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The Transparent Album

On The Invisible Band, Travis does to British Rock what Starbucks did to coffee. It's really no better than average brew-it-yourself grocery store coffee, but something about it makes you a little bit warmer and fuzzier inside.

Fran Healy, Travis' songwriter and lead singer, offers a fairly mediocre collection of songs on the new album, but why do I like it so much? I think there are two reasons: 1) it's not American; 2) the songs, although they each paint a distinct shade of melancholy, are all somehow catchy enough and reasonably authentic enough to make me keep listening. These songs somehow capture a miserably raw Scottish winter's day.

And in a way, Travis' reputation and popularity has been built on bad weather--and somewhat saccharine emotionality. When Travis' second record, The Man Who, which cost the better part of $1 million to produce, hit Britain's record stores in 1999, it was dismissed as boring and a little bit silly--and rightly so. But later that year at a rain-soaked Glastonbury Festival, Travis and England bonded over a timely sing along of "Why Does it Always Rain On Me," off The Man Who.

By August of that year they were clearly the biggest band in Britain, a title on which Oasis had kept a pretty tight stranglehold. And in a lot of ways, these Glaswegians are the new Oasis. (Save the reputation for violent family feuds and drunken brawls on Cathay Pacific flights) Travis is never going to be music critics' darlings. When they're not to boring, they're too melodramatic (as on the lead single "Sing"). And if they manage to escape bloated emotionality, their lyrics will, at worst, read like a delinquent fifth grader's English homework, or, at best, remind you of a hack philosophy major spouting pseudo-intellectual sophisms. For example: "You'll realize one day that the grass is always greener on the other side / the neighbor's got a new car that you want to drive," from "Side."

But despite Healy's apparent illiteracy, his song writing and his band's arrangements are generally so captivating that when Healy belts out "Sing," you actually want to sing too as if it'll really make the bloke happy.

And this is quite remarkable considering that most of the songs are slow and atmospheric--although not quite as depressingly macabre as early Radiohead. Throughout the album, Travis uses bizarre combinations of banjos, pianos, guitars and the occasional O80s sounding synth. Somehow it works, especially on "The Cage" and the McCartneyesque "Flowers in the Window."

Another cute little habit that Travis continues is "borrowing" little song snippets. On The Man Who they manage to rip off the chords to Oasis' "Wonderwall" and then repeatedly mock the song throughout the album. And on their last tour, Travis frequently covered "Baby One More Time," but without tartan-skirted school girl Britney it was kind of disturbingly obsessive.

On this album, Healy develops his Britney Spears fetish. Perhaps as a response to Britney's first song writing attempt, "Dear Diary" (which was incidentally only slightly more unbearable than the rest of her last album), Travis pen their own "Dear Diary." It's a good song--Healy sounds like a non-possessed Thom Yorke--but one so slow and brooding that it has no business being the album's second track.

But even so, any rock band who pays homage to such a wench and whose songs are as good as these guys' deserves a listen.


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