Sharps & Flats

England's favorite band, Travis, shakes schizophrenia, embraces bummer folk rock.

Published April 20, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

When Glasgow quartet Travis released their first album, "Good Feeling" (1997), the U.K. music press called the band's work "schizophrenic." True enough, the record was exuberant yet unfocused, wandering from the brooding grunge of "All I Want to Do Is Rock" to the blokey singalong pop of "U16 Girls" and "Tied to the Nineties." With their sophomore album, Travis confronts the schizophrenia label head-on: The title, "The Man Who," comes from a book of schizophrenia case studies, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." More important, the band doesn't jump from sound to sound. Here, all 10 songs wallow in a wonderfully consistent melancholy.

Travis frontman Fran Healy and his former art-school mates have left pub rock behind, recording instead the year's best collection of bummer folk rock. On "The Man Who," Healy can't see silver linings, only darker grays. But the best part is that he can sing lines like "I'm seeing a tunnel at the end of all of these lights" in the standout "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" and come across sounding like the average tortured guy next door, not just another whiny rock star.

The guy-next-door image, in combination with some stellar songs, has made Travis the most popular band in Britain. "The Man Who" has already gone six times platinum in the U.K., and the band won this year's Brit Awards for best album and best band. The hype traveling across the Atlantic is finally worth it and the band actually has a chance to succeed here: They're smarter than Oasis, more earnest than Gay Dad, less stoned than Gomez and more focused than the Stereophonics.

Travis' graceful, introspective ballads sound a bit like Radiohead's more straightforward moments -- thanks in part to some work with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Healy's aching tenor is every bit as passionate as Thom Yorke's, but on tracks like "Writing to Reach You," Healy's voice sounds even prettier, more honest and more intimate. Even when Travis' acoustic guitars and occasional string arrangements are scruffed up with more atmospheric noise and texture, their pretty melodies are never obscured. And the whole affair is guided by Healy's laments about going to sleep alone ("I can't sleep tonight/Everybody's saying everything is all right"), waking up alone ("Every day I wake up alone because I'm not like all the other boys") and the same old miserable routine in between ("The radio is playing all the usual/And what's a wonderwall anyway?"). Turns out all the sleeplessness, isolation and rainy weather is a viable cure for schizophrenia. The only thing to worry about now is that Healy will move to a sunny climate and start dropping Prozac. Who would the rest of us have to mope along with?

By Wendy Mitchell

Wendy Mitchell is a writer in New York.

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