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Travis
The Invisible Band
label: sony / epic
released: 06.12.01
our score: 3.0 out of 5.0

Seeing The Invisible Band for What It Is
by: joel resnicow

In the wake of the tremendous success of Radiohead and Oasis, the American media has coined an over-broad term for bands that sing with an across the "Pond" accent: Britpop. The moniker is intended to refer to the experimental, but still commercially accessible, pop of tortured souls from Britain. But alas, we Americans are lazy and often sacrifice accuracy for efficiency. In doing so, we carelessly toss Travis into the Britpop catchall, even after the release of their second successful major-label album, The Invisible Band.

Granted, the members of Travis may show symptoms of bipolar disorder and, yes, speak with an accent, but the application of 'Britpop' to these lads is riddled with error. First off, they're from Glasgow…that's Scotland. Second, they play rough, earnest music that's closer to Irish folk than to the art-rock and ego-pop of Radiohead and Oasis, respectively. Aside from a moment or two when they tap into the beautiful simplicity of the Beatles, there is nothing 'Brit' or 'pop' about The Invisible Band.

But enough about what they aren't. Formed in 1990, Travis currently consists of vocalist Fran Healy, guitarist Andrew Dunlap, bassist Douglass Payne, and drummer Neil Primrose. They self-released their debut EP All I Wanna Do Is Rock in 1996, then moved to Sony for the release of their follow-up, The Man Who, in 2000.

Even on their newest release, Travis still sounds like an honest, self-taught pub band. What they lack in raw talent is mostly made up for in instinct. They capitalize on the essential, fundamental idea that contrast separates music from noise. Despite the need for more rhythmic and structural variation, The Invisible Band maximizes all other contrasts within and between tracks. The sad tunes send you running for lithium, and the uplifting songs, consequently, feel like lithium.

As the pharmaceutical analogy suggests, Healy is a healer. Following the lead of the front-man of another non-Britpop UK band, Bono of U2, he tends to his romantic wounds publicly and tries to solve the world's problems with a microphone. Even if his teachings are not entirely original ("We all live under the same sky, we all will live, we all will die" from "Side"), Healy's modesty and self-proclaimed "invisibility" make him a better candidate for savior than Bono.

His pleasantly unpredictable phrasing also bears great resemblance to that of Bono. Healy dances around Dunlap's bold chord changes with irregular intervals, delaying the resolution of a line or holding an unstable tone until Dunlap resolves it. "Dear Diary," a melancholy confessional of insecurity, best exemplifies this guitar-voice counterpoint.

But Travis best succeeds when it occasionally abandons dark complexity for uncomplicated declarations of happiness. "Flowers in the Window" is not a spectacular composition, but the blissful delivery makes me want to skip through a patch of daisies. It could pass for a McCartney song…well, maybe in his Wings years.

Don't get me wrong, The Invisible Band is not a classic. What sets Travis apart from the Britpop of Radiohead is exactly what holds the record back. The mainstream masses of Britain are quite tolerant of and, in effect, encourage experimentalism in their artists. Unfortunately, this push for exploration hasn't rubbed off on Travis; The Invisible Band is simply a fun and refreshingly modest hour of music.

If you liked The Invisible Band...

Tracklist:
1. Sing
2. Dear Diary
3. Side
4. Pipe Dreams
5. Flowers in the Window
6. The Cage
7. Safe
8. Follow the Light
9. Last Train
10. Afterglow
11. Indefinitely
12. The Humpty Dumpty Love Song
13. Ring Out the Bell (bonus track)
14. You Don't Know What I'm Like (bonus track)