Started as a diversion from their "real" bands, This Train soon surpassed the popularity of their respective bands with its rockabilly-based sound and humorous lyrics. The previous release, Mimes of the Old West, was hailed by critics as an instant classic, bringing many new fans into the fold. The Emperor's New Band attempts to build on this growing public awareness with mixed results.
While difficult to categorize due to the many styles includes on the CD, rockabilly is perhaps the base of most of the songs. "I Wanna Be Your Man" opens the album with a feel of a very early Beatles song mixed with Chuck Berry. "We'll Leave the Light On" draws on a big band sound with heaps of horns, although I can't listen to it without thinking of Motel 6. The title track breaks with the jazz-based sound, going instead to light rock with a tinge of country and "She's A Rocket" is a wonderful mix of full-out rock with big band horns! Most of the songs are very well written and withstand many repeat listens, being based on solid writing and not using rockabilly as a gimmick.
Lyrically, the range is from painful honesty to cynical sarcasm, often within the same line. Kudos (did I just say "kudos"?) for giving me a belly laugh with an unexpected Kiss reference in the song "Monstertruck 2000" through the line "Beth, I know you're lonely". Unexpected is probably what you should expect when it comes to the lyrics. The title track is about the thrill of playing music "before it … paid all yours bills" with references to VH-1, open mic nights, Betty Ford, and ex-wives who "need some closure." "Jazz", essentially a diatribe about the definition of real jazz, is definitely the strangest track and possibly the worst. "The Magic Bean" is an ode to coffee and "a protest song against decaf." Going beyond the hooky pop phrases, This Train has created a good, diverse follow-up to Mimes that is full of fun and definitely hits more than it misses.
This article first appeared in WhatzUp, January 2000.