BreatheHeavy’s Aaron Butterfield takes a look at Meghan Trainor’s ‘Title’ and concludes that when it’s good it’s very good, and when it’s bad it’s awful.
There’s no doubting the polarity of Meghan Trainor. As 2014’s biggest breakout star, the Massachusetts born 21 year-old divided critics and fans alike with the biggest hit of the summer, some (very publically) poorly chosen words and a message that seemed to say in no uncertain terms that the M-Train had arrived.
But “All About That Bass” had one hit wonder written all over it, so to say a lot is riding on Meghan’s debut LP is undoubtedly an understatement. Whilst it looks set to sell outstandingly well, the real question remains – is it any good?
Well, in many ways, yes. The album hits the ground running, opening with “The Best Part,” an acapella introductory-interlude. There’s a cruel irony to one of the best songs on the record being relegated to a 25 second excerpt (Rihanna’s influence is strong) – the melodies are tight, the tune is light but catchy and in an album which is boy-obsessed (to phrase it kindly) this is a ray of thematic variety which you won’t see very often as the record progresses. Could it have done with being extended into a full length track? Yes, probably, but it’s still a nice way to open.
Of course, the first full track on the album had to be the number we all love or hate Meghan for, “All About That Bass.” It gets to the stage where you have to admit to yourself that however you feel about her perpetually overplayed debut single, it is actually extraordinarily catchy. With its simple beat, straightforward hook and sparse instrumentation, it’s still an adversary for the wave of pop music that’s followed Lady Gaga and her imitators in the last decade and proof that when it comes to pop, less can often be more.
But despite a strong opening, the main problem with ‘Title’ is the lyricism and no song better represents that “Dear Future Husband.” Between the faux crackling stereo and lines like ‘I deserve a bae’ this one makes my cringe so hard I’m in danger of permanently damaging my face. Plenty of people (read: men) are already cluttering up the official YouTube audio for “Husband” crying ‘reverse sexism’ (I mean, please, go listen to Lil’ Wayne and then come and talk to me about sexism) but in reality Meghan ‘I’m not a feminist’ Trainor isn’t man-hating here, she’s just being a brat. The track does have a lovely key change though, and the actual tune and instrumentation are executed expertly.
It would seem good melodies wasted on interminable lyrics is a recurring theme of ‘Title’. Tracks like “3am” – which completely borrows the verse structure of “Dear Future Husband” – and the braggy, demanding titular track simply don’t work. Indeed, on the song “Title,” the incongruity between the smooth production and jarring lyricism, with that genuinely abominable rap sandwiched uncomfortably in the middle, make this almost unlistenable.
The same problems are apparent on bonus track, “No Good For You.” Based on every drunken conversation you’ve ever had at 4am outside a club while one of your girlfriends sobs into her purse and you have to pretend to care about the loser she’s dating, this track is the definition of forgettable and feels entirely unnecessary.
It’s not all bad news for Meghan, however, because when she gets it right, she hits gold. “Close Your Eyes” is a good example of Trainor excelling when she stops talking about the boys. It’s a rare moment when we feel that we really get an insight into the bass enthusiast and see some of her insecurities. As always the production is hot; the plodding beat and bass riffs are solid. The slightly saccharine lyrics (“everyone’s born to be different, but that’s what makes us the same”) stop this from being an unrivaled success, but with M-Train’s strong vocals this is a highlight.
Ditto “Walkashame” – a very cute track where Meghan’s arguably juvenile writing style works. The cheeky, #unapologetic reflection on casual *** feels playful and naughty without being insufferable, not a balance Trainor achieves often enough. Moreover, the piano breakdown is one of the best production moments on ‘Title.’
And yeah, the production, almost exclusively handled by Kevin Kadish, is one of the album’s main strengths. Creating a blue-eyed soul record that still feels current for the 21st Century is no easy feat, but Kadish pulls it off with an understated style and finesse. The only issue is that whilst Trainor’s dedication to the musical theme gives the LP a strong overall identity, there’s not much variety from track to track, which we see in “What If.” The track sounds like a cut straight off Ariana Grande’s debut album, which is by no means a bad thing. It does seem unconvincing in the hands of Trainor, however, who is many things but sweet doesn’t seem one of them. Her voice is strong, but not suited to this kind of throwback track – it sounds forced and uncomfortable.
