While we extend our eternal thanks to acts making albums locked so frantically in a Covid bang-bubble with the zeitgeist that they couldn’t wait to release them when tours resume, we’d sometimes rather forget it’s 2020 at all. It’s almost a public service, then, for Travis to release their ninth album mid-pandemic; a folk pop floatation tank of a record that transports you instantly to 1999, when our greatest worry was a bug that only threatened to kill stock exchanges.
Like, well, driftwood, Travis have been bobbing about in no decisive direction ever since ‘The Man Who’’s three million sales lumped them with a large but unadventurous audience. Sometimes they’d risk turning the guitars up a bit (careful now) or dip cautiously into electronics or pomp-rock to test the mainstream waters, only to find them stagnant. The band’s 1997 debut ‘Good Feeling’ was wonderfully raucous, but their rockiest album of this century, 2008’s ‘Ode To J. Smith’, was also their lowest-charting. Bread being buttered thus, ’10 Songs’ finds them pandering to their rain-sodden accountant indie core with 10 subdued, pastoral laments liberally sprinkled with keening piano, Beach Boys-style harmonies, slide guitar and I’m-sorry-was-that-your-coffee-no-it’s-totally-my-fault heartbreak. Few Travis records have ever sounded quite so Travis.
Not that it’s a complete throwback. In standing mostly still, Travis have found contemporary eddies swirling around them. ‘Butterflies’, with its misty guitar tones and country saunter, recalls The Shins, while spectral hoedown ‘A Ghost’ sounds like Marcus Mumford’s shadow. Yes, songwriter-for-hire Stephen Duffy does this sort of stuff with far more pep and poise and it all makes Coldplay sound like Andrew WK, but Travis frontman Fran Healy can still craft an insinuating melody capable of keeping many of these tracks from sinking too deep into the mulch. There are attention-catchers too – The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs crops up to play his romantic foil on ‘The Only Thing’ and the piano refrain of ‘A Million Hearts’ falls pleasingly apart midway through the chorus.
Yet besides ‘Valentine’ – a rare, cool grunge-pop grind reminiscent of ‘Blur’-era Blur and worthy of that debut – it’s beige balladeering business as usual until the final stretch. Here, ‘Kissing In The Wind’ almost trips over its own adorable hookline, the cracking ‘Nina’s Song’ expands into a sweeping Beatle-delic waltz and ‘No Love Lost’ wraps the record up with one of Healy’s finest piano pieces and opening lines: “I woke up feeling shit this morning”. It’s perfect, like all of ’10 Songs’, for imagining you’re anywhere else but here.
Release date: October 9
Record label: BMG