Travis : 12 Memories

Occasionally you're reminded of how Travis were initially dismissed as a less morbid Radiohead...

Pity poor Fran Healy. For a while, he was the People’s Bard, the man who could make Britain sing along. He loved his girlfriend. He loved his fans. He made a big deal of not listening to many records, or reading many books, so that nothing could complicate the emotional directness of his songs.

Then, with a certain grim inevitability, Fran’s life got a bit more complicated. The events of September 11, 2001, shook up the world. Neil Primrose, [a]Travis[/a] ‘ drummer, smashed his head on the bottom of a swimming pool, broke three bones in his neck and, for a time, seemed unlikely to walk again. Less seriously, the bastards in [a]Coldplay[/a] capitalised on [a]Travis[/a] ‘ absence and became the nation’s favourite band; purveyors of a universal hug in times of sadness and confusion.

All this has left Fran Healy a little troubled.

Where once [a]Travis[/a] were jauntily melancholic (remember the way ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ seemed so weirdly cheerful), ’12 Memories’ finds the Glasgow quartet on a proper downer. [I]”It makes no difference to me/ It’s just the sound of one more rock star bleeding,”[/I] he grumbles on the fine opener, ‘Quicksand’, affecting not to be bothered about what people think of him and his band.

The trouble is, Healy clearly does care. For all the scorn he angles towards his critics, ’12 Memories’ seems to be the work of a man who desperately wants to be taken seriously. There’s no doubting the heartfelt sentiment of ‘The Beautiful Occupation’ and ‘Peace The Fuck Out’, the two most blatant – crass, if truth be told – anti-war songs here. But they also seem to have been written in part to prove that Healy has blood and guts and rage and passion, that he’s much more than the bland cheerleader of legend.

In other words, it sounds like he’s trying too hard. Perhaps aware that [a]Travis[/a] will never recapture that period in 1999 when ‘The Man Who’ was inescapable, Healy seems to be shooting for something darker, less straightforward. Beyond those familiar orbiting strums, odd noises fill out the nooks and crannies of ‘Paperclips’ and ‘Mid-Life Krysis’, while the nagging melodies are more sombre than before. It’s a compelling, if far from satisfying, album: the awkward work of a man confronting mortality, global meltdown and fractionally diminished success, but still terrified of appearing pretentious, still stuck with singalong tunes in his head. Occasionally you’re reminded of how [a]Travis[/a] were initially dismissed as a less morbid [a]Radiohead[/a]. As Healy reassesses his feelings towards fame and possibly even questions what his band are [I]for[/I], the irony now is that [a]Travis[/a] can match [a]Radiohead[/a] grief for grief, though the latter’s scope and ambition remain tantalisingly out of reach. Next time, maybe.

John Mulvey

Get ’12 Memories’ at the NME Shop