In Defense of Train: Embracing Your Inner Campiness
My seventy-year-old aunt jams to them in the car. My six-year-old cousin sings their hits incessantly. My dad taps his foot when they come on the radio, my mom requests them whenever my iPod is plugged in, and every one of my friends sings along when I Spotify them (yes, it’s a verb).
I’m talking, of course, about Train: the campy, almost-country group of forty-somethings, who seemed to have disappeared from the pop sphere after their über-histrionic 2003 hit “Calling All Angels.” But they reappeared just two years ago with the single “Hey, Soul Sister.” “Soul Sister” was Train’s version of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: sooo much more Train than you could have ever wanted.
With three chords’ worth of ukulele, a bridge of just one word (“hey”), and much more eyeliner, they created a mega-hit unlike anything they’d ever produced before. Their rhymes were disgustingly simplistic, their handclapped beats remarkably overused, and their happy-go-lucky message more like Teletubbies than Sesame Street.
But holy shit were they catchy.
Now I could dismiss them as one of those bands that re-penetrates the Top 40 with a catchy tune once and then falls back into obsolescence. But they did it again with “If It’s Love,” and then “Drive By.”
So what’s their secret? What’s their redeeming quality? Why should we appreciate their simplicity, praise their plainness, and stop complaining that Hall and Oates was so much better?
Because “mainstream-ness” is something that should be appreciated. There is something inherently awesome about appealing to the “eight to eighty” age group.
You know what? It’s taken me 300 words to get me here, but I’m ready to admit it: I like Train. I listen to Train. Train’s music pleases my ears. And you know what else? Who the hell cares.
Train is just so friggin’ American that I can’t help but love them. They take a lot of time to say the same thing...over and over and over again. They’re super afraid to offend anyone.
They think that every lover is going to be The One and every heartache is going to be The End. Sounds a little bit like a Wesleyan student, eh?
But Train, unlike we of the hipster *ahem* minority, embraces their own campiness. They utilize the same formula on practically every song, but each song is enjoyable and fun. How many other bands would dare to put a Christmas song on a non-Christmas album released in October? None.
But Train did it anyways. You know why? Because people freakin’ love Christmas songs.
It’s just so beautiful to me that instead of saying “screw the mainstream, I’m doing what I want,” à la Lupe Fiasco, Train completely morphed its image into what Ryan Seacrest and KISS108 wanted them to be.
They’re not doing it to be famous, to make more money, or to intentionally embody everything that members of Eclectic despise. They’re doing it because it’s a whole lot more fun to have a huge buttload of fans than to have zero fans.
I mean, look at the group’s lead singer and Jason Bateman impersonator, Pat Moynihan: at the 2010 American Music Awards, he performed “Marry Me” and “Hey, Soul Sister” in his perfect pitch tenor voice, wearing skinny jeans. But not just any skinny jeans: shiny, sparkling, silver skinny jeans. He then had twenty-five women and girls dance onto the stage wearing shirts that read, you guessed it: “SOUL SISTER.”
Now why is this significant? Only because it’s the most awesome thing an outfit and set of dancers can do for a band. These decisions took reflexive irony to the next level. Train was being ironic about being ironic...about being ironic.
Indeed, it’s possible. Train, while embracing the American attitude, qualifies as ironic in itself precisely because they embrace their American-ness. As they became more self-aware, they exploited exactly what one would have expected them to avoid.
Now, the tight silver pants and the dancers. Is there anything more Train than those pants? No one could have possibly expected something so campy out of the campiest band around, because the campy thing to do would be to do something completely un-campy.
They’re ironic, they’re self-pitying, but they’re just too damn likeable. Remind you of anyone, Loyal Reader? As Pat Monahan sings: “We’re two birds of a feather, and the rest is just whatever.” You know, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about his band and Wesleyan students.