Drummers and swimming-pools are never a good combination (you may remember Travis cancelled at V2002 after their sticksman luckily survived a broken neck). War, political uproar and an emotional disposition like Fran Healey’s on the other hand, is a positively potent mix.
The songs have, in most respects, remained the same. However, the way they're played has improved dramatically. '12 Memories' is their first self-produced record, and sounds brighter and fresher than everything they’ve done since their debut, 'Good Feeling'. The overall vibe is that of Travis really finding another level to work on fours albums in. Sonically, '12 Memories’ nearest compadre is REM’s 'Automatic For The People'. Although it’s not in the same league (musically or lyrically speaking), production-wise it ebbs and flows, sounding beautiful throughout; the crisp clean acoustics sitting magically atop the keyboards and multi-way harmonies. The tone is very much one of greater self-indulgence, but without swaying away from what’s made them.
For the first time, their style does actually vary throughout. 'Paperclips' contains a solitary vocal over a slurry, de-tuned guitar which builds tragically, whilst opener, 'Quicksand', is a jarring, piano-driven semi-stomper which basks amid its single-note guitar-lead and a glorious flourish of cello. Occasionally bursting into jangly, Beatles-esq stuttering orchestration, it does sound very Coldplay.
Virgin Radio fans will be pleased to know that there's about five or six other chart hits here too. Songs like the wistful 'Love Will Come Through' and the lead single, 'Re-Offender', are an immediate return to the form they seemed to lose on the last album. 'Something Else', too, is a great centrepiece, based around a touching piano melody with a gracious mix of pinging xylophones and crunching, distorted guitars.
Having spent the months since last March's Anti-Way concert pushing the moral boat as far out to sea as it can go, only two tracks actually come out fighting with any political stance. Strangely, they're the two finest songs here. 'Peace The Fuck Out' not only gives the album a nice 'Explicit Lyrics' warning-sticker, but also a sense of warmth that's more REM than Radiohead in ye olde 'war is bad' field.
Whilst the former may be a little wishy-washy for some, 'The Beautiful Occupation' is a glorious, beautiful anthem; combining the ever-Travis style of songcraft with a guitar solo that sounds like Bernard Butler playing 'Paranoid Android'. The chorus is a full-throttle four-four stomper too, recalling, again, 'God Put A Smile On Your Face' as a first thought.
Travis may have reached the kind heights where each new release is instantly dismissed by many as more disposable, daytime-radio fodder, but '12 Memories' is easily the best post-'Rush Of Blood…' soft-rock record there is, and offers a timely re-reminder as to why the world fell in love with the invisible band in the first place.
8Andrew Future's Score