Broken Train
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Out of Kontrol

  1. Broken Train (4:10)
    Available on Midnite Vultures and 1 other release.
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass, Percussion
    Roger Joseph Manning Jr.: Clavinet, Guitar (Acoustic), Percussion, Synthesizer
    Joey Waronker: Drums
    Mickey Petralia: Engineer, Mix, Producer, Programming
    Beck Hansen: Guitar, Harmonica, keyboards, Marimba, Producer, Programming, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
Broken Train [Version (a)]:

The snipers are passed out in the bushes again
I'm glad I got my suit dry-cleaned before the riots started
'Cause there's only rehashed faces on the bread line tonight
Soon you'll be a figment of some infamous life
Billionaires smile like weapons
Passing out platinum pensions
They're out of control, no one knows how low they'll go
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train

Those bra-burning deportees at the service station
They know that beige is the color of resignation
We're out of control
No-one knows how low we'll go
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train

Shining like crystal tiaras
Ghettoes and grey Rivieras
This is the real me, ladies
You won't find no shelter here
Tell me, what's your zip code baby?
Did you ever let a cowboy sit on your lap?

They're out of control
No-one knows how low they'll go
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train
We're out of control, we're out of control
We're out of control, we're out of control
Hold on! Take a ride on a broken train
Take a ride on a broken train
The Song:

"Broken Train" was originally titled "Out Of Kontrol," and early promos of the album actually use that title. Beck changed it at the last minute because, as he explained at the Midnite Vultures kick-off concert on November 1 1999, the Chemical Brothers used the title first. (Not to mention a whole mess of other artists.)

The song has a nice Captain Beefheart-like funky blues feel to it, with sharp drums, super funky keyboards and clavinet, and touches of lonesome harmonica. This is a very accomplished track, mixing all these things together without ever feeling like too much. It maintains its drive expertly.

I read the lyrics to be some of the most overtly political that Beck has ever written, even without any blatant social comment. He seems to be singing about a huge contrast between rich and poor, a world of perpetual breadlines and smiling billionaires, of crystal tiaras and ghettoes & grey Rivieras (a car), dry-cleaned suits and riots. Everyone is divided (by zip code), and everyone is slipping out of control.


Played live 40 times:
Earliest known live version: November 1, 1999
Latest known live version: June 20, 2003

OK, so "Broken Train" was never a song Beck played with lasting regularity.

1999-2000 Vultures tours

Beck toured behind the Vultures for a good 10 months, roughly 90 shows. There were 14 "Broken Train"s.

The first live performance of "Broken Train" was at the November 1, 1999 concert. This was the Midnite Vultures Kick-off Concert, a few weeks before the album was released. It was performed a few times early on the first leg, then forgotten entirely until the fourth leg in Japan.

The versions from the Japanese leg were, despite the lack of previous performances, quite strong. By this time, the band had begun jamming and improvising a bit more. This particularly showed in the performances of "Broken Train," which are filled with all sorts of diverse sounds: funk rhythm guitar, a muscled guitar solo, twirling synthesizer licks, lots of harmonica. Recommended version: August 22 2000. Awesome.

Summer 2001 version

The arrangement from the summer of 2001 is also solid, and they did the song around 10 times. A ringing percussion sound, like a glockenspiel or something, is added in the beginning. The song seems much heavier than normal. On June 29, the weird guitar solo in the middle was replaced by harmonica. Though interestingly, on the July 12 version it was back. There really is a lot going on in this song, and I'm surprised it wasn't played more than it was!

2003 version

Beck toured around in 2002 but mostly behind Sea Change either by himself, or with The Flaming Lips. He did not do "Broken Train" on those tours.

But in March 2003, Beck took his old gang (Smokey, Justin, Joey) to Australia and Japan for a quick tour. "Broken Train" was back in the rotation then, its funk/blues vibe fitting this band perfectly.

Beck also did "Broken Train" a few times only with his summer 2003 band; we're missing many of those setlists but we have it down for 6 shows that summer.

Beck then took a break from touring in 2004, and when he returned in 2005, "Broken Train" was out of the rotation, and has not been played since.