Travis The Men Who - Reviews



New Musical Express - 6 September 1997

UNTIL NOW, to profess a liking for Travis has been an act of wanton perversity. Never has any band strived so hard to obliterate points of interest for prospective fans. Their initial introduction to the public consciousness has been a masterclass in wilful blankness and freakish banality.

Their conversations with the press have been studded with the awfully earnest pronouncements of the terminally average. Travis are the art school drop-outs from Glasgow who want the music to speak for itself and profess a keen interest in the sound of the blues. In all this, there's been little to love, and plenty to make you turn the page and hope that they' d rapidly disappear. Still, it was a bold opening gambit, and one that would have ended in ignominious failure had it not been for this album. When it transpires that 'Good Feeling' contains 12 songs of sturdy brilliance and intermittent beauty the relief is astonishing. This might be a debut rooted deep in the heart of rock'n'roll classicism, but it's also an explosively accomplished exercise in the art of writing thrilling and memorable pop songs.

What immediately strikes you about 'Good Feeling' is the pervasive sense of dumbness that surrounds it. Like The Ramones or The Cult, Travis reduce rock'n'roll to an utterly simplistic world of girls and alcohol. This is an album of beautifully uncomplicated accounts of the good and bad times, recounted through terrace chants and emotional directness. Exactly the formula, in fact, that has propelled Oasis to such an elevated position.

Not that you'll find many similarities between the two - bar the odd steal from The Beatles. Travis just aren't cut from the same punk ethic, they're far more interested in the more serious 'greats' (especially Neil Young and the aforementioned blues tradition). Understandably, then, what they've crafted is a magnificent guitar record, and one that makes no attempt to mask the fact.

Recorded in New York with the able assistance of Steve Lillywhite, here are guitars in all their ragged and resonate glory. The production is so immaculate and enormous that what you end up with is a mountainous wall of epic sentiment and magnificent sound; the very noise that initially saw Travis earmarked as standard-bearers of the new grave movement.

It's apparent, though, from their three singles to date, that here is a band more concerned with the obvious than the introspective. The inebriated howl of 'All I Wanna Do Is Rock' and the Glitter Band euphoria of 'Tied To The '90s' are perfect examples of the atmosphere 'Good Feeling' is striving to create; traditional rock'n'roll songs that marry a comprehensive knowledge of the past to an altogether more intangible vision of the future. And whatever anyone else tries to make you believe, this does not mean that they end up sounding like the Bay City Rollers.

Because, while occasionally the alcoholic exuberance results in a song that sounds like it was written in a pub, about a pub (see particularly the unsteady piano of the title track complete with drawled "la la"s), more often than not it simply results in a sense of doomed romance. 'U16 Girls' might have suggested an image of leery Glaswegians with a faintly creepy view of sex, but actually nothing could be further from the truth.

'Good Feeling' reverberates with broken hearts and failed love. The savage reality of relationships is the dominant theme, be it in the self-pitying realisation of 'The Line Is Fine' ("Look at me I'm so disgusting/I will never find another quite like you") or the futile hope of 'I Love You Anyways' ("Won't you stay with me?/I know you disagree with me/But I love you anyways"). Direct and emotional, this is fiercely romantic stuff.

Indeed, by the time we reach the closing salvo of 'Falling Down' and 'Funny Thing', Travis have almost completely discarded the heady exuberance of the singles. They conclude, then, with two ballads of lovesick fury and sparse sound, which bizarrely recall The Carpenters and, in the case of 'Funny Thing', Abba's 'The Winner Takes It All'. And it's not everyday you get to write that in an album review.

Still, 'Good Feeling' is the sort of record that consistently defies all prior knowledge, transcending any ideas that you might have harboured about the personality of the band. Instead of a blank and passionless exercise in mediocrity, we find a debut of spirited vigour and blatant (but glorious) commercialism. From here on in, the only perversity will be not to like them.

James Oldham