The Leaving Trains

Gavin McNett reviews the album"Smoke Follows Beauty" by the Leaving Trains.

Published February 28, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Believe me, it's a relief to finally be getting this off my chest. I'm uh ... I've been thinking about things lately, and I've just gotta say that ... that it seems to me that the, uh ... that the Leaving Trains have no ambition, and that they'll never amount to anything. There. Now I've said it. The silence has been raging about that one forever now, but sometimes you JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. Sometimes you just have to DAMN THE TORPEDOES and SPEAK UP about things. What year is it, 1997? Sheesh.

When the Leaving Trains first appeared, about a dozen-odd years ago, they and I had both just emerged from crashing around in the punk scene, and I thought their whole trashy drunky-punk schtick was already kinda old-hat. But they were doing it within a fresh context. L.A. was teeming at the time with ex-punkers who'd caught a wave of '60s-cum-'70s nostalgia, and who'd traded in their leathers for paisley blouses, and the Leaving Trains were classed in with that set, rightly or not.

But while many of those bands were starting to sound prim, and were writing actual, honest-to-gosh pop tunes, the Trains had decided to keep one Doc Martened foot in the punk scene even while they were mincing the other one around in a perfumed go-go boot. It was a move that had some potential, given the stiffness of a lot of the acts that surrounded them.

And if it had worked out to their doing something like the Damned's "Naz Nomad and the Nightmares" concept, with its charged-up fuzztone guitars and Electric Prunes covers and all; or if they'd had the soul of The Gun Club, say, then it might've been something to talk about. But the only stylistic turn that appealed to the Leaving Trains was getting wasted and playing sloppy -- and that kind of thing had been done before, and done better, and, in fact, done to death. Because they were big L.A. socialites, though, they caught on -- as did New York scenesters Das Damen and a bunch of similar sloppy, fumbling retro bands. It was a mini-trend for awhile.

But that was a long, long time ago. A long, long, LONG time ago. And since then, there've been dozens of lineup changes, and about eleventy-thousand Leaving Trains records. They still can't play. They still don't have much in the way of interesting hooks or guitar-rock energy. They're still wasted all the time and still writing songs about smoking joints and stuff. And it's all fun, kinda, but it's no more fun now than it ever was. And the thing with the Leaving Trains, like with a lot of these underachieving old-fogey scenester bands, is that eventually one just wants to go out and grab the lot of them and knock their tattoos loose with a pool cue, screaming, "I got beat up every day in high school so that people like you could have careers -- AND THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR IT??!!" You can start to take it all personally, is the thing.

It's not bad to have a Leaving Trains record lying around for parties and stuff, and if you don't have one already, you might as well get this one, I guess. Or maybe the next one, or the one after that. It'll be a lot like this one -- damn their red, itchy little eyes.

By Gavin McNett

Gavin McNett is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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