After a deluge of reunions, it seems the days when nostalgia kicks were administered at your favourite band’s singer’s solo gigs are long gone. Why go to all the trouble of writing and recording new songs no one wants to listen to when you can just rally your old mates together and regurgitate your back catalogue to top up the pension pot?
So it’s interesting that Travis front man Fran Healy’s solo efforts coincide with lone outings from the likes of Radiohead drummer Philip Selway and The Killers‘ main man Brandon Flowers. Presumably bored by their respective bands’ hiatuses, Flowers’ record showcased his grandiose, electronic leanings, while long time ‘Sleeper bloke’ Selway has introduced his surprisingly fragile, folky voice to the world. But Healy, it seems, is of the opinion that if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Wreckorder could easily have been the seventh Travis album. As the man who wrote and sang all of the band’s work, it’s hardly surprising that some of that has crossed over. But what might concern his band mates is just how little he seems to needs them.
Travis fans who were disappointed to hear there would be no quick follow-up to 2008’s Ode To J Smith will be delighted with Wreckorder; it has all the ingredients of a Travis album. Upbeat, campfire acoustic sing-alongs? Buttercups and Moonshine. Dull but impossible-to-stop-humming growers? Fly In The Ointment and Rocking Chair. The only real surprises come from the two tracks he shares with some impressive special guests.
The first, Sing Me To Sleep, features Neko Case in a lazy, sultry duet. Their vocals blend into each other at almost identical pitch, with Case’s country twang bringing out a leaner, more relaxed side in Healy. It manages a full two and a half minutes before the trademark Travis guitar twiddlings muscle their way in, but still remains touching and incredibly well cast.
Paul McCartney‘s input on As It Comes is rather more well-publicised, with Healy reportedly turning vegetarian in return for McCartney’s contribution, playing bass. His involvement is unnoticeable, but he just happens to have played on the best track on the album. A tear-stained, bittersweet tale of an old man looking back on life with his wife, it’s about the mundanities of a long marriage and wishing for more, only to realise how happy you were when it’s too late, A dark, melancholic take on When I’m 64, it’s creepy and reminiscent of the ’90s gloom-pop sound of The Lodger and The Auteurs.
The rest of the album plods along nicely, Healy’s lullaby vocals soothing their way through single Buttercups and sure-to-be follow-up single Anything, which will sit quite happily alongside the likes of Driftwood and Sing.
There’s an over-riding sadness to Wreckorder which, given that he’s credited the birth of his son with what he considers to be his “change of direction”, could be misdelivered introspection. While the likes of Sing Me To Sleep and As It Comes have benefited from a downbeat Healy, Wreckorder is really missing a radio friendly Writing To Reach You or a Flowers In The Window, but that shouldn’t stop Travis fans lapping it up as some of Healy’s best work for a long time.