After the worldwide acclaim heaped upon their 1999 release The Man Who, which officially launched the four nice fellows of Travis into the rock stardom stratosphere, it would be easy to expect a darker, more introspective follow-up, an album that would find the group eschewing the trappings that made their breakthrough great in favor of spooky, progressive rhythms and otherworldly moaning.
That would be easy to do, except Radiohead has already done it. Twice.
Instead, Fran Healy and friends have created a collection of songs to watch the clouds to. From note one of “Sing,” The Invisible Band is at once vaporous and solid. Healy’s quiet falsetto mingles with plenty of reverb and strains of synthesizers that are pushed way back in the mix, creating a diaphanous string of sound that continues throughout the record, from note one of “Sing” all the way to the diary-like closer “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song” (“You’ve got the glue/ so I’m gonna give my heart to you”). But if you recall the churning grit of 1997’s “All I Wanna Do Is Rock,” or have ever seen Andy Dunlop onstage, furiously rending at his guitar, you’ll know that Travis is not Spandau Ballet. They’ve got balls, mate. And though their new record is quite the pretty thing, it still retains the moments of straightforward rock that no longer exist for Rod Stewart.
While the grooves of “Sing” and likely singles “Side” and “Afterglow” don’t have the immediate resonance of “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” or “Driftwood,” they are perfectly crafted pop songs that should have no trouble making the group billions of quid. Their UK dominance hasn’t subsided since the heady success of The Man Who – they’re tagged to headline the Glasgow and Reading festivals this August – but it’s the US where Invisible Band‘s twee singalongs are going to explode. Currently on tour with triphop songstress Dido, the band is good-looking enough, rocking-enough, and yet just non-threatening enough to sell millions of albums to people in their late 20s who wear fashionable eyewear. The kind of IKEA-minded consumer whose last music purchase was VW’s compilation of music from its TV ads. For Travis’ simple, pretty music is made edgy by Healy’s insightful lyrics, and the instrumentation never cuts corners or goes for the blasé lite-rock melody. The Invisible Band is the perfect album to impress the new girl in accounting who rides a Vespa to work.
It’s good to see “Nice Rock” hitting at this moment in the pop music continuum. Nu Metal bellowers like Staind and Linkin Park continue to outstay their welcome. But the recent domestic success of Travis’ colleagues-in-Nice Coldplay, as well as solid Rock and Roll like that of San Francisco’s Train (“Drops of Jupiter” is the best song The Black Crowes never wrote…), suggests that Rock for the thinking person just might be clawing its way back into the record-buying consciousness. It’s difficult to envision Fran Healy and Travis converting any Papa Roach fans, or inducing The Backstreet Boys to hang up their tired dancing shoes in ignominious defeat, but they’re going to quietly make a lot of people who like real music happy, and I bet that’s alright with them.