You can trace most of the lingering opprobrium surrounding Travis back to ‘Turn’ and its not especially complex refrain “if we turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, we might learn, learn.” An actually rather lovely song, it was on the receiving end of a fair amount of stick, not least because a similar trick was pulled on subsequent single ‘Sing’, with a chorus built around the line “but if you sing, sing, sing, sing, sing.” Quite why they were such totemic targets for the vitriolic post-Britpop takedown is hard to fathom. There were plenty of other far more offensive lyrics foisted upon the world during that time and sung by far less enchanting voices than that of Fran Healy.
The career path since the commercial peak of the parent albums for those two linguistically-limited singles has been varied and not always triumphant. That said, only ’12 Memories’ needs to be avoided when rummaging in the band’s past, and even that had ‘Re-Offender’ on it. Travis’ great strength has always been their melodies, given flight by Healy’s evocative vocal performances. This knack hasn’t deserted them and with ‘Everything At Once’ they could yet reclaim some of that lost ground.
2013’s ‘Where You Stand’ represented something of a retreat to familiar territory after the spikier ‘Ode To J Smith’, with soaring choruses and copious jangle to the fore once again. ‘Everything At Once’ refines that model across its rather petite thirty-three minutes. Of course, the hoary old clichés of indie hackery mean that my cynicism should kick in around about now, but it’s just not that simple. The hooks are copious and the vast majority of these tracks take only a few plays to lodge in the memory. Dark and tortured this is not but when the euphoric indie-pop itch needs a scratch, Travis deliver.
‘Radio Song’ struts through its early lines towards elongated final words which preface a soaring transition to the chorus, shuddering drums and a knowingly jagged guitar riff delivering on the song’s title. ‘Animals’, meanwhile, flits between stately, swooning verses and an emphatic refrain punctuated by stadium-sized percussion. The title track’s endearingly twitchy manner makes for an intriguing midpoint, cycling round at remarkable speed. It’s hard not to long for further evidence of this more adventurous spirit though.
Every so often a couple of wince-inducing lyrics sneak through, like “Every cloud is a silver line, but you still need the moon to shine” from ‘3 Miles High’, but that previously addressed fondness for the platitudinous cannot offset the pop nous on show here. ‘Everything At Once’ contains stellar examples of both of Travis’ copyright moves: the mid-paced shimmering ballad and the shamelessly euphoric upbeat jangler. ‘All Of The Places’ is a glorious demonstration of the former, burbling synths accompanying a nagging acoustic refrain to hypnotic effect. ‘Magnificent Time’ offers the latter, the band entirely at ease with the assumption that its joy-by-numbers chorus will be met with scorn from certain corners and belligerently carrying on regardless. “Seize the day, don’t throw away this magnificent time,” multiple Frans implore on a song that evokes the feeling of sunshine when the forecast said otherwise. It’s a little cheesy and it’s unashamedly earnest, but it’s great.
Travis make successful, sometimes truly special, pop music. The time for judging them against ‘serious’ or ‘real’ or whatever the self-consciously backward arbiters of desperate notions of authentic masculinity are calling lumpen rock music these days is over. If you sometimes need to reach for songs that make you smile, that deliver adrenaline or emotional balm, then you could do an awful lot worse than ‘Everything At Once’.
Words: Gareth James
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