Scottish band Travis has drifted rather pleasantly on a long and stable career. Starting as an undistinguished band with a glimmer of mass appeal, an atmospheric coincidence helped catapult the band’s second album, The Man Who, into public consciousness. Since then, they’ve enjoyed commercial success as a consistently visible mainstream lite-rock act.
Travis’ ninth album, 10 Songs, represents no great departure from the band’s steady course. Gentle introspection pulses from within inoffensive straightforward compositions. Lead vocalist Fran Healy soothes popular sentiments with relatable though slightly mopey insights. Crisp production emphasizes piano hooks and Healy’s tender vocals. The sounds are comforting—like a fireside lodge shielding the listener from a vast and turbulent atmosphere.
Nowhere do Healy and co. sound more like themselves than on single “A Ghost,” which harbors the restrained urgency that earmarks their most popular songs. The frontman’s willfully obscure vocals swirl on the mild seas of bourgeois turmoil. “Don’t waste your time,” Healy wails over the tumultuous and errant piano notes, providing a smatter of texture. “A Ghost” is the most convincing plea to emerge from the set.
Meanwhile, the self-immolating “Valentine” exemplifies the record’s pattern of anti-ambition and exhortations to listenability with a vaguely Spanish-inflected guitar melody that lacks definition. As the audacious offering here, “Valentine” leaves something to be desired. “If I lie here/ I might die here/ I may lay here for awhile,” Healy inflects with inertia consuming his gloomy disposition. Unadorned guitar work lands the song between anemic mid-period Pearl Jam, and a version of Muse sans the high drama.
On “The Only Thing,” a wayside diner paean of despondent Americana—Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles swoops in with dusty-road vocals to try to salvage things. “You are the record in the record-shop nobody wants to buy,” she contributes, as Healy bemoans helplessly about his obsession with an ex. Alas, Healy’s lack of storytelling grit makes for just another mopey ride through his personal psyche. Nevertheless, Hoffs comes off well with her truck-stop-weary sweetness.
The bright “Butterflies” awakens the stirring songcraft of Red House Painters, but by the first chorus—the song is dampened by the prescribed range of the record. Rather than slowly building up to an emotional heft, the song plateaus early as Travis ditches the pleasantly nuanced verse in favor of hammering a mellow chorus. Opener “Waving At The Window” likewise rides a mellow wave that crests low, in a sincere-if-muddling attempt at emotional honesty. Both “Butterflies” and “Waving At The Window” sound chopped down, edited for consumption and die out just as they seem to be going somewhere interesting.
One recurring problem is that the lyrics emphasize personal experience, yet reveal little of anything universal or profound. This problem is all the more pronounced in that the instrumental segments are so plain and brief. The songs are constructed in broad strokes. Little nuance defines them—the rhythms and chord patterns are bland, serving as vehicles for lyrics that rarely rise above the humdrum of middle-class dysphoria.
Sincerity is the the bright spot in Travis’ style. As self-effacing as Healy’s lyrics are, his croon and falsetto blend with the simple songs to evoke a visceral space of vulnerability. For those who enjoy his vocals, the singles will make a fine addition to any dentist’s waiting room playlist. Others may envision Coldplay nursing solitary consolation pints as another fine day slips past.
Not quite on par with their earlier and more resonant releases, 10 Songs unfortunately embraces mundanity. The unimaginative title says it all. Lacking a cohesive theme, lacking boldness of statement, the album flounders where the minimalistic fades into the facile. The songs leave little to be discovered. Standout moments are rare and cannot bridge the gaps of bland background music.
Follow writer Alexander Baechle at Instagram.com/writheinsmoke.