THE MAN WHO
Q - July 1999
Q - July 1999
This Glaswegian foursome lit up 1997 with the rattling,
effervescent, rockin', sobbin'
Good Feeling, recorded in four days
and yet miraculously perfect, as if
geneticists had grafted Thom Yorke
and Noel Gallagher onto The Plastic
Ono Band and saw that it was good.
At its beginning at least, The Man Who
promises equally fantastic things. To
wit, four peerless songs: languid,
pushed along on sad-eyed acoustic
guitars and uncoiling like snakes,
bringing hints of depression,
disorientation and stagnation.
First, Writing To Reach You - the
shimmering, meta-pop hit ("The radio
is playing all the usual"). Then
The Fear - apeing a schizophrenic's
internal static with ominous
amplifier hum before sketching
out a summer of miserable inertia.
As You Are follows and is a triumph of song-building
from its curtain-raising lyric
("Every day I wake up alone because
I'm not like all the other boys")
to Fran Healy's masterfully
controlled vocal crescendo,
via Dunlop's brief and exquisitely
Mick Ronsonesque guitar solo.
The quartet closes with Driftwood:
almost imperceptibly brisker,
a chiming Smiths echo, a conclusion
to songwriter Healy's well-painted
tetratych of mental fug and unease.
And this is about where The Man Who loses momentum. The
tortoise pace palls. Dynamic variety
stays in a locked cupboard labelled
Dynamic Variety: Do Not Touch.
Six months of recording
(at Mike Hedges's Chateau De La Rouge
Motte, Abbey Road's Studio 2, and Angel with
Nigel Godrich) seems to have planed
off the peaks and purged anything
garish, rocking or funny/knowing -
as if Travis were told that the most
enchanting aspects of Good Feeling
were childish things to be put away.
With nary a Happy nor a Midsummer
Nights Dreamin' in sight. The Man
Who is almost tyrannically tasteful.
The album proper ends with She's So Strange (10cc do Hunky Dory)
and the wry, relatively jaunty Slide
Show - which uncleverly decides
that "There's no Design For Life
/There's no Devil's Haircut in my mind/
There is not a Wonderwall to climb" -
but Travis keep one card back. The secret
track is an infuriating notion,
and here doubly so, since Blue
Flashing Light adds piranha-toothed
guitars and Jacques Brel swagger
to a vivid Glaswegian tableau
of domestic violence and adolescent
helplessness, spat out by a bug-eyed
and unignorable Healy. It could so
easily have been the pivot and the
passionate core of an even better record.