Train was the first album by the band Train , some of whose singles I became familiar with as a student in college. This particular album was a hit somewhat out of left field, going platinum and spawning the top 20 hit “Meet Virginia” and a couple of minor hit singles. Given the 15 years that have passed since the release of this album, it is striking both that a lot has changed about the band in the time since then (namely this song does not have any hints of the witty pop-culture references of more recent albums, and is a lot more country-influenced than most of the songs during the band’s later albums), but the essential concerns with identity and love have continued to be important to the band throughout their career.
In order to give a better perspective to the songs on this album, let us give the album a track-by-track review.
Meet Virginia: The first mainstream pop hit from Train, and the second hit single overall, this song provides a narrative of a young woman who wants a better life and who shares the narrator’s loneliness and sarcastic sense of humor. It is striking how the band was so world weary even on their first album.
I Am: The first song I ever heard from the band, and the third single from the album, this a country-rock tune that expresses a great deal of insecurity and self-doubt, and ignorance of the world at large and its history. “Am I the son I think I am? Am I the friend I think I am? Am I the man I think I want to be?” this song asks, and the beautiful harmonica part cannot distract the discerning listener from the pensive mood shared by many people, myself included.
If You Leave: This song has some high falsetto parts and points out, somewhat ironically, that if the narrator’s lover leaves, that it will be easier for her to breakdown. The song contains some interesting juxtapositions between the perspectives of the narrator and his partner, and some excellent background vocals as well.
Homesick: This song features some very straightforward and spare acoustic guitar work that gets louder and electric as the song progresses to go along with some themes about the narrator’s lover searching for a place to call home, where people pump her gas remember her name and open doors for her and light her cigarette. This is a very thoughtful album track, livened up by gentle and specific details that help raise the song above mere cliche.
Free: The first single from this album and a moderate rock hit, this song combines some wicked guitar riffs and excellent drum work with some world weary lyrics about the ironies of freedom and loneliness, themes that have resonated throughout Train’s entire body of work. The narrator sings about the sadness of being thought of as free because of being single, but he thinks of himself as only foolish.
Blind: This is a gentle song with some really high guitar songs, reflecting on the pains of getting older (if not necessarily wiser). Again, this is surprisingly reflective material for a band’s debut album, with a lot of conflicting and even contradictory sentiments.
Eggplant: This song has some interesting distorted lyrics and remained in the band’s setlist through their second album, reflecting a quirky view of a romance, that is compared to the excellence of eggplant and caviar as the sign of a good life and successful love. This song is certainly full of odd, even nonsensical and somewhat repetitive rhyming lyrics (a staple of Train songs) and very lovely string backing parts.
Idaho: The second song on this album to reference a state, this song compares various states (and not only Idaho) to people, asking them such questions like “Are you my friend?” Some of my friends, no doubt, would appreciate the song’s sentiment that because Maine is too high and Florida is too low, he is going to move to Idaho and is not afraid of the place. Again, like many Train songs, this features some quirky and very oddball lyrics to go along with jangly and spaced guitars and dark backing vocals.
Days: This song has a really interesting accordion part as well as somewhat distorted vocals and California rock guitars that deal with the loneliness and dissatisfaction about having gone days without talking to a loved one and dealing with the difficulty of pain and shame along with the feeling that one has seen everything of pain and shame.
Rat: This song has a sparse musical part to start, building up as it goes along (with some nice harmonica work) along with some very dark lyrics comparing people to rats, dealing with gossip and ugly relationship drama and some impassioned singing that is sometimes a bit hard to understand exactly what is being sung.
Swaying: This song is a plea for a lover to talk slowly, sung slowly with some very beautiful instrumental parts, including what feels like an old-timey piano. It ends the listed tracks of the album in the same mood continued throughout, a generally gentle and reflective mood focused on love and communication.
Bonus Track: Train: This song has an especially ironic title (given that it is the name of the band) and has some dark, conspiratorial lyrics and some excellent fuzzy guitar riffs. It provides an upbeat song that has music that sounds like the pop-rock that was popular in the mid-to-late 1990’s in bands like Better Than Ezra, a strong departure from the rest of the album but a soulful song that would prefigure later songs of theirs at least in the singing style.
Bonus Track: Heavy: This song is a pretty jangly, demo-type song with mostly acoustic instrumentation about a dysfunctional relationship that the narrator has doubts will continue. Like much of the rest of the album, it is world weary, reflecting a heaviness about life.
This is an accomplished debut album, sounding like a band far more road weary and reflective than most groups making their first albums. The album itself provides few hints that the band would shift their direction to Adult-oriented rock in later albums from this album’s gritty country-rock. The album does, however, feature some consistent leitmotifs of the band’s work as a whole, including a focus on love, narrative songs full of drama and telling details, and odd lyrical conceits, along with a focus on classy instrumentation that would build from this album’s harmonicas and jangly guitars to include piano balladry and ukeleles and even a mariachi band. It is intriguing that the band came up with so many songs with very short titles, the last ten songs having one-word titles. Obviously, the band would later expand those song titles for the most part, although later there would be occasional songs with telling and odd one-word titles (like “Mississippi,” to go along with this album’s “Idaho,” and more contemporary songs yet like “Bruises” and “Mermaids”). This is an album that has 11 pretty decent songs, some of them very excellent, and a couple of worthy bonus tracks. It is clearly a beginning effort and not as polished as later efforts, but it bodes well for the band’s later excellence.
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