The Boy With No Name
t's likely that Travis will ultimately be remembered for opening a door that others would eventually knock off the hinges, but there's a rumpled, sadsack quality to them that separates the Scottish quartet from their supposed peers. While Travis continually allude to invisibility and anonymity in their album titles, as Nick Southall has correctly pointed out, there ain't nothing humble about the galactic titans that Snow Patrol, Keane, and Coldplay have dropped on us recently. But by 2003's 12 Memories, life-threatening injuries, intra-band strife (captured so disturbingly in the "Re-Offender" video) and political disillusionment ossified this hangdog expression into outright and unseemly bitterness and Nigel Godrich wasn't around to buff up songs like "Peace The Fuck Out." Many thought the band needed to get Godrich back, but from the sound of things, what Travis truly needed was a vacation.
They managed to get both, not to mention co-production from Brian Eno, on The Boy With No Name. Tanned, rested and ready (okay, maybe the last two), the boys deliver the same sort of agreeable Britpop they've made their name on, wisely realizing that ambition's really not for everyone. People go to land grant institutions. They sell insurance for a living because their dad did. They get married because they come to the conclusion that their current love is the best-looking person who will agree to sleep with them. But you might as well do the best you can in the situation, and Travis (to their credit) is trying to be the best Travis possible. Yeah, Fran Healy drops some of the dopiest lyrics in the game and the only difference between many of their chord progressions is where they put the capo. Is this somehow news to you?
It's likely that The Man Who fulfilled everything that Travis really wanted to accomplish and they've spent the time since its release trying to balance its unrelentingly sunny melodicism with the kind of darker, mature shades that lead to its staying power. Lead single "Closer" yearns for a human connection in its chorus, and yet it feels far less needy and more natural than previous releases. Oh, the first line in "Big Chair" is a fucking emoticon howler ("you know that I heart everything about you"), but it has a reverberating, wide-open production that manages to make their sound a little post-Strum (seriously, try playing recent indie rock on an acoustic) while avoiding mere Interpol-aping.
Healey's lyrics still aren't all that good, but they're less bad than they've been in the past. The sound of relief suits him well, so "Battleships" isn't anchored by its threadbare metaphor and "Selfish Jean" doesn't get in the way of its reinvigoration-via-"Lust for Life." It could only last so long, though, and they close the album out on their weakest three-song run since their debut. While "Out in Space" is solely included to get them to their standard twelve-song platter, "Colder" is hampered by its incongruous production and a harmonica solo. And there had to be a better way to close things out than "New Amsterdam," which indulges in the sort of pie-eyed Big Apple palaver ("in the park that is Central") that rarely pops up outside of an NYU freshman's scratch pad. Still, listening to The Boy With No Name is similar to the perfectly reasonable situation of a grown man eating Ramen for the fuck of it; it’ll hold you down for a half hour when you're too lazy to bother or you just want to rekindle some good memories of college. But I wouldn’t recommend living off it.
Reviewed by: Ian Cohen
Reviewed on: 2007-05-10