Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It sounds as if on this second session from New Jersey's Steel Train, that there's a price that's being paid for living a certain way - like a normal gent just trying to get by without losing control or sanity - and there's no help to be found. There's no easy button. This is a steep price that isn't anything extraordinary or mean-spirited, but the effects of everyday demons and the lingering heat of their heavy breaths, reminding that there's no escaping nearly everything. The wagons so often seem to be circled and the task of keeping quiet to make the vultures think that no one's home isn't really that splendid of an option. The vultures - hungry enough - will eventually duck their heads in and see for themselves and that's when the feathers fly. Lead singer Jack Antonoff brings us into this always evolving (or devolving) story as our protagonist is at as many different crossroads as one person can find himself at. It would seem as if there are very few good options for salvage, for just coming clean and starting all of this again, new and refreshed with batteries all charged up and the baggage thrown out to the curb with the rats and the taxi cabs. He sings at one point on the song "You And I Undercover," "We are young and growing older/I can't sleep tonight," giving us an indication of where all of his current nightmares are derived from. It's the point of a young man reevaluating what has been gained so far with his years, being more than enough disgusted in the ensuing status report and then looking out and seeing such unattractive options for him to work with to make anything change from the way it is. While "Bullet Into The Night," sounds like a manifesto of sorts - of taking a new, spirited fire in the belly out into the streets at night and vowing to just kill the night and what it used to stand for, finding a somewhat encouraging next day on the other side of the exit wounds and pool of blood. Antonoff sings, "We are the last generation of hope and I wouldn't mind if together we died alone," on this song as well and it seems to conflict with the bigger, U2/Bruce Springsteen version of a dancy "let's go get 'em" anthem. It might just go to show how at odds the desire to alter destiny and the actual implementation of doing so might be. He sings on "Touch Me Bad," that he goes to bed dreaming that he'll change, but then wakes up and realizes that all the dreaming hasn't amounted to squat and really, there haven't been any more hollow hopes uttered, for there's just nothing that can be done. He's spent many years "counting dots, kissing walls, saying prayers" as well as serving a compulsive need to just freak out about everything there is to freak out about. We feel for the man or men in this suite of songs, for they're on a treadmill that they don't want to be on any longer. He's on a treadmill that's superglued or confined the poor guy's soles to its running belt and the only way to not hurt himself badly is to continue on, working over that same path and its familiar terrain. The songs, as they fit together here, seem to have been well thought-out, as a working collection, something that would enhance this man's story of entrapment, of getting into some life and not being able to just severe it and see if anything will grow back in its place - a regeneration of brighter times.