Saturday, January 28, 2012

Train and the Work of Stupidity

The guys of Train are the undisputed kings of mellifluous horseshit. Their singles are joyously happy and catchy; they are underwritten by an unshakeable sing-a-long quality; and they are deeply stupid. When happily singing along to a Train song alone in the car you will inevitably come to that moment of consciousness when you realize what you are actually singing and you’ll think, “Jesus, what is this shit?” I had that moment today while singing the chorus to their new single “Drive By.”

“Oh I swear to ya/I’ll be there for ya/This is not a drive by-y-y-y-y/Just a shy guy/looking for a two-ply/Hefty bag to hold my-y-y-y-y-y-y love.” There it is in all its silliness. The first three phrases make sense. They prepare the explanation for why the protagonist of the song vanished after the one night he spent with the object of his desire. Then it gets baffling. I’m shy, he claims, and I need a container for all of this love. Huh? How does it follow from your shyness that you won’t see someone until you have the right container for the love you feel? Frankly, this is the kind of crap you tell someone you never intend to see again after your one night stand: “really, baby, I love you too much to ruin what just happened by seeing you again.” But it’s the metaphor itself more than its lack of logic that is appalling. I think that name-brand, two-ply garbage bags don’t belong in romantic art, and I doubt that this will become a common metaphor for explaining the depth of one’s love. These guys have a history of choosing strangely banal figures for illustrating love. In “Drops of Jupiter” the singer asks his loved one to imagine the delights that await their romance. He sings: “Can you imagine no/First dance, freeze-dried romance/Five hour conversation/The best soy latte that you ever had/and me.” The best soy latte, for reals? These guys must write songs like Brick Tamland talks about love: just mention the first thing you see. I love lamp!

To be fair to Train, however, nowhere does it say in the popular music handbook that pop songs are supposed to make sense or not sound stupid. If that were the case, considerably less music would exist. Even a perfect song like Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock,” for example, is mostly free-association gibberish. The Stooges’ “No Fun” is a self-aware exploration into the sense of self of someone who does very little thinking beyond their own immediate sensations and desires. That is, it’s a song about a dummy. Lastly, there are song like The Cramps’ “Human Fly” (which begins with these extraordinary verses: “Well I’m a human fly/I-I spell f-l-y/I-I say buzz, buzz, buzz/and it’s just because”) that make it impossible for the listener to decide whether they are stupid songs or songs about stupidity. In short, pop music has always had plenty of room for idiots.

Yet one gets the sense that the Train guys don't see themselves as idiots. Their songs are dumb by accident. So how do we explain their success other than by assuming that the people who buy their records must also be stupid? The large share of the explanation is that their songs are just musically very accessible and catchy. But the unsophisticated quality of the lyrics is also part of their appeal in as much as they provide a very unthreatening and distracting version of art. Sometimes we want art to raise us above the mire of the everyday by confronting us with difficult truths and sometimes we want it to divert our attention by painting the dirt. Train are doing the latter even if they probably imagine that they are doing something else.


  1. Like all mainstream "music" from the last 20 years or so, Train sucks. Ultimately and truely.
    What they create isnt music. Music bit the dust a long time ago. The only good music is the experimental kind and those bands get practically zero attention. Train, like countless crap artists of the last 2 decades, have about as much talent as a turkey sandwich with the crusts cut off.

  2. Hey, listen, I appreciate the participation, but I don't think you're getting the spirit of this blog.

  3. I once used a crustless turkey sandwich to occupy the gaping hole of longing inside me...decently effective. So, like Train, perhaps the crustless turkey may serve a purpose, however trivial it may seem to you, my friend.

  4. Haha this really made me laugh it's right i was wondering why the hell would he use the lyric just a shy guy looking for a two ply hefty bag ! Thanks for this blog it's made my day lol !