There can’t be that many Train fans, can there? And no, that’s not talking about people who just think Drops Of Jupiter or Hey Soul Sister are good songs, but those who have an active, consistent interest in the albums that this band put out. It’s mainly because, even after two-and-a-half decades, it doesn’t feel like the band themselves know what they’re doing, being seemingly unaware that safe yet reliable piano-rock is a style that actually worked for them in the past, and instead proceed to frantically grab at any modern pop trend they can.
It also seems that, ten albums in, they’ve learned absolutely nothing, as A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat is a spectacular trainwreck. It’s not even that all of its awfulness is concentrated in one area either; this album just fails across the board, from instrumentation to songwriting to production. It’s frankly shocking how bad this album is, especially considering that Train have been a band for nearly two-and-a-half decades at this point, yet this album seems to scrap the basics in favour of a flat, cheap-sounding pop album that goes in one ear and right out the other.
To give Train some kudos, the highlights of this album at least manage to be passable and memorable – the synthetic funk bassline of Drink Up is pretty good and at least manages to stick, and Play That Song has a brassy chorus that goes down well (if only because the main melody is lifted from the 1938 standard Heart And Soul). Neither of these tracks are particularly fantastic, but compared to what else this album has lurking under the surface, they’re infinitely preferable. They at least feel structured and coherent, unlike the rest of these eleven tracks, serving as a grab-bag of semi-contemporary pop styles fashioned into a slapdash end product, and topped off with some astoundingly cheap and flimsy production that has the fidelity of a bad karaoke cover. Working Girl could’ve been decent as a budget Bon Jovi if it wasn’t suffocated under a thick cloud of bass, but at least it’s salvageable. Far too often, A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat just feels impossible to glean any sort of quality from, like the stiff, Maroon 5-aping reggae of Silver Dollar, or Valentine, which is possibly the whitest approximation of doo-wop since Meghan Trainor got her hands on it. By far the worst is Lottery, an utterly worthless song that coasts by on a tinny, cod-samba guitar line with Pat Monahan’s over-enunciation of every syllable in the verses that’s just excruciating.
Of course, no discussion of the problems with a Train album would be complete without mentioning Pat Monahan and his notoriously atrocious songwriting, but it’s at least toned down here with a lot fewer real clangers. That’s not to say they’re completely gone though; Working Girl is probably the closest to the archetypal product of Train’s songwriting process with its bizarre lyrical references (“You ain’t sweet like aspartame” and “If you want a back and forth thing / Go and get yourself a boomerang” are just a couple of examples), but there’s also What Good Is Saturday, where one of the things that Monahan misses most about his partner is that she can’t make breakfast for him, or Loverman, a complete ego-trip where Priscilla Renea phones in her guest spot to sing his praises, only for Monahan to join in himself. It’s almost embarrassingly one-dimensional at times, played so safe and straight that any sort of deeper subtext, or even progression of any kind, is nonexistent. And given how smooth and saccharine the instrumental canvas is, it makes for the kind of album that just can’t end fast enough.
Though, did anyone really expect anything different? Train are basically a non-entity at this point, and ten albums in, that’s hardly going to change. But with A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat, it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying, instead just throwing together a few songs with no cohesion that would probably do fairly well in the current pop climate. Even by that logic, it’s a stretch to even say that, given how dull and low-quality this album is, even on a purely technical level. Expect the people who keep inexplicably buying Train albums to enjoy this, and literally no one else.
For fans of: Maroon 5, Thomas Rhett, Meghan Trainor
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Girl, A Bottle, A Boat’ by Train is out now on Columbia Records.