The new Train record is most definitely a welcome treat to anyone who was a fan of (the album, not the song) Drops of Jupiter. On Jupiter, Train traded in the grittier side of the roots-rock sound for a more Counting Crows-esque polish to the tracks; and it was most definitely a change for the better. On their follow-up to Jupiter, the abysmal My Private Nation (2003), they kept the sound; but lost something far more important: the songwriting. Excluding lead single “Calling All Angels,” the whole album was nothing more than fillery mush. It amounted to nothing more than a so-so, fully hollow ‘vibe’ type of album.
Now, they’re back. It’s been two years since Nation sucked up record players around the country, and what do they have to say? Well … the answer is a lot. For Me, It’s You ranks, in my book, as the best Train record ever. Beating out their solid debut, and stellar follow-up. Both of those records were good, but flawed. But this one, this one is solid gold.
The song writing is phenominal on the album. Settling back onto simpler song arrangements, and more thought provoking lyrics has proven itself to be a wothwhile formula for Pat Monahan and Co. First single “Cab” really caught my attention, as I first heard it on a hotel room TV, along with seeing the video on VH1. I was brushing my teeth, when suddently I caught myself fully entranced, listening with all my attention to the catchy tune that had so suddenly filled the room whilst I wasn’t even looking. I could tell right off by the vocals that it was Train, but after Nation broke my heart (and bled my ears), I hadn’t really kept up with the band. I was excited, to say the least. Back in the day when it was all shiny and new, Train’s debut album practically lived in my stereo for months. A return to goodness was (literally) music to my ears. I jumped online right there in the hotel, and pulled up the info on the album’s pending release.
Brendan O’ Brien’s production brings back the earthy, Counting Crows-ish sound of their Jupiter-era work, but also with a dash of the rawness from their self-titled record tracks. And, most importantly, something wholly new. The songs, as well as the sound, all feel familiar; but not in that ‘bad’ way. The album feels comfortable, like it’s speaking straight to you. Perhaps the maturation and direction can be somewhat accounted for by the personal struggles Monahan has faced on a personal level; losing a friend to suicide, and a bouncing, tumultuos line-up in the band itself over the past year or so has obviously led to far more introspective song-writing for the group.
Look no further than “Cab,” “I Can’t Change Your Mind”, or the title track “For Me, It’s You” for some of the best songs to be released yet this year. There really isn’t a weak track to be found in the lot, as the whole album fits together like some convulted, storybook of a massive puzzle. The entire thing flows together so nicely that’s it’s shocking that this is the same band that put out such dribble only two short years ago. No out of place tracks here, or any filler material to up the length to be found. Clocking in at 13 tracks, that’s quite a feat to say the least.
I’m about to ramble for a second, but it’ll be worth it, trust me. If you’re at all a fan of The Wallflowers, Train’s older work, the Counting Crows, Better Than Ezra, Will Hoge, Graham Colton, Howie Day, Matt Nathanson, or Ari Hest: you will love this record. It’s one of the best releases yet this year, and sets the bar quite high for the many artists set to follow. I highly recommend it.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.