Travis | 10 Songs | (BMG)
3 out of 5 stars
Unless you live in the UK or are a rabid fan of the Scottish quartet, it’s likely you thought Travis broke up sometime around 2004’s Singles compilation. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.
Travis not only released four albums between 2003 and 2016, but they also snuck a live one in 2019, albeit from a 1999 Glastonbury set two decades earlier. That brings us to release number nine, four years after the previous studio collection. For better or worse, little has changed in Travis’ sound. With sweeping melodies and occasional orchestration, frontman and songwriter Fran Healy’s fragile yet bold vocals and his natural feel for hooks are all in place.
Like Coldplay and U2, the outfit’s lineup has stayed consistent since their 1997 debut. That’s about a quarter century with the same four guys, a rarity in the music business especially when they haven’t really scored in America.
While that consistency can feel comfortable, it can also cause the overall playing and sound to feel too familiar, too similar to their previous work, something that had plagued some of Travis’ earlier albums.
The opening song, “Waving at the Window,” is a melancholy tale about a man who doesn’t want to break up with his girlfriend. “But gimme another chance/Give it another go,” the protagonist cries. Healy’s falsetto appears with a mid-tempo, piano-based melody that could easily be mistaken for an outtake of an earlier album. Thankfully, guests like Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle and lap steel master Greg Leisz help diversify the vibe. The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs adds the most help, duetting with Healy on perhaps the greatest track from the disc: the lovely, string enhanced “The Only Thing”.
The approach sounds even more raw on “Valentine,” which starts with an acoustic guitar before an infusion of Oasis and late Beatles circa “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” toughens things up. But as titles such as “A Million Hearts,” “Kissing in the Wind,” and “Nina’s Song” imply, Travis likes their romantic, widescreen, sing-along ballads, and they can be counted on to deliver the goods. The closing piano and voice “No Love Lost” hovers a little too close to boring for comfort. But overall, songs such as the peppy “A Ghost,” where the moral is summed up by the titular character, who says: “‘It’s easier to be alive/Than hide under your pillow/While your life is passing you by/Oh live your life/Don’t waste your time’” over a strummed guitar and a melody close to “I’m Looking Through You” from Rubber Soul.
Travis is to be commended for keeping the faith and coming up with another batch of quality songs that, if not their best stuff, isn’t far from it. But like the album’s unimaginative title, there’s little that pushes any of the band’s established boundaries into new and fresh sonic areas.