Steel Train’s influences have always felt just a step behind the times. Debuting in 2005 on Drive-Thru, the band welded that label’s pop-punk brand with an adult-alternative style that Jason Mraz had launched a mere three years earlier; their last album, 2007’s Trampoline, got all theatrical-indie-rocky three years after Arcade Fire introduced the sound. Now, two years behind New Jersey brethren The Gaslight Anthem, Steel Train takes Boss-inspired punk revivalism cues for its new self-titled record. But the best thing about the band is that it’s never let any of these influences go—everything it’s ever tossed in the sonic pot is still floating around in there and bubbling up to the surface, making the songs welcomingly unpredictable, even when occasional moments feel stale. The resulting musical blends at least deserve credit for their novelty: “You Are Dangerous” sounds like the E Street Band gone emo, while “Touch Me Bad” uses driving guitars and synths to create a frenetic mini-epic that could have come from Win Butler. But the band is at its absolute best when there’s too much going on to even notice reference points, exemplified on “Soldier In The Army.” Instantly catchy with a soaring, fun chorus, the song mixes arena-rocking chants, electronic dance beats, and mariachi-ish horn breaks for a standout track that’s attributable to nothing but gifted, original songwriting.
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