On the charts: We will never be free of Train



"Meet Virginia," the 1998 single that introduced the world to San Francisco adult-contemporary alternative band Train, is a breezy slice of Sugar Ray-ish Cali antigrunge. Between that breeziness and the band's affably scruffy everybro image, Train seemed destined to be a one-hit wonder, a destiny I assumed was sealed when lightly used copies of Train started flooding into the record store where I worked at the time.

Unlike many of their contemporaries, though, Train managed to get a foothold in the new millennium, scoring a hit with the inescapable 2001 power ballad "Drops of Jupiter." Since then they've managed to maintain a steady presence on the Billboard charts, thanks in large part to the fact that the older mainstream-rock listeners that make up their fan base are one of the few remaining demographics that reliably buys music on physical formats. Train's 2009 album Save Me, San Francisco, featuring the ukulele-driven "Hey Soul Sister," went quintuple platinum.

A full 14 years after "Meet Virginia," the group is still stubbornly hanging in there on the upper reaches of the Hot 100 with "50 Ways to Say Goodbye," which has been hanging around in the 20s for a while now. "Hey Soul Sister" is as tone deaf as it is blandly unconventional—according to Wikipedia the lyrics are about an idealized vision that front man Pat Monahan had of a chick at Burning Man, which he'd never attended, and he seems ignorant of the racial connotations of the term "soul sister"—but "50 Ways" ups the ante considerably. Perhaps looking to replicate the success of "Soul Sister," with its store-bought ukulele-based quirkiness, "50 Ways" begins as an impression of a mariachi song, then shifts into a Radio Disney-friendly club-pop chorus that lists the various fatal scenarios Monahan has used to explain the sudden absence of his girlfriend. (He doesn't want to admit that she dumped him, get it?) It's sort of like a morbid second cousin of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Then it repeats the whole thing a couple of times.

It's a terrible song and the accompanying video is equally terrible, with the exception of this pompadoured mariachi badass:


"50 Ways" continues Train's string of chart success: it's spent the past 15 weeks on the Hot 100 and currently seems so thoroughly dug in at number 20 that I might be a little disoriented if I didn't see it there during my weekly tour through the pop charts. Those charts are essentially a democratic expression of what America wants out of music, so the lesson here is that what America wants is a bunch of middle-aged quasi-alternative soft rockers doing a broad impersonation of an ethnic musical style while running down a list of the ways they've imagined a woman dying. Make of that what you will.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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