Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Red Telephone Box
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When Fran Healy sings "Why did we wait so long" on "Mother," the opening song on Travis' seventh album, he could be addressing his band, which spent nearly five years between 2008's Ode to J. Smith and its 2013 follow-up, Where You Stand. The extra time off has done the band some good. Toward the end of the 2000s, Travis started to sag under their own weight, as the group slowly grew more ponderous, and while it certainly can't be said that Where You Stand is effervescent, it is more nimble than either Ode or The Boy with No Name, and it boasts a greater variety of tempos and textures, as well.
They were tied to the Nineties, typecast as a jangly indie-pop band whose maturing saw them succeed. From a distance, it seemed like their not-particularly-cool brand of well crafted songs, was always inextricably linked (by journo scum and music snobs) with Coldplay’s conquering of the known universe. They spent the Noughties shifting from Chris Martins’ shadow only to find themselves lost at sea, floating about like the proverbial driftwood, never quite making it back ashore to the media wonderland of green rooms and gongs.
To better understand where a band like Travis currently stands in the pop pantheon requires going back to the beginning. They lured us under the false impression that all they wanted to do was rock back when the British press deemed them as the next "trad" rock band to break free from those shackles, which in itself reads as insulting: because to outclass your contemporaries, it’s as if you’re expected to pass a standardized test first before even considering taking a more adventurous route. And Travis did pass with flying colors, but not in the way you’d normally expect: they knew that edgy was never going to be their selling point so they followed Good Feeling with the awfully successful The Man Who, a soft-toned, yet richly conceptual effort that comes across as a distinguished exemplar on how to write the perfect pop rock ballad.
When I interviewed Fran Healy in early 2011, the frontman for Travis pointed out his band’s unintentional use of a particular theme in the cover art of their albums. The front of the band’s transatlantic breakthrough album The Man Who showed the four Scotsmen standing at a distance from the camera, all wearing coats. In 2007, the music press was prone to comparing The Boy With No Name to The Man Who, leading Healy to believe that the artwork spoke much of the album.
TravisWhere You Stand(Red Telephone Box)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars These Scottish cinematic pop-rocker’s five year break between albums may seem like a long time to American listeners, especially since the group never broke big in the US, at least compared to Coldplay, whose similar style and sound is often linked to Travis’. For those tuned into the Travis vibe of spacious songs enhanced by singer Fran Healy’s dialed down Bono vocals, Where You Stand is another quality release with a better than average hit to miss ratio. As usual, each track is meant to make a statement with a capitol “s,” yet considering the band’s previous arena reach history, these songs are remarkably subtle.
Since the dawn of indie music, there’s always been that one band that’s subject to ridicule; that guitar band that’s got the right ingredients but is invariably a little too earnest and wet for “serious” music fans to admit to liking. They’re that band that everyone pokes fun at and swears blind they’d never ever voluntarily listen to. They’re also that band that has a handful of huge hits that even your mum knows all the words to.
With guitar bands' circumstances currently reduced, it's sobering to think that Travis's 1999 album, The Man Who, shifted 2. 7m copies in the UK on the back of gently melodic singles such as Why Does It Always Rain on Me? Rather than haul in Brian Eno and try to reinvent themselves à la Coldplay, their first album in five years returns to that successful formula. "Why did we wait so long?" asks Fran Healy, not unreasonably, as choruses swell and plangent guitars waft in.
Travis has never been cool. But why has the band's earnest embrace of '70s soft rock always been considered unfashionable while Daft Punk's wholesale theft of those same sounds is celebrated? Is sounding like Seals and Croft only acceptable when it's cross-referenced with Donna Summer? Nostalgia given a heavy gloss of irony is still nostalgia. Sadly, pointing out the hypocrisy of what's considered “cool” won't ever change the fact that, to many, their music is B-squad dad rock.
“Why does time move so fast?” Travis frontman Fran Healy ponders bittersweetly on “Reminder”, the third track on the Scottish foursome’s latest full-length, Where You Stand. “Precious things never last.” The thought is just one of many scraps of wisdom that the song imparts. Clean your plate. Only love, don’t regret.
Travis were championed by Oasis' Noel Gallagher in 1997, back when that might have meant something. These days that doesn't mean much and Travis doesn't either. The seventh album from the Scottish quartet, Where You Stand, is, at best, polite. Not quite dull enough to be entirely forgettable, Where You Stand plays it safe with middle-of-the-road everything.
Five full years have come and gone since the last studio album from Travis, a number that serves as a litmus test for the band’s career in more ways than one. As a testament to their underrated, enduring pop legacy, the band’s new record Where You Stand is their seventh, and lends a longevity few contemporaries can claim. On the other hand, it’s not as if the masses have exactly clamoured for more since 2008’s Ode To J.