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Train: California 37
Full of bold lyrics and sharp cultural references, San Francisco band Train return with their long-awaited sixth album following the early release of the single ‘Drive By’, which for Train fans meant a mouth-watering peek at the band’s newest material since 2009. Like the album sleeve’s photo, one that shows a car headed on a road trip, California 37 has a summery beach-pop quality to it.
The band seems to be going at the same speed that their devoted fans have come to love; little change has occurred since their 2009 hit ‘Hey, Soul Sister’. In fact, the leading single ‘Drive By’ shares more than one aspect of similarity with the former, though the latter is slightly richer in backing instruments. However, ’50 Ways to Say Goodbye’, a somewhat evil and witty song in which a man resorts to storytelling when asked about his lost love, interestingly blends their familiar melodies and harmonies with a hint of Spanish flair.
With an intro reminiscent of ‘Hey There Delilah’ and lyrics that lean more towards the ‘Drops of Jupiter’ side of Train, ‘Feels Good at First’ is an acoustic ballad that reflects on relationships without being specific. Using a slow tempo, it introduces a new side to Train and, as it turns out, lead singer Monahan sounds even better when he isn’t screeching his high-pitched vocals in full force.
Though ‘This Will Be My Year’ provides a look back onto major events of the last two centuries, which Monahan lists tentatively hoping that this year will be his, the novel song doesn’t stand out as it maybe should have. He goes on to say that "we all got bruises” in the song ‘Bruises’, a guitar-backed ballad that features country music singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe - like most songs on the album, it carries a catchy tune.
With California 37, the pop-to-rock ratio of Train’s sound has taken a slight shift to the former. It very much bursts with light and comical lyrics, while upbeat melodies and drumbeats make it an impeccable beach album with little angst or sorrow.
California 37 is definitely a fun album, but it’s hard to imagine the record keeping casual Train fans’ attention for more than a couple of listens. However, for an album that is lacking in musical diversity, it makes up for with easy-to-digest vocals and light lyrics, which in retrospect qualifies the band’s sixth record as one of their best in their eighteen-year career.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
After his light-reggae hit ‘I’m Yours’, Jason Mraz has released his fourth album Love Is a Four Letter Word to further establish his image as a fun, peace-loving, the-world-is-a-wonderful-place kind of artist. In an album where the larger share of words revolve around love, he manages to do just that, failing to avoid, however, that seemingly unavoidable curse of cheesy lyrics.
What some might see traditional and romantic, others might easily see as outdated and heavily repetitive. ‘I Won’t Give Up’, with its quiet guitar riffs and pertinent backing vocals, gives considerable space for Mraz’s own vocals to show but let’s be hones; “When I look into your eyes, it’s like watching the night sky” isn’t exactly innovative.
Though most of the album’s instrumentalism is cleverly layered, ‘The Freedom Song’ is much simpler in sound. Distinct horn accents, a foot-tapping beat and a bubbly mood; the general mellow tones of the song, along with its reassuring lyrics, make this a feel-good track all over.
‘Be Honest’ is another subtle track that can take the listener back in time in an instant. Featuring singer-songwriter Inara George in the chorus, the song has a lounge music air surrounding it, all with a peculiar addition of a xylophone and an acoustic guitar.
The majority of the songs on Love is a Four Letter Word are able to stand on their own, yet as an album, it has a strange lack of obvious hits. Even the single ‘I Won’t Give Up’ doesn’t hit home as expected of a chart entry. However, fans who were introduced to Mraz’s music through ‘I’m Yours’ will probably fall in love with its twin ‘Living in the Moment’ complete with trademark casual guitar strumming, catchy whistling and a similarly positive vibe.
When it comes down to
it, Jason Mraz’s latest album will hardly change the music scene. But it can
be considered a step forward for listeners who thought his former
mono-emotional style too much to listen to throug a dozen or so songs per
album. At some points, it even comes dangerously close to a country sound, as can
be seen in‘Frank D. Fixer’.
Overall, Love Is a Four Letter Word is a safe ride that rarely goes through ups or downs; it talks about love in a very generic sense and doesn’t at any point hit a peak. The upbeat, high-pitched guitar-padded tunes are less in this album than the previous ones which hopefully hints at Mraz’s future evolution as an artist.