We need more Travis pictures! I haven't seen nearly enough recently.
Raining down from the melancholy lands of Scotland, the Sad Four known as Travis broke through in America with their second LP, the somber and delicate The Man Who. On the heels of its irony-free pity-me singles “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” and “Turn,” the record was basically Diet Radiohead. Catchy songwriting mixed with tepid lyrical pathos made it an easy listen, frequently endearing, but nothing groundbreaking. But with their third album, The Invisible Band, said quartet have unfortunately become nothing more than Diet Travis.
Rather than progressing musically from their breakthrough, Travis have merely copied their own style, but watered it down in a series of loosely connected songs (the album has little cohesiveness apart from the homogeny of its chord structure) that feels curiously undercooked. This doesn’t mean the record is necessarily a failure — in fact, there are a handful of melodic nuggets worth revisiting, and if any current British pop band is as charmingly inoffensive and listenable, I haven’t heard them yet.
If anything has changed since The Man Who, it’s that frontman Fran Healy, a.k.a. The Cutest Boy In School, has found a reason to be happy. Half of the tracks on The Invisible Band are Prozac Content, soft and pleasant, without the aching sting of earlier songs. The biggest downside to this is Healy’s lyrics, which have crossed the line between folksy and hopelessly trite. The upbeat, immediately infectious “Side” is ruined by such laughable lines as “Life is both a major and a minor key” and “When time is running out you wanna stay alive / We all will live, we all will die / There is no wrong, there is no right,” which sound like they fell off the back of a junior high poetry truck.
With “Flowers In the Window,” Travis prove that not only has Healy listened to the Beatles, but he has memorized their writing style. It’s the most shameless Lennon & McCartney rip-off this side of the brothers Gallagher, but it also happens to be one of the strongest songs on the album. As usual, Travis is at their best when they are miserable, evidenced by the gorgeous “The Cage,” easily one of the sweetest and most mature songs the band has yet recorded. “Pipe Dream” and “Safe” are nicely subtle ballads. But Nigel Godrich’s production is overly slick and glossy, sacrificing edge for accessibility. And in its latter half, when The Invisible Band runs out of ideas and coasts through the motions, Travis even goes so far as to quote another Godrich production, Radiohead’s “The Tourist.” With the line “Time exists but just on your wrist so don’t panic...So wind your watches down please” in “Indefinitely,” Healy takes his mentor’s advice too literally. He has written an album that’s so leisurely and relaxed, it has forgotten to sound inspired.