Travis The Men Who - Reviews



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.

Danny Eccleston