For Me, It's You


Sony BMG, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The opening notes to this album had me cringing. Piano ascendant, Pat Monahan's Manhattan-sized, sincerity-dripping vocals painting the ceiling, and all I can think is, oh God, it's gonna be thirteen rewrites of "When I Look To The Sky" and "Drops Of Jupiter." Which are great songs, by the way, but crammed inside a musical pigeonhole is no way to go through life.

And then I listened, and listened some more, and discovered just how wrong I was. A taste of the familiar, then on to the new, that's the essence of For Me, It's You, an album of musical growth and experimentation that has all the fire and spirit you could ask for.

Growth is always one of the possibilities when you lose two-fifths of a band's original lineup in a year, as Train did between starting 2003's My Private Nation and finishing the accompanying tour. (With the departure of original guitarist Rob Hotchkiss and bassist Charlie Colin, the band is now made up of Monahan, guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood, along with new guys Brandon Bush on keyboards and Johnny Colt on bass.) The other possibility is retreat into the familiar.

There are nods to the past here, of course -- these guys have solid commercial instincts and know their way around a steady-building ballad -- but this album is no retreat. Rather, what can be found on For Me It's Youmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is a fresh new expansiveness that serves to underscore both the influence of new guys Bush (John Mayer, Shawn Mullins) and Colt (Black Crowes), who co-write much of the new material with Monahan, and the wisdom of the band's decision to stick with producer Brendan O'Brien, he of the fat Phil Spector-ish sound and zillion exotic textural instruments (hurdy-gurdy, anyone?).

The key, though, is the way the band itself stretches out. In the big-boned "Am I Reaching You Now," vaguely Eastern, indubitably Harrison-esque opening chords build into pulsing verses and soaring choruses that achieve a lift-off that is uniquely Train. When they drop right into the Bob Mould nugget "If I Can't Change Your Mind" and you hear the glockenspiel backing up the driving melody line, the deal is sealed. The arrangement is almost a Springsteen pastiche in places, perhaps unsurprising given producer O'Brien and band manager Jon Landau's other principal client. "All I Hear" follows with a barreling full-tilt intro that's similarly heartfelt, suggesting these occasionally-too-slick radio Gods have finally tapped into their inner id and learned to rock out. Yeah!

From there you move into the nightclub blues-rock shuffle of "Shelter Me," a kind of Beatles-Stones mind-meld. Tom-toms and jazzy piano lurk between verses of the funked-up "I'm Not Waiting In Line," where Monahan's delivery eventually achieves a kind of hip-hop velocity and Stafford's stabbing guitar solo breaks in like the ghost of Keith Richards. The fact that the song has a smartass, undercutting little "Meet Virginia"-style coda only adds to its greasy 70s-rock appeal (if there's one thing these guys could use more of, it's humor to break up the occasionally overcooked earnestness of their music).

It's tough to mistake the intentions of lead single "Cab," which layers on the strings a la "Jupiter," but the core of the song is a gently swinging piano-based number that feels more Jayhawks/Hotel Lights than "Drops." (Side note: the first time I heard "Cab," my reaction was rather lukewarm. Two days and zero repeat listens later, I realized I couldn't get the melody out of my head. Damn!) The closing title track is a sweet capper to the album, featuring raw, bluesy verses that would be at home on a Black Crowes disc, building into a soaring chorus burnished with layered harmonies, bells and horns. It's a track that shoots for majestic and makes it on the strength of a strong hook and passionate execution.

Train has never gotten much respect from mainstream critics -- ironic, since their music is so mainstream in every way other than its lack of irony. But it's hard to call a group that's this willing to grow and this committed to its songs "pop" -- their music is bigger and smarter and more viscerally appealing than that word could ever convey. For Me It's You is an album that breathes vibrant new life into a band that was standing at a crossroads.

Rating: B+

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© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony BMG, and is used for informational purposes only.