ALBUM REVIEW: Train – Bulletproof Picasso

Not quite out of the "Blue".

Not quite out of the “Blue”.

They took the California 37 and drove into the top ten on the Billboard 200 with hits like “Drive By” and “50 Ways To Say Goodbye”. Now, Train, reduced to two original members after the departure of drummer Scott Underwood, rides again onto the scene with Bulletproof Picasso, their seventh album for longtime home Columbia Records. Like the two previous albums of their well-deserved comeback, Bulletproof brings together both the serious and fun, as well as the old and the new. However, there’s more of an emphasis on intimate moments and less of a pop culture punch lyrically. It seems that the group keeps growing even when you don’t expect them to, good for both the members and their fans. This is a record strictly for them and the relationship that’s kept them going for 15+ years.

The five pre-release songs from the set encompass the first part of this effort, which starts off with a pair of straight-up pop/rock tracks: the solid “Cadillac, Cadillac” and the even better title track. The former suffers from a bit of a cheesy lyric (“I’d rather play games on my G4 phone”… really?) but the latter is more carefree and certainly radio ready: “We don’t need a reason/For anything we feel/We don’t need a reason/Picasso’s at the wheel.” I’d definitely love to see it as the followup to the wildly western grower of a Hot AC hit “Angel In Blue Jeans”, third in the lineup.

Next is “Give It All”, slowing the pace a taste, in which Monahan comes off as a Bono sound-alike to the point where it would just be better to crank up some U2. An improvement comes in the form of “Wonder What You’re Doing For The Rest Of Your Life”, a really sweet pop tune with a bubbly retro touch. Surprisingly enough, it works given the duet with Floetry singer and now soloist Marsha Ambrosius. It’s a head-scratcher, but it’s the final product that counts. The whistle-laden “Son Of A Prison Guard” is next, the winner of the most interesting title on here. The song is just OK, but it’s good to hear a more story-driven song.

In the middle, the lyric-driven “Just a Memory” continues to serve that pop/rock sentiment of the first few songs, this one being a song of lost love that ultimately gets lost in the lineup. “I’m Drinkin’ Tonight” goes darker in a Tom Petty vein, as Monahan relays, “I’m drinkin’ tonight/Gonna give up the fight/The only thing stronger than you is whiskey.” “I Will Remember” tries to position itself as a more anthemic version of “Bulletproof Picasso” with its oversimplified metaphors, but falls flat. Luckily, “The Bridge” is there to pick up the pieces, a slick psychedelic rock cut that teaches us a lesson: “This is what happens when you go to the bridge/You jump into the fire or you learn to swim.”

One of the final two songs will probably serve as the third and last single from the album: both are exceptionally strong slower pieces. Question is, which will be the “Marry Me” of the era? “Baby, Happy Birthday” nears close to that classic sound, slightly reminiscent of the Boston‘s 1986 single “Amanda”. It’s about changes in life and remembering the little things, the protagonist urging the listener to find “someone that would never forget your birthday.” Finally, the tender “Don’t Grow Up So Fast”, a country-tinged ode from a father to his young child, just melts your heart. Monahan sings, “The good times too shall pass/There’s only so much sand in the hourglass/So, don’t grow up so fast.” Well, hello, Bob Carlisle‘s “Butterfly Kisses” for 2015, anyone? Needless to say, there’s much potential for both of them.

With only moderate airplay for “Angel” and a diminished audience buying music, expect a medium-sized debut for this on the album survey before it sadly falls off the radar. It’s a step above their last outing and certainly harkens back to the days of their earlier material, if only for mere moments, but the scaled-down playfulness of their material (not the cringeworthy kind) is sometimes missed when the guys relied on it so much over the last few years. That being said, it’s worth a purchase and support to keep the guys chugging along down the tracks of top-selling music.

(Stream and pre-order Train’s Bulletproof Picasso, due in stores September 16)

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