Does Train suck or not? This question has been driving me crazy since 1998, when they happened to play in a giant field at Stanford University while I was there visiting a friend. Even then, I couldn’t figure out if I liked their pop-rock music or not.
Let’s look at the “sucking evidence” on both sides.
For the Prosecution (or, Proof That Train Sucks)
* Have you heard the band’s lyrics?
Every Train song has at least one line that’s so batshit crazy, you can practically hear Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and a hundred dead poets laughing at it. Maybe it’s the part in “Drops of Jupiter” where singer-songwriter Pat Monahan says his woman “checks out Mozart while she does Tae-Bo.” Or maybe it’s the section of “Drive By” where Monahan sings that he’s “just a shy guy lookin’ for a two-play Hefty bag to hold [his] love.” The point is, you can’t escape this mess.
But from where I’m listening, “Hey Soul Sister” best demonstrates Train’s crimes against language. In particular, I’m referring to this verse:
I’m so obsessed
My heart is bound to beat
Right out my untrimmed chest
I believe in you
Like a virgin, you’re Madonna
And I’m always gonna wanna
blow your mind
Let’s start with “untrimmed chest.” First of all, that’s a really awkward way of saying you have chest hair. Second, the word “untrimmed” doesn’t help us understand Monahan’s obsession with the titular soul sister. Meanwhile, that comparison to the Virgin Mary (as in, a woman you can “believe” in) just doesn’t fit with that Madonna reference. It’s almost clever, but it doesn’t quite scan.
And look: I know that it’s possible for songs to be good without great lyrics, but come on. We are reasonable people. There have to be limits.
* Not exactly crossing any musical boundaries, are we?
Train’s music is pretty damn generic. I’m not saying that a band has to obliterate my mind with its innovation, but a little personality would be nice. Mostly, Train churns out inoffensive melodies that might as well have been performed by The Fray or Imagine Dragons..
But that leads me to the other side of the courtroom…
For the Defense (or,Proof That Train Doesn’t Suck)
*If everyone could write inoffensively pleasant songs, then we’d all be zillionaires
Melodically, Train songs are like bacteria: They crawl inside your brain and take it over until you find yourself humming “this is not a drive by-aye-aye-AH-aye” while you’re trying to do your taxes. And that’s not necessarily awful. The tune of “Hey Soul Sister” is a lot more pleasant than the catchy-but-punishing repetition of “Sexy and I Know It.”
Or how about Train’s new single “Bruises,” featuring rising country star Ashley Monroe? I mean… dammit! This song is really lovely. (You can listen below or watch the video here.)
* Everyone in the band seems pretty clear about the kind of music they’re making
Did you see Train’s Behind the Music episode? All the guys are up front about being in the business of making music. They all admit they’re pretty much just sticking together because Train is a successful business model, and Pat Monahan frankly concedes that he succeeds because of hard work, not because of artistic genius. And you know… I respect that. If nothing else, this is not a pretentious group of dillweeds pretending to make high art. They might be checking out Mozart, but they don’t think they are Mozart.
I just… I still don’t know. This question may haunt me forever.