Train’s newest release is as upbeat as ever, but it’s nothing more or less than another shallow pop/rock indulgence.
The band’s management of catchy, radio-friendly tracks is hardly surprising at this point. This is their eighth album (tenth of you count their Christmas album and the cover album Train Does Led Zeppelin), and each has had more or less the same signature sound, allowing them to refine their pop/rock sensibility, but never leaving that familiar ground. The result, as seen in A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat, is an album that will no doubt please longtime fans, but smells suspiciously familiar and safe.
Not that there’s anything especially wrong with that, but it does the raise the question of why you would buy another Train album instead of continuing to listen to the first seven. Not that there aren’t some good tracks here, mind you. The opener “Drink Up,” using the metaphor of drinking from the bottle, dwells on good memories and nostalgia, and turns what could have easily been the title of an immoral party song to positivity and optimism, with a catchy main rill to go along with it. There are other catchy tunes as well, notably “The News” and “Loverman.”
But just as the musicality never goes beyond what Train does best (although their best is admittedly quite catchy), the lyrical themes never manage to be more than skin-deep. It is relentlessly happy, a point that should not be overlooked, but in more of a “college hippie boy” way than a “living filled with joy” way. The party elements, in fact, are particularly present. From the prime analogy of the opening track to “Play That Song” (“She invited all her friends/I’m buying all the rounds”) and “Silver Dollar” in particular (“Sometimes girls just wanna have fun/Sometimes the honey might get you stung/Sometimes you get a little bit too loaded”), this is an ever-present lyrical theme. It’s not hard to see the shallowness of it.
There are other implicit issues, too. In addition to the presence of drinking and occasional sexuality (“Now I’m all covered in red from your lips/Tweaking from seeking the way to your hips” in “The News”), the song “Working Girl” could be a wink at immoral lifestyles (The term “working girl” is a euphemism for prostitute, although it’s not entirely clear if that’s the meaning intended here).
The positives should be mentioned, as well. There’s a much greater emphasis on commitment in romantic relationships in this album than you typically find in a lot of pop/rock fare. The song “Valentine” promises to “never say goodbye,” and “Loverman,” a back-and-forth song featuring a man who’s away at sea, doubting if his woman will still want him, also promises commitment: “All night long/I’ll wait for my loverman/Cause only my loverman cares.”
But in the end, that positivity isn’t enough to save the album from an oft-tread musical ground and mostly shallow lyrical themes. This is the case particularly with more thoughtful groups being present in the genre (such as OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons, for example). All in all, while Train is as good as they ever have been at crafting catchy choruses and fun, upbeat tunes, the album fails to be what we look for in music, and unfortunately just isn’t worth spending much time with.