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The Invisible Band, the highly anticipated album from British pop stars Travis, comes out a week after the even-more-anticipated Radiohead album. Travis continues to sound like old Radiohead: accessible and friendly. Meanwhile Radiohead continues to sound like new Radiohead: lush, layered, and dark. So this is a win-win situation. Those who could not get enough of Kid A can recharge on Amnesiac. And those who were expecting a bouncier and easier-to-digest Radiohead can take Travis. Being the antidote, as it were, to Radiohead is not necessarily a bad thing. Travis is to Radiohead what McCartney was to Lennon.
On Travis's critically acclaimed The Man Who(1999), lead singer Fran Healy dolefully asked, "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" and fans on both sides of the pond loved it. What makes Travis more accessible than the morose Oxford-heads is that Travis's songs are rooted in matters of the heart. In a word the songs are about love -- love lost and love found. And who can't relate to that?
Once again on The Invisible Band, the Scottish lads brought in producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich -- of Kid A and Amnesiac fame -- to help them put some kick in their sugary disposition. As Healy bluntly puts it: "Anyone who writes flowery melodies is prone to getting cheesy, and Nigel took the cheese out of Travis." Well, not quite.
There's no denying that Travis sounds a lot like Radiohead. But while Healy's inflection is reminiscent of Thom Yorke, his lyrics are as far as you can get from a Radiohead song. The first single from The Invisible Band, "Sing," opens and sets the tone for the record. Hearing the overdubbed banjo and Healy pleading with his fiancée to "Sing, sing, sing/For the love you bring," you can't help but roll down the windows and sing along. A self-professed diarist since 1985, Healy says the tune "Dear Diary" is a thank-you to his invisible companion. He gently croons, "Dear Diary/What is wrong with me?/'Cause I'm fine/Between the lines." Let's hope Yorke never shares his dark diary secrets with us. If anything we can be sure Yorke will never sing about "watching the flowers grow," as Healy so emphatically does in "Flowers in the Window." The song even features Christmasy bells and seagull squawks.
"Last Train" is probably the band's darkest song, and on it Healy mixes longing and apathy: "You left me on the shelf/And now there's no one to rely on/But if it's all the same to you/Here's what I'm gonna do/I'm gonna buy a gun/Gonna shoot everything, everyone." Clearly Travis is able to dive over the dismal edge now and again. The question is, Do you really want them to?