Monday, 29 September 2008

Travis - Ode to J. Smith

There is something about Travis that makes me really sad – it is something to do with the fact that they have perennially be labelled as “rubbish” since their third album The Invisible Band. Whilst it might be true that it was not exactly the greatest record ever, it stands as a good example of the time, which was easy listening and catchy pop hooks. It wasn’t always like that though, as for a while they were, like Starsailor and Coldplay, the indie darlings, after the simply overplayed brilliance of their second album, The Man Who. Recently, with 12 Memories, they went grown-up and the masses turned away with glee. 4 years later they followed it up with The Boy With No Name, which was much better aimed at the same audience that gave them their ascendancy and it worked a bit.

But this, the bands sixth album, comes just more than a year later, and with the added interest of many older fans – this is, as it said, is more like their debut album, the blindingly good Good Feeling, a truly excellent debut album.

This album is good. It is much better than I’d expect and is louder, but there are a few problems with it. Firstly, it seems to by trying to be different. Take the title track (well, almost) J. Smith, with the angular riffing and the bass inflected drum beat, it sounds on paper like it should be impressive, but towards the end it goes all Arcade Fire with choral voices and epic crescendo building layers. This is not to say it is a bad song – indeed, it works, but is this Travis?

Again, we are surprised to find on the single Something Anything even more angular guitar and a solo not out of place on a Pink Floyd out takes album. The next track is direcrlty lifted from the first album to the point of parody – it feels so 1990s that waves of nostalgia over come me every time I hear it’s opening bars.

There are a few parts of the album that will make the fans of the middle period of Travis, namely the Invisible Band, will be affronted with. They won’t like it and I think that it is intended to be like that. The album jars from first listen to last and there is a reason for this: Travis are no longer this band. They were, but they are not and have not been in years. So why are they performing these songs, writing these songs now? I don’t know.

What I do know is that it is very good and worth a listen. Whether or not it works as a Travis album, I don’t know for sure, but it proves that they still can sing All I Want to is Rock with fervour and honesty.


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