Track Review

Who is Train?

If you're a casual music fan, you'd probably answer that question with a question: "Weren't they that group that had that song about a girl and something about Jupiter back in … well … quite a while ago?"

Yup. That's them.

In 2001—roughly 678 years ago in pop-culture time—Train hit radio gold with "Drops of Jupiter." The song never quite hit No. 1 (peaked at No. 5, actually), but it lingered on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for more than a year. It was virtually impossible to listen to the radio for any length of time and not hear lead vocalist Pat Monahan singing, "Now that she's back in the atmosphere/With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey, hey."

For most of us, though, that's when Train left the station. Though they've had a couple of albums and one other middling single (2003's "Calling All Angels) since then, I suspect the only folks who kept close tabs on Train's itinerary are superfans who got onboard early and decided to keep on riding.

Well, now it looks as if Train will avoid becoming a one- or two-hit wonder trivia question. The band's latest hit, "Hey, Soul Sister," is picking up momentum on the charts, zooming (a bullet Train?) from No. 23 last week to No. 7 this week.

And it's a departure, to say the least.

For that you can thank Norwegian producer Espen Lind and a ukulele. Really. In an interview with Pennsylvania's Erie Times-News, Monahan said of the song's genesis, "I said [to the band], 'I want to write an INXS-y song. So, they started playing kind of an INXS-y song, and I wrote the song 'Hey, Soul Sister' to it and the melodies and started to sing it. And I was like, 'Man, this just doesn't sound great to me.' One of the guys, Espen, who's like a huge star in Norway, picked up a ukulele, and said, 'Hey, how about this?' I was like, 'Are you [kidding] me?' And it made the difference. It made my words dance. It made sense. These words were meant to dance with ukulele and not guitar."

And just what are those words that dance with ukulele and not guitar? This love song, which sounds like Jason Mraz or Jack Johnson after a venti at Starbucks, begins with "hey, hey, hey." (It worked in 2001, right?) The litany of lyrics that follow playfully chronicles the many ways a certain woman has beguiled a love-struck man. "Your lipstick stains/On the front lobe of my/Left-side brains/I knew I wouldn't forget you/And so I went and let you/Blow my mind."

Those lines may sound just a wee bit suggestive, but they never really get any more specific than offering a stray reference to a Madonna from a long time ago (but not that long): "I believe in you/Like a virgin, you're Madonna/And I'm always gonna wanna blow your mind."

Lovey-dovey stuff is all that's left: "Your sweet moving/The smell of you in every/Single dream I dream/I knew when we collided/You're the one I have decided/ … "You see, I can be myself now finally/In fact there's nothing I can't be/I want the world to see you'll be with me/ … You gave my life direction/A game-show love connection/We can't deny."

Train's track proves that 1) You can make it to the top of the mountain if you think you can, and 2) You should never underestimate the diesel power of an INXS-y song set to ukulele.

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Hit No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100.

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August 11, 2009

On Video

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Adam R. Holz