Travis The Men Who - Reviews



SELECT - June 1999

Rimbaud or Rambo? Who's the greatest? Maybe in rock they're seen as equal: the conflict between the intellect and the primal often makes the most compelling music. Travis' own battle between the beerboy and the aesthete - once giving the impression of a band who didn't know what they were about - makes real sense here.

'The Man Who' offers eternal closing-time sentiments - love, loss and loneliness - conveyed in the richest manner imaginable. Pub Bloke has been transported to a sumptuous boudior to recline in cushioned comfort and ponder on the exquisitely melancholic nature of the human condition. He thought all he wanted to do was rock, now he isn't really so sure.

Singles 'Driftwood' and 'Writing To Reach You', no less effective for being practically the same song, set the tone of languid yearning (lifted only by the melodically enhanced Arab Strap of hidden track 'The Blue Flashing Light')

Throughout, the revelation that is Fran Healy's voice - something like Byrds-era David Crosby by way of Thom Yorke - is a pleasure for the senses, none more so than on smouldering highlight 'As You Are'.

With only 'Turn' going off the rails in its stolidly stadium-friendly climax, the melodic delicacy here cloaks strength. 'Luv' cruises in upon some John Barry-style harmonica while 'She's So Strange' resembles a sedated Arnold revisting The Bluetones' 'Slight Return' = but it's good! Indeed, traces of Britpop hits are littered throughout: a comforting sign that, despite his angelic vocals, Fran's feet are made of clay.

The Everyman nature of Fran's angst is also demonstrated in the occasionally graceless lyrics. Lines like "What's so wrong/Why the face so long?" are unlikely to turn up on a Radiohead lyric sheet. There's also a tendency towards slightly silly internal rhymes (see "My dear/The fear is here"), while the allusions to devil's haircut and designs for life on 'Slide Show' are possibly over-cute intrusions.

These flaws, though, only add to Travis' appeal as ordinary chaps making extraordinarily pretty music. Untrammelled by defining statements or startling innovation, 'The Man Who' simply reveals good songwriters not trying too hard. So no, they don't offer a design for life. But then they don't have too.

Steve Lowe