Fuck saving rock ’n’ roll; Travis is concerned with the basics. In the Britpop wars that currently find Radiohead aping Autechre, these four Scots have responded to big expectations with the same unassuming stuff that made their sophomore effort, The Man Who, a million-seller: Bite-sized melancholia set to folkie guitar strums, alluring self-pity, confessional songs with titles such as “Dear Diary.” It’s very pretty and very accessible and with flaccid experimentation so in vogue overseas, it’s kinda refreshing to hear good songs sung well.
The title, in fact, is the only tongue-in-cheek thing about The Invisible Band. Cherublike Fran Healy is a bastion of earnestness, wandering about the album’s valleys like a little lost boy, stopping every now and then to mark something down in his journal or tug at your shirtsleeve. Never once do his mates even go through the motions of rocking out, content instead to work up a sort of glossy, low-energy ether. Healy’s soft croon sounds effortlessly in sync with a parade of midtempo grooves and orchestral swells, as though all four Travises were intoning a rather un-Radiohead mantra: “It’s the songs, stupid.”
Songs, indeed — each less than five minutes long and instantly hummable, several of which are excellent. “Sing” and “Indefinitely” are two standouts, both balancing lyrical cheese with neat instrumental touches and good melodies, while “Last Train” is the album’s black sheep, as Healy trades sweet melancholia for mild schizophrenia and (charmingly) proposes mass murder.
The rest of The Invisible Band more or less embodies the duality of being among the least ambitious of guitar-wielding Limeys. Its heartache is too humdrum, its sentiments are too Hallmark card, and it eventually bogs down in its own mushiness. But only a Thom Yorke-sized curmudgeon couldn’t at least draw some pleasure from its well-rendered sentiments. What’s more, it shows that Travis has pulled off a trick none of the band’s contemporaries have yet managed: They’ve made a Britpop album for Jackson Browne fans.
E-mail Christian Hoard at firstname.lastname@example.org.