When a band’s been around since 1994, you have to wonder what kind of work they put out for their sixth studio album. How different will they sound? Of course, when the “they” hasn’t even stayed the same over the years (and in fact, hasn’t even kept the same number let alone the same members), there’s no reason to expect the same sound. Indeed, I had heard “Drive By” on the radio several times and did not recognize Pat Monahan‘s voice or the sound of the band until the radio host gave it away. Intrigued more by the idea of change than an actual appeal to the new sound of the band (apparently including a change in singing style by Monahan), I gave California 37 a listen.
I started up the album fully intending to pick apart the band’s new sound. One minute into the album and my original plan was completely lost; all of my attention had shifted to the lyrics of “This’ll Be My Year.” The track has been likened as the Train rendition (an extremely silly rendition at that) of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which slips in Monahan’s personal timeline, among important global happenings, such as the start of Nintendo and Facebook. I have never heard lyrics that sounded so incredibly contrived. (“I stopped believin’/Although Journey told me ‘don’t’.”)
For the rest of the album, Monahan rarely lets up from this lyrics fest. “You Can Finally Meet My Mom” is a prime example. What do Steve Jobs (I know, too soon), Buddha, and “the dude who had pop rocks and soda at the same time” have in common? I’ll have to let Monahan explain, as he puts it so eloquently (“Even Bieber ain’t forever”) in this love ballad you’ll wish you never heard.
Not to be outdone, however, the title track is a two-minute, Maroon 5-esque chat in which Monahan bizarrely complains about having to pay child support (“Ding dong, the witch ain’t dead/She’s still trying to take my bread”), calls out all of the Train haters (“Here’s to those who didn’t think Train could ever roll again/You were the fuel that I used when inspiration hit a dead end”), and even seems to bring up some ancient band drama (“Truth is, it was attitude/ Replaced greed with gratitude/Then replaced a pretty key dude/It’s all truth not being rude”). It is all rather immature and sounds strange coming from a 40+ year-old singer.
Monahan definitely took some lyrical risks in this album. In fact, I was so distracted by them that I can only comment on the band’s general sound by saying that I was at least pleasantly surprised to hear some songs that tested Monahan vocally and equally satisfied by a few earworms scattered throughout the album. As an album, California 37 is quite awkward; as Monahan’s autobiography, it’s actually quite interesting.