In 1998, Train scored big with their chart-topping hit “Meet Virginia”, from their self-titled debut. The success of this quirky number not only assured platinum status, but ensured that the San Francisco quintet would have the full and undivided attention of listeners when their sophomore release came steaming down the tracks.
Train’s latest offering, Drops of Jupiter puts to rest any preconceived notions that their initial accomplishments were merely a fluke. This record is simply brilliant. The quality of the musicianship and the depth of their songcraft, coupled with the production skills of Brendan O’Brien (Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam) will prove Train the standard-bearers of the alt-rock genre when the smoke clears. O’Brien’s presence does indeed expand Train’s acoustic/electric, southern-laced sound. By employing a variety of instrumentation from organ and mandolin to the powerful orchestration found on tracks like “Something More” and the epic title track, O’Brien adds texture and color to Train’s impressive compositions.
The album’s single “Drops of Jupiter” is the nucleus of the disc. Fans of Madman Across the Water-period Elton John will instantly recognize the sweeping orchestration here. Paul Buckmaster, the man behind the orchestral arrangements on many of John’s early hits, most notably “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer”, works a very similar magic on this ambitious number. “Something More” takes on a more Beatle-esque flavor with orchestral stylings reminiscent of Magical Mystery Tour-era Fab Four. David Campbell (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith) was enlisted to create the haunting string arrangements that lift liberally, but effectively from “I Am the Walrus”. From the somber opening piano lines to the George Harrison-ized slide guitar, this song proudly wears its influence firmly on its sleeve.
The remainder of Drops of Jupiter feature equal parts of strong, radio-friendly rock and touching, melancholy compositions that serve as solid bookends to the aforementioned ambitiousness. “She’s on Fire” and “Respect” are the type of rockers you would expect these guys to pen—cool, crunchy grooves with melodies that are way too catchy. To the other extreme, you get a taste of the introspective on subdued acoustic gems like “Mississippi” and “Hopeless”, while vocalist Pat Monahan waxes reflective on “Let It Roll”, a country-tinged, gut-wrenching ode to his late mother. Without question, Train’s most impressive moment comes via “Getaway”. An almost cosmic musical excursion, this tune is infectious from beginning to end with its beautifully layered harmonies, atmospheric guitar lines and Monahan’s best Chris Robinson (Black Crowes) vocal inflections.
A solid effort through and through, Drops of Jupiter is the kind of record that bands used to make—complete, cohesive and thoroughly endearing.