One of the most unique moments on the record is when Kadish steps aside and lets The Elev3n take the lead on “Bang Dem Sticks.” I genuinely can’t decide whether Trainor’s ode to size of her drummer’s, um… stick is my most or least favorite cut from the record. Between the Iggy Azalea-style rapping (M-Train, she actually refers to herself as M-Train, I can’t) and obnoxious innuendo in the hook, this should be a recipe for total failure, but it works. It just does. It’s catchy enough and has an instrumental unique enough to stand out from the rest of the record without feeling out of place and is realistically a good choice for single number three.
Speaking of singles, I still cannot get on board with second single
“All About That Bass 2.0” “Lips Are Moving”. Following the formula Trainor established with her seminal summer offering, “Lips” brings very little to the album, other than the increased potential for commercial success. Because love it or hate it (I fall firmly in the latter category,) having a sequel to “All About That Bass” is working for Meghan on the charts.
The tracks featuring other artists are two of the highlights of ‘Title’. John Legend’s appearance on “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” is a breath of fresh air bringing some much needed soul to an album which can feel forced at points. The track is characterized by the ‘60s white-R&B slow jam treatment that the rest of the album has been subjected to, but Legend helps it transcend that and his voice, coupled with genuinely touching lyrics, make this an easy highlight.
Similarly, “Mr. Almost” is another example of Meghan shining brighter when backed by a featured artist, in this case country rapper (I don’t know either) Shy Carter. Shy’s rap is arguably dreadful, but we have to applaud him for being part of one of the record’s better moments. The track is solid, although there are certainly some typical Meghan lyrics to overlook (“you can call me a hater” um, no thanks) but it’s a lot more memorable than the blander parts of ‘Title.’
Appearing only on the deluxe version of the album, “Mr. Almost” is symptomatic of a problem with a lot of artists right now: Trainor’s bonus tracks often work better than the songs on the standard edition. Whether this is sheer stupidity or a marketing ploy to get people to fork out an extra $5 for four songs is unclear, but either way, bonus track “My Selfish Heart” is one of the strongest moments on the record. Incongruously with the most of the album, the lyrics are genuinely interesting – depicting Meghan breaking up with her boo because she wants to focus on her dreams (are you sure you’re not a feminist M-Train?) This catchy, melodic moment is probably not single material, but gives us hope that a decent lyricist might be buried under Meghan’s ability to write a hook and nothing more.
Similarly, closing track “Credit” stands out. It’s probably the perfect way to end the album, purely because it features Meghan’s characteristic brag-swag lyrics (paired with an extraordinarily bad rap break-down) but, as with most of ‘Title,’ the hook is impeccable and it’ll be stuck in your head for days.
And it seems like “Credit” does a good job of summing up the core issue I have with ‘Title’, which is a massive disparity between Meghan’s strengths as a song-crafter and as a lyricist. Trainor brags on “Dear Future Husband,” that whilst she never learnt to cook, she “can write a hook” and that’s definitely true. ‘Title’ is littered with catchy pre-choruses, bridges and tiny moments of genius. It’s a shame that they get lost in M-Train’s childish, uninspired lyrical style, which is likely to appeal to white teenage girls and no one else.
However, the album is by no means a failure for Trainor, ‘Title’ as a whole is a very mixed affair but in the end it probably excels as much as it fails. Her vocals are strong, the production is tight and the hooks are a-plenty. She proves that whilst “All About That Bass” is still the best thing about ‘Title,’ Meghan is by no means a one-hit wonder, and that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?
Click: “My Selfish Heart”, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (featuring John Legend) and “Bang Dem Sticks”
Skip: “Lips Are Moving”, “No Good For You” and “Dear Future Husband”