Last of Seven
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10
Written by John Metzger
Fri October 12, 2007, 05:40 AM CDT
In many ways, Trainís meteoric rise, from an acoustic duo that performed in the coffeehouses of San Francisco to a Grammy-winning, mega-selling outfit, happened too fast for its own good. The band didnít hit the big time immediately, of course; it spent several years trying to get signed to a major label. Once it achieved its first whiff of widespread success, however, it made the familiar mistake of allowing its commercial aspirations to get in the way of its artistic inclinations. On Drops of Jupiter and My Private Nation, its second and third albums, Train increasingly was unapologetic about reaching for the top of the charts, to the point where it completely lost touch with the roots-y undercurrent that once propelled its songs. If last yearís For Me Itís You provided a hint that the ensemble was aware that it had a few kinks to iron out of its formula, Last of Seven, the solo debut from front man Pat Monahan, is a full-scale acknowledgment of its issues.
For the record, Last of Seven is not a perfect album, not by any stretch of the imagination, and it still pales in comparison to Trainís self-titled debut. There are times when Monahan remains too content with creating a mad jumble of Matchbox Twenty and the Black Crowes. Even worse, when he pushes the regurgitated Aerosmith-isms of Ooh My My onto the terrain of generic modern rock, he nearly brings Last of Seven to a screeching halt. Neither the Queen-inspired derivations of Shine nor the bland, clichť-addled, heart-on-his-sleeve musings of Girlfriend do him any favors either.
More often than not, however, Monahan uses Last of Seven to take corrective action toward achieving a better balance between his strengths and his weaknesses. With the help of producer Patrick Leonard, who dresses the material in a tidy mixture of smooth, soulful polish and big gospel choruses, Monahan retains his marketability while also highlighting his powerfully emotive vocals. On Ripple in the Water, for example, Monahan improbably succeeds in combining elements drawn from the works of Stevie Wonder, Counting Crows, and Journey, while Two Ways to Say Goodbye taps into the same sort of easy-going earnestness that spawned John Mayerís Continuum.
Nevertheless, the finest moments on Last of Seven occur whenever Monahan and Leonard get out of the way and simply allow the songs to embrace their organic architectures. The lovesick lament of Always Midnight ought not to work, but as he glides upon the irresistible melody, Monahan gives a vocal performance that is emotionally pure and convincing; on Cowboys and Indians, which features a guest appearance by Graham Nash, he settles into a twang-y, southern California-bred folk groove reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright; and during Pirate on the Run, he teams with Brandi Carlile to construct an intimate depiction of a relationship that contentedly has come and gone. Itís here within these tunes that Monahan imprints Last of Seven with a mood that lingers in the air; itís here that he regains at least some of the heart and soul that Train had lost.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box