the worst examples is the lead single Play That Song. Forgetting the obvious plagiarism, it's so violently hackneyed with the choppy fake drums, the flattened horns, and the guitar that doesn't remotely lock into the song's groove at all, it actually drives the song off-tempo when the lower end of the mix isn't present.

Then there's The News, which...I don't know if it's because the only video I've seen it on is the lyric video (which has to be one of the most aesthetically unpleasant things I've ever seen), but this is the worst song on the album by a mile and it's all because this is sonically the darkest song Train's released in years, all the while still being dull and uninteresting. The pitch-shifting on the chorus, the weak cymbals, the clicking vocal sample that sounds like a broken marimba, the muted guitars, and that gospel choir on the bridge all give off a vibe that's bleak and threatening...in the least interesting or captivating way possible.

And speaking of dour styles that don't fit Train at all, take Lottery, with the creaking Spanish guitar that completely lacks color, depth, or energy. It does end up building (jarringly) to pick up a little bit of brightness...at the expense of being drowned in reverb and drum machines, squandering the point entirely. Skipping a few songs, we come to Valentine, a song led by a horribly awkward bass acapella and doesn't build to much else beyond snaps. Then there's What Good Is Saturday, which actually has some okay acoustic chords before the gutless drum machines and Pat's painfully silky falsetto invade the whole song.

That said...I'd be lying if I said production elements didn't work for me on this album. I actually went into this album thinking it could be good because of the high-energy blasts of funkier synth on Drink Up. And hey, as asinine as the lyrics are, I kinda dug the crescendos of guitar on Working Girl, or at least I would have if not for the fact that the chorus was never able to pay it off. And of the last six songs on the album, I'd say I like the way four of them sound. The bigger layers of horns on Silver Dollar...a song whose power and groove completely evaporated come the chorus, the jauntier brass on Lost And Found, and the gentle swell of the pianos, strings, and cymbals on the muted ballad You Better Believe all are solid. And...even despite all its problems, and the choppy, clammy acoustic beat, Loverman runs away as the best song on the album exclusively for that chorus courtesy of Priscilla Renea. It's upbeat, catchy, well-layered, and endlessly memorable.

But yeah, this album's bad. Duh. But it is in the absolute most and least Train way possible. Who would go out of their way to listen to something with lyrics this terrible, but with production this sterile and flat? There are good ideas on this album, so I'm giving it a light 4/10, but this album's so not-Train that I can't even recommend it to Train fans. In this case, the girl left, the bottle spilled, and the boat sank. Skip this.

This is WonkeyDude98, and I'm sorry this took so long. Combining the fact that there were too many words for this album, school coming at me like a train (lol), and just my general stress, I had a really hard time writing this. Whatever, P.O.S is next. Hoo boy.

Comments

Their worst album yet. - ProPanda

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