Travis - The Man Who - Review
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critics' view

Glasgow’s Travis emerged in the late 90s, along with a tranche of fellow travellers in melodic, post-Britpop guitar music including Cast, Embrace and Doves. Released in the spring of 1999, The Man Who was the band’s second, and breakthrough, album. It berthed no fewer than five hit singles and would temporarily elevate the quartet, fronted by twinkle-eyed, stentorian voiced Fran Healy, to UK pop’s high table.

Although they’d originally based their sound on Oasis’s anthemic blueprint – albeit minus Liam Gallagher’s feral menace and with added undergraduate cuteness – Travis’s sophomore album (its title derived from Oliver Sacks’ popular psychology book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife For a Hat) proffered an airier signature, with glinting electric guitars, strummed acoustics and a procession of undemanding, mid-paced tempos. Characterised by uncomplicated, sing-along choruses, this was 90s ‘alternative’ music scrubbed, buffed and, frankly, neutered, for mainstream consumption.

As perky and uplifting as it was musically unchallenging, for all its sonic predictability, The Man Who couldn’t be faulted for its cavalcade of keening, copper-bottomed pop melodies. Its standout track, Why Does It Always Rain on Me, a UK top ten single, was an everyday hymn to getting it in the neck from karma, pivoting on an almost childishly simple, yet unshakeably infectious chorus; its ‘why me?’ sentiment something every listener could relate to. The similarly accessible Writing to Reach You and Driftwood added just a pinch of minor chord ache to the formula, while the chiming, lilting, Turn sought to express human irrepressibility in a gush of banal platitudes of the “I want to live in a world where I belong” variety.

The album would go on to sell close to three million copies, which, if nothing else, demonstrates how far an a inane lyric, an ingenuous melody and a boyish frontman grin will go. As inoffensive as it was, the album did offer one note of conceit: a sleeve dedication to the late, maverick movie director Stanley Kubrick. But an association with something as unerringly orthodox and formulaic as The Man Who would surely see the famously envelope-stretching filmmaker ‘turn’ in his grave.

David Sheppard
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