Few bands have experienced the capricious nature of commercial success the way San Franciscan outfit Train have. From overnight success with Drops of Jupiter – the eponymous single from their second album – which dominated the airwaves in the early 2000s, to virtual obscurity until Hey, Soul Sister became the inescapable song of 2009, and back again. It is with this boom-or-bust history that Train release their tenth studio album, a girl a bottle a boat.
Over its eleven tracks, which barely span 37 minutes, a girl a bottle a boat has the sense of a band reaching out, grasping, for one more unforgettable hit song. From the dancey, indie-rock guitars of opening number, Drink Up – a party anthem that lacks the requisite ‘oomph’ to truly live up to its ambitions – to the musically overblown and self-important closing track, You Better Believe. An electronic beat runs underneath lead single Play That Song’s melody – which is openly borrowed from classic pop staple, Heart and Soul – in what feels like an attempt to appeal to what contemporary listeners are expecting in a pop song, an effect repeated by the pitch-shifted riff of The News. And, even at only 4 minutes duration, Play That Song could do with being tightened up.
Flashes of the Train that endeared themselves to the listening public are evident in the Latin rhythms and strong percussion of Lottery, the solid groove and use of horns on Silver Dollar, Valentine’s doo-wop, the slightly gritty guitars of Working Girl, and the effectively minimal Loverman, which features Priscilla Renea as a guest vocalist. Despite demonstrating Train’s skills as musicians, Working Girl also illustrates a girl a bottle a boat’s failed potential, as the song starts off featuring a narrative of a strong, proud, independent woman, but ends with a male saviour which truly undermines the track’s promise. Only hard-core fans of Train are likely to feel a girl a bottle a boat offers anything enduring.