The Travis philosophy of, “Never mind the singer, listen to the song,” is an admirable one, especially at a time when image is deemed to be so much more important than content. This, the band’s fourth album, certainly speaks for itself, boasting a handful of songs that are among the best tracks they’ve ever recorded.
With their expansive melodies, effortless harmonic invention and lyrical opacity, Quicksand and How Many Hearts are strongly reminiscent of Ray Davies or XTC at the top of their game – yes, they’re that good.
Equally impressive is Beautiful Occupation, one of two songs that train their sights on Tony Blair’s Iraq adventure, the other being the rather more mundane Peace The Fuck Out. Political comment, however admirable, is fine when wedded to a timeless melody and thoughtful lyrics, as in the former song, but rather less so when it descends to the banal name-calling of the latter.
Fran Healy and colleagues are on rather safer ground with The Smiths-like single Re-Offender, clearly designed for those lighter-in-the-air stadium moments, as is Love Will Come Through, although the latter fails to fully take flight. In contrast, Paperclips is a low-key, sparse ballad, whose strangely unsettling countenance is enhanced by an angular clarinet solo and the sound of a dog whimpering.
Rather less successful are the clunky Mid-Life Krysis and Happy To Hang Around, while Walking Down The Hill veers uneasily into the miserabilist territory that’s already been thoroughly staked out by Radiohead. It, and the second half of the album, is redeemed by the beautiful Some Sad Song, which is mystifyingly tucked away at the end as a “surprise” track. (Go to 4 minutes 30 on track 11 and you’ll find it).
Despite the few downsides to this album, there’s a new-found focus to Travis, perhaps as a result of the devastating accident suffered by drummer Neil Primrose and from which he now seems, mercifully, to be fully recovered.
The production is clean and uncluttered, with just the right amount of ornamentation (such as the lovely cello part on Quicksand) and, what’s more, at a shade over 43 minutes, 12 Memories certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. How many albums can you say that about these days?