Travis – The Boy With No Name

The Boy With No Name

Travis has had an odd career trajectory: from upstart, albeit modest, superstars in Europe through their first three albums, to a relatively low-key status over the last six years and only one new album, until now. So where does this leave the band today, on their fifth proper release?

Well, I don’t think Fran Healy is capable of writing a bad song, and thankfully the band has both lightened up and warmed up since 2003’s Twelve Memories. Being back with super-producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) isn’t a bad thing. There are some highs here, although I wouldn’t call this CD ‘exciting,’ either. If you are a fan of Travis, everything they do is probably a must have. Otherwise, The Boy With No Name is a good, albeit soft, Brit-pop CD, from a band that continues to mature.

Travis’ 1997 debut album, Good Feeling, was so good and so promising that they became Oasis’ touring ‘little brother.’ The 1999 release, The Man Who, was a landmark of swooning, melodic rock (and paved the way for the success of Coldplay), and is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the 90’s. The first half of The Invisible Band, in 2001, continued in the same vein with the band at times creating almost otherworldly melodies – and singer Healy spilling his guts all over the place. The second half of that CD, however, while all good enough songs, was a bit delicate and played a bit flat. The 2003 release, Twelve Memories, was written by Healy in the wake of 9/11, Iraq, and the near death of band drummer Neil Primrose in a swimming mishap. The result, not surprisingly, was a rather somber affair – well an extremely somber affair, actually. While undoubtedly therapeutic for Healy, the CD was maybe not so exciting for the rest of us.

Early on, what was really some youthful aggression got Travis pegged as ‘rockers,’ which they really never were. This is made more clear on The Boy With No Name. There are some standout moments here. The jangly “Selfish Jean” makes nice use of a Motown-ish rhythm section (“Cant Hurry Love”?). “Battleships” is reminiscent of the tight melodies on Twelve Memories, but it is lighter and more moving. (An analogy between lovers and 130 million kg, steel gunboats? Eh.) The yearning is there in Healy’s breathy, falsetto voice, along with a banjo twang that guitarist Andy Dunlop has often favored since The Invisible Band (although I have to say that I am getting over the banjo thing).

The only aggression to be found anywhere on the record is the stomp of “Eyes Wide Open.”

“Under the Moonlight” is an interesting song, and perhaps could even marks a future direction for the band, again with the jangle and some harmonies that give the band a very fresh and very modern pop sound. And, yes, Healy can still pull off singing about “moonbeams,” and the like, without annoying the crap out of the listener.

The negatives here are that the CD lacks the energy present on their last single, “Walking in the Sun”, and only briefly touches on a sort of retro-British Invasion style they have done well before (such as on the single “Coming Around”). The lightly chiming guitars, folk-ish approach, and relaxed singing can – again – get a bit too relaxing. Still, this band has always had a lot of heart and this album gets that across.