Life is both a major and minor key, sings Fran Healy of Travis on “Side.” Just open up the chord. It’s a couplet that says a lot about this quartet, as they’ve always been equally adept at depicting both deep sorrow and unbridled joy without showing any strain in the effort to do so.
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“Side” is just one of the glistening pop gems found on the Scottish band’s 2001 album The Invisible Band, which is getting the reissue treatment for its 20th anniversary. In the deluxe package, you get the original album on vinyl plus a second disc with covers, live tracks, and choice B-sides. You can also find early versions of the album’s songs on one of the two CDs included with the package.
The extras are great listening, especially the cover tracks. This was the band, after all, that cleverly transformed Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” into a power ballad. Here you can find them taking on evergreens like “Killer Queen,” “All The Young Dudes” and “Here Comes The Sun” with an expert touch. Their version of “You’re A Big Girl Now” is the standout, with Healy drawling out his words in affectionate faux Dylan.
Just getting the original album in this format is the key, considering that so many top full-length releases from the aughts are unicorns on vinyl. Even with 20 years passed, Healy’s songs sound just as fresh and affecting, aided by the simpatico renderings of the band (guitarist Andy Dunlop, bassist Dougie Payne and drummer Neil Primrose) and the ace production work of Nigel Godrich.
The album title was intended as a tongue-in-cheek nod to where Travis stood in the BritPop pantheon. Not that they weren’t popular, as their previous album, The Man Who, went platinum many times over. But they lacked an identifying characteristic, such as the brotherly bravado of Oasis or the archness of Pulp. Their magic materialized in the songcraft, and The Invisible Band is their finest collection of tunes from top to bottom in a career still going strong (check out the excellent 10 Songs(2020) as a recent example.)
“Sing” is a wonderful opener for The Invisible Band, bouncing in with a “Hey Jude”-like message and soaring chorus. “Side” builds to anthemic rock territory, only to be contrasted by the woozy laments of “Dear Diary.” At the end of side one, the album peaks with the one-two punch of “Flowers In The Window” and “The Cage.” The former is an ebullient ode to domesticity, while the latter is a shimmering farewell ballad with an acidic touch in the verses leavened by bittersweet benevolence in the refrains.
There’s more of the same on the second side, closing out with “The Humpty Dumpty Love Song.” Healy twists the nursery rhyme metaphor into intriguing shapes amidst Godrich’s atmospheric production to send the album on its way. Each one of the 12 tracks bursts with melody, the craft, and care evident with every rise and fall. Third albums are often when bands make or break their legacy, especially after a peak like this group enjoyed with their sophomore effort. Travis rose to the occasion on The Invisible Band in magnificent fashion. Thanks to this wonderful reissue, we get to relive that pivotal moment in their history.
Photo by Victor Chavez/WireImage