An Incoming Train Wreck – The Fan Response to Train’s New Sound
- Posted on January 23, 2017 at 9:47 AM by Philip Terry Graham
There seems to be an exodus of sorts occurring among fans of Train, the band behind the early-2000s radio hit “Drops of Jupiter” and the lively and energetic 2009 album Save Me, San Francisco. Their next album, A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat, will be releasing later this week, boasting a brand new sound influenced heavily by modern pop rock. It follows many left-turns made by the band in the past few years which included the departure of founding member Scott Underwood and the transformation of the band from a modest three-piece to a mass ensemble of live musicians, a Christmas album in 2015, and even a fully fleshed-out cover of Led Zeppelin II released last year. It’s quite the adventure taken by a band with such a large following, but it seems that the following itself is largely not pleased with the detours that they’ve been taken through.
Over the past few weeks, the band have been releasing new tracks from their upcoming album that releases worldwide on 27 January. The conglomerate of these previews consists a sound that is radically different from the band’s previous discography, which was mostly traditional rock and country-like folk. Instead, A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat goes in a direction that is more reminiscent of today’s pop rock sound – flamboyant choruses, mechanical big-bass production and relatively simplistic lyrics accompanied by catchy and repetitive melodies. For a majority of Train’s fan base, whom have been comfortable with the mostly stripped, acoustic-driven folk sound of the band for over a decade, have displayed quite the resistance to the new album. They have shown no fear or remorse in harshly criticizing the band on social media, often describing the new sound as “overproduced”, and routinely accusing the band of selling out to the mainstream. Comments on the band’s new music have ranged from smart remarks to anger-fueled tantrums.
One commenter made a particularly colourful criticism of the album’s production – “I don’t know who it is forcing Pat to mail in vapid, robotic music for the masses, but whoever you are, please knock it off.” Another commenter expressed their anger in this way – “I’ll come back to you if you bring Jimmy and Scott back and do real music, I feel like this is completely selling out of what made you Train and just giving in to whatever is popular.” The lyrics of the new album, especially those of “The News” have also come under fire by the band’s fanbase, with one pointing out, “He’s so in love with her that he’s acting like an unhinged maniac? I feel we just get lost in this metaphor that gets set up and then just keeps being expanded upon without being fully explained or brought to a focal point.”
Others have also publicly renounced their support for the band, with a particular alleged long-time supporter stating in response to the announcement of dates on the Play That Song Tour, “I’m sad I won’t be going this year. Train has been my favourite band for years and have seen them 5 times. But I just really dislike this album and I wonder what happened.” Ticket prices have also been a source of anger towards the band – “$157 for lawn seats at the Colorado show. Sorry train, been a fan before everyone knew you but not paying that price, I can buy your entire catalogue for that”; a remark by another alleged long-time fan. Some fans have gone further and have also addressed guitarist and founding member Jimmy Stafford’s rather confusing “part-time” relationship with the band, with a commenter stating that “[it] would be nice to the fans to stop guessing if the [Sail Across the Sun cruise] will be his last time with the band.”
For the most part, the fear of judgement that would usually be a factor for a member with a dissenting opinion in most other fanbases is moot on Train’s pages, since it’s become quite the norm these days for any Train fan to express their disappointment publicly and have considerable support behind them. Top comments on posts made by the official Facebook page for Train are usually negative ones, with comment sections of posts previewing new songs from the album often being filled with angst. The only comments with double-digit “likes” these days on Train’s Facebook page are usually passionate expressions of outrage or disappointment.
One could easily dismiss these opinions as voices of a vocal minority – Train still have 4.6 million “likes” on Facebook and 452 thousand followers on Twitter, right? Well, these numbers, correct as of 23 January 2017, used to be bigger. This time last year, Train had over 200 thousand more likes on Facebook. Over a thousand have also jumped ship from Train on Twitter since November 2016. The stats are part of a greater downward trend for Train that started since Bulletproof Picasso, the band’s last original studio album released in 2014, and was largely influenced by the aforementioned questionable decisions by the band including the cover of Led Zeppelin II, which was released to mixed reviews both by critics and fans.
The loss of followers on social media is quite a contradiction to the usual pattern, in which a band gains a slate of new followers in anticipation of a new release, or after a new release. Compare with other artists on the same level of popularity as Train; The xx, whom released I See You earlier this month, gained over 74 thousand new likes on Facebook since the release of “On Hold”, a track from the album, in November 2016. In the same time, Train had lost 24 thousand likes. To even further emphasize the unusual situation Train has gotten themselves into, even Gorillaz, whom had also put out controversial new music deemed by its fanbase to be poor, have still gained followers on Facebook. Since the release of the Gorillaz’s track, “Hallelujah Money” on 19 January, they have gained 8 thousand likes on Facebook. In similar four-day time frames after the release of Train’s “The News” and “Drink Up”, both tracks from their new album, Train had lost a thousand likes each time.
Frontman Pat Monahan, while stating that “every album I’ve ever been a part of writing has had a fair amount of difficulty”, has described A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat as the “most fun and fulfilling” album he’s made with the band yet. While the new sound is, in an objective way, refreshing to hear after a couple of albums with the same general sound, it’ll be ultimately up to fans to decide whether or not what he considers to be “fun and fulfilling” is the right direction for the band to take both musically and commercially. From what we’ve seen so far, the answer is most likely going to be… no. With outrage and disappointment aplenty across Train’s fanbase, it’s unlikely that a band in decline will be able to propel A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat to any kind of weightful commercial success with the lack of support they have evidently been receiving in the past few weeks and months.
A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat will be released by Columbia Records on 27 January 2017 through iTunes and Google Play, and will be available to stream on Apple Music and Spotify the same day. Be sure to follow Altwire and “like” us on Facebook for more updates on Train and more!