Save Me, San Francisco
I have been a Train fan since before they released “Meet Virginia” over a decade ago. On their fifth album, Save Me, San Francisco, the band goes back to their Bay-area roots, but keeps the polish that has made them mainstream radio stars.
The opening title track could easily be their next big hit with their sing-along “Oo oo oh” chorus and danceable pop rhythm. It leads into arguably their biggest hit since “Drops of Jupiter.” “Hey, Soul Sister” is straight out of the Jason Mraz catalog complete with a prominent ukulele and laments about a summer love.
The heart of the album however comes in tracks 3-6. “I Got You” (co-written by Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin) interpolates the down-home southern classic “Black Water” into a mid-tempo radio-friendly hit, which isn’t bad considering Train’s interpretation is more of a tribute rather than a rip-off. But some will undoubtedly see the track as a watered-down version of a classic.
“Parachute” is the one song that I instantly loved on this record. Lead singer Pat Monahan invokes the soul in this simple but emotional chorus, “I’ll open up and be your parachute/ And I’ll never let you down/ So open up and be my human angel/ And we’ll only hit the ground/ Running.” Monahan doesn’t open up vocally until the piano-driven ballad “This Ain’t Goodbye” when he reaches the heights of his stratospheric range. When he sings, “This ain’t goodbye/ This is just where love goes/ When words aren’t warm enough/ To keep away the cold,” it’s the first time I’ve heard that grit in his voice since the Drops of Jupiter album. He also opens up on the surprisingly potent “You Already Know.” The chorus has Monahan almost screaming “Get on your way to making someone else feel low/ Then higher than they ever thought they could go/ You already know/ I’m giving you up/ You’re letting me down/ Stop pretending that you’re gonna turn yourself around.”
That grit is what the band has been lacking despite the radio’s increasing love for the band. The soul and polish collide on the following track, “If It’s Love.” A pop-rock insta-hit, Train once again brings back the ’80s (they reference Mr. Mister on “Hey, Soul Sister”) with the line, “Remember Winger? I digress.” At least it follows the best line in the entire album, “Flat like an Idol singer.” Finally! Someone else who is sick of hearing moderately talented people being manufactured into superstars.
There is one downside on this, the best Train album since Drops of Jupiter. It includes the worst Train song I’ve ever heard, and quite possibly one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. “Breakfast in Bed” starts off with a Casio keyboard beat that sounds vaguely like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Strike One. It’s over five minutes long, but it seems more like 50 . . . days. Strike Two. The song contains the lyric, “Wanna please you/ Wanna Japanese you.” What does that even mean? Were they just looking for a lyric and that was all they could come up with? This looks like Strike Three.
The good thing is that if this song gets erased, then the album as a whole is fantastic. The lyrics (and songs) are hits (despite the really bad miss) and they are at the top of their game. Save Me, San Francisco is a must-have for any Train fan and for anybody who thinks that radio-friendly pop-rock is all soulless. This album will change your mind.