Travis’ second album opens with the sound of someone — presumably singer and songwriter Fran Healy — gently counting off before the musicians start playing. Given the current, extravagant pop climate, it’s an unexpectedly intimate gesture, and it makes for the perfect introduction to a majestic and very humane collection of post-hangover rock. The Man Who shares a sensibility (and a producer) with Radiohead’s shoe-gazer symphony OK Computer. As on the Radiohead album, the guitars and rhythm section — and the occasional splash of background static — meld into a muted wall of sound. But it’s a wall made of fluffy, inviting cotton. The songs, from ”Writing to Reach You” to the climactic ”Slide Show,” have a smoothly rippling grace; the lulling lament ”Driftwood” is particularly aptly named. Even the guitar solos sound more like forlorn cries for help than pointless displays of virtuosity.
With his disillusioned-choirboy delivery, Healy is very much the epitome of the earnest, sensitive tea sipper. He sneaks in a poke at another hugely popular band of Brits (”The radio is playing all the usual/And what’s a Wonderwall anyway?”). But mostly, he wonders why it always rains on him, and in best mope-rock fashion, he’s either unable to sleep, just waking up, or realizing he always wakes up alone. Released in the quartet’s native Britain a year ago, The Man Who became a deserved sensation. In America, where rock continues to take steroids, it may not make the same impact. But that’s no surprise: Travis kill us with their songs, but softly. A