Travis The Men Who - Reviews




To get the gist of the second Travis album you have to hear the barmy lyric. And before you get to the barmy lyric, you have to sit through nine intensely moody songs. Then you hear ' Slide Show' and this idea spills out, messing the place up, big style. "There is no design for life", Fran Healy mutters, "there's no devil's haircut in my mind/There is not a wonderwall to climb or step around/But there is a slide show/And it's so slow/ Flashing through my mind..."

Travis may be saying something profound, but the point is vague. Are they just rubbishing the big songs of our age? Denying pop's comfort value? Or are they perhaps a bit lost in the metaphor supermarket?

Whatever, this is not the highlight of a top party record. The rowdy aspect of their 'Good Feeling' debut has dispersed. There's no equivalent to 'All I Want To Do Is Rock' or even 'Happy'. Back then, Travis could plug into what they called "the stupid factor" and boogie along with a saving hint of irony. We miss all that, actually. Because 'The Man Who' is over-loaded with ballads. Torch songs, slow blues, Gauloises-sucking chansons, requiems, every shade of indigo. Which is alright if you're Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra. But if you're a bunch of rock blokes from Glasgow, the result isn't necessarily tremendous.

But Travis realise their weakness, so this new record is ultimately a battle to find a voice that matters. Hence the turbulence on 'Slide Show', as Fran tries to bust open the clichés, to find popular success as well as exercising his art. And you'll hear the same instinct on 'Writing To Reach You', as he muses over a familiar shuffle b eat, "the radio keeps playing all the usual/And what's a wonderwall anyway?" Indeed.

It's been a laborious record to make, involving six studios in as many months, using the production hands of Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) and Mike Hedges (Manic Street Preachers). No sob-inducing possibility has been left to chance. Therefore you hear many strings, great swooning chords and falsetto notes that go on forever.

And, y'know, a number of songs are equal to the ambition. Recent single 'Driftwood' isn't bad. 'As You Are' trembles like John Lennon on The Beatles' 'Across The Universe'. There's another homage on 'Why Does It Always Rain On Me', which is akin to Jeff Buckley, a bit luminous and special. But you can't sing high and weird nowadays without getting compared to Thom Yorke. And Travis have copped plenty of that attention in the past, so they really should have installed their Radiohead detectors at an early stage of recording. That might have filtered out 'The Fear' and 'The Luv', which are terribly derivative.

Travis will be the best when they stop trying to make sad, classic records. Away from the gloomy shadows of 'Wonderwall', life gets considerably lighter.

Stuart Bailie