Sound — 7
Train formed in 1994 and first came to fame in the late '90s with the singles "Meet Virginia" and "Drops of Jupiter" and were opening for bands such as Hootie & the Blowfish and the Counting Crows. They briefly faded partially from the public eye, only to win the attention back with the release of the single "Hey, Soul Sister" in 2009. The band's overall sound has moved from being conventional rock to a more pop-friendly sound over the years. There have also been some changes in lineup over the years, with Pat Monahan and Jimmy Stafford being the only remaining founding members. The most recent lineup change was when founding member and drummer, Scott Underwood, left the band this year to be replaced by Drew Shoals. The drums on "Bulletproof Picasso" were performed by Drew Shoals, even though Scott Underwood left the band after the recording had already began. "Bulletproof Picasso" is the band's seventh full length studio album, with Pat Monahan having writing credits on all tracks. There are some writing credits shared on a few tracks with keyboardist/guitarist, Becker, and a few other outside songwriters. "Angel in Blue Jeans" was released as the band's lead single in June. There are 12 tracks on the album with a runtime of a little over 43 minutes. The album was produced by Butch Walker, Espen Lind and Amund Bjorklund.
The album opens with the track, "Cadillac, Cadillac," which Pat wrote with Butch Walker and Al Anderson. The bassline from the song is the primary device carrying the song next to the vocals. Next up is the title track, "Bulletproof Picasso," which has an intro that strongly reminds me of the song "Fireflies" by Owl City. Next is the lead single, "Angel in Blue Jeans," which is a country rock love ballad and is very catchy. "Give It All" is more of a showcase of Pat's vocal skills than the rest of the album, with fairly minimal instrumentation for portions of the song. "Wonder What You're Doing for the Rest of Your Life" has Marsha Ambrosius as a guest vocalist, and the track has a lot of bounce to it. "Son of a Prison Guard" opens with the sound of whistling and footsteps, and the lyrics come in with a very direct narrative. "Just a Memory" has some of the more interesting instrumentation on the album and a vibe like some of the vocal groups from the late '50s and early '60s, which makes this track stand out for me on the album.
"I'm Drinking Tonight" is the second song in a row on the album to surprise me, this one with a surf rock vibe with the way the tremolo is used on the guitar, and the style of vocals. "I Will Remember" is an oddball of a song, and this is another one written by Pat and Butch Walker. There is a lot of stop/start in the song. "The Bridge" is another example of the band taking very retro and old school style and incorporating it into their songs. "Baby, Happy Birthday" has lyrics that read like a personal letter, and more specifically an apology letter to a lover. The album closes out with "Don't Grow Up So Fast" with lyrics like "you want it all right now/ hurry up and wait," the song seems to be about wanting his daughter to take her time growing up. The song creates a nice little sentimental closing for the album.
Lyrics — 7
Pat Monahan, one of the few remaining original members of the band, continues to provide lead vocals as well as the occasional harmonica, acoustic guitar or other odd instrument when playing live. In the studio he puts all of his energy into providing vocals for the band. The rest of the band provides backing vocals, which in some instances are integral to the success of the songs. Touring backing vocalists, Sakai Smith and Nikita Houston, provided backing vocals in the studio for this album, as well. Pat has a fairly distinctive voice in a genre that is known for competent but non-descript vocalists, which is a big boon for the band.
There is some processing used on the vocals, but it is done professionally so it blends into the overall sound of the songs. Pat still has it, and proves it on this album - one of the strongest vocal points of the album is probably on the track, "Give It All." As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the lead single, "Angel in Blue Jeans:" "And though I never got her name/ or time to find out anything/ I loved her just the same/ and though I rode a different road/ and sang a different song/ I'll love her till my last breath's gone/ like a river made of silver/ everyone came running to the scene/ I was shot down in cold blood/ by an angel in blue jeans/ whoa, oh, oh, oh/ late that night she got away/ I chased her to the turnpike/ then lost her where the music never plays/ and though I rolled upon the stones/ and fell into the water/ I'll love her till my judgment day/ like a sunrise made of white lies/ everything was nothing as it seems/ I was shot down in cold blood/ by an angel in blue jeans."
Overall Impression — 7
For me personally, Train is at their best when they're reaching back to copy old genres of rock instead of practicing their pop/country rock music of recent years. For this reason, my favorite songs on the album are "The Bridge," "Just a Memory" and "I'm Drinking Tonight." The band definitely create some well-crafted songs, but this is often with the assistance of people like Butch Walker, who create a "product" more than letting a band be a band. I feel like this has been the case with Train for years and it has slowly gotten worse over that time. That doesn't create a "bad" band, but it definitely creates a more "cookie cutter" outcome. You can listen to the album and appreciate the sounds on here, however, without thinking too hard about the demise of the creative spirits who wrote "Meet Virginia" and "Drops of Jupiter" years ago.