Travis fans who might have lost sleep over what radical detours the Scottish quartet would take on the follow-up to their 2000 breakthrough The Man Who can rest assured: The sound remains the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Less a holding pattern than a refinement of an effective formula, Travis’ third album, The Invisible Band, is seductive, indeed, a gorgeous mosaic of shimmering guitar pop that caresses the eardrums like fine chenille.
On The Man Who, the band and producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A) erected an edifice of sonic spun sugar so fragile that a blaring riff might have blown it to smithereens. The band got a lot of guff from critics for copping Radiohead’s trippy, lost-in-the-clouds ‘tude, but where Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke tends to veer off into heady abstraction, Travis frontman Francis Healy grounds his romantic odes in jangly, foursquare song structures that echo the band’s Brit-pop forebears Oasis and Blur.
The Invisible Band is less assertive than its predecessor, but even when the songs hover in the ether, they maintain a strong melodic center of gravity. On tracks like ”Follow the Light,” ”Afterglow,” and ”Flowers in the Window,” guitarist Andy Dunlop churns out hooks that are buffed to a high sheen, while drummer Neil Primrose and bassist Douglas Payne lay back with an unobtrusive, languorous pulse. Healy’s reedy soprano voice glides through the album’s ballads ”Dear Diary” and ”Indefinitely” like a love-sick sylph; his bruised, schoolboy vulnerability is hard to resist.
So faithfully does The Invisible Band re-create The Man Who’s gauzy vibe that a few tracks come close to sounding like retreads, particularly the opener ”Sing,” which is almost a reprise of sorts to the previous record’s kick starter, ”Writing to Reach You.” But that in no way detracts from the album’s tremulous beauty. So call The Invisible Band that rarity: a sequel that holds up to the original source material.