The album tells the tale of a man picking up the pieces after being left by his wife. He raises his two children, earns the sympathy of his neighbors, and quietly tries to win her back. The record ends with him waiting in the rain at a train station, the wife having gone back on her promise to return.
Frank Sinatra’s broken-heart concept album Watertown is one of only two albums that I’ve represented in their entirety on this blog. You can read my track-by-track analysis of the project here.
I wrote more about the lasting emotional power of Watertown in those 11 posts than I could hope to convey again here, so suffice it to say that the record may be the last transcendent moment Sinatra committed to tape and it works both for that reason and because it is a marvelous bit of theatrical storytelling.
Originally composers Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes included ‘Lady Day’ as an epilogue to the Watertown album, conceiving it as a tribute to the Elizabeth character. But somebody (perhaps Sinatra himself) decided it didn’t fit in with the rest of the album and left it off.
An excellent decision, if you ask me. While ‘Lady Day’ is a lovely song, it is completely different in tone and content than the rest of Watertown. It has none of the album’s narrative focus, none of its effective specificity.
How will the story end? With reconciliation or despair? Anybody familiar with Sinatra’s torch albums should know the answer.
‘The Train’ starts out positively buoyant, as the husband checks the weather, checks his watch, and prepares to meet his returning wife at the train station. He’s had “so many nights to find the way,” another clue that this break-up can’t be placed entirely on her shoulders.
The penultimate track, ‘She Says,’ uses an Ennio Morricone-esque call and answer technique and a creepy kids chorus to dramatize the wife’s decision to return home to her husband and children.
It’s dramatic, sure, but also more than a little silly. Even the bridge, the song’s most effective moment musically, blows it with the cliched lyric “the price is high, high as the sky.”
Can the same pair responsible for the rest of this gorgeous, subtle album possibly be behind this song? (The answer is yes.)