J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Return Trip: Travis - The Man Who

The Man Who
(Independiente ; 1999)

There was a time when I would have made an argument for The Man Who as one of the best albums of the 90s. The first time this album was unleashed upon me, its opening track, "Writing to Reach You," went on repeat for about five or six trips through my stereo. The rest of the album did a similar thing over the next few days. It was infectiously maudlin, if you understand such a thing.

Of course I had missed out on Travis Mach 1 and their debut album, Good Feeling. It was a straight-up rock and roll record. No less an authority than Noel Gallagher had praised the band and come out to sing their song "All I Wanna Do Is Rock" with them at various live performances. So how did they turn around and record one of the slightest, borderline mopiest and most gorgeous records of the late 90s?

It's one way to avoid the sophomore slump, that's for sure. Expectations? Why bother, when you can completely change your style instead. But the brilliance of it all is in the fact that they only seemed to change the game - but didn't really. Their debut was full of raucous singalongs ("U16 Girls" is a classic) - but it was also full of raucous singalongs that, if you chose to slow them down and turn down the volume, could make gorgeous soft pieces. Case in point - "The Line is Fine." Crank it back just a touch and you have one of The Man Who's best moments, the lovely "Turn."

But there is no avoiding the autumnal nature of the entire album and that is its strength. The absolutely crystalline and reverb-laden "Driftwood," the almost music-box like "The Last Laugh of the Laughter," the delicate balladry of "Luv" - all of them constructing an album of barren landscapes and emotive, wistful visions. The album cover is spot on to the overall tone of the record. The album's most famous song (at least here in the U.S.) is "Why Does It Always Rain On Me." The first time I played it on WQFS, back during my first year of DJing, a caller phoned in and begged me to stop playing it, calling it 'sappy, sentimental crap.' It is such a tortured and overwrought song that I can easily understand the complaints. Whining about teenage indiscretions, eternal figurative rain showers, the whole nine yards. But man does it work. I can't explain how or why. It could be the bouncy, almost positive sound of the music, or the clever wordplay ("I'm seeing tunnels at the end of all these lights"). If you look at the song as a knowing-wink, the kind of song where the lyrical travesties are on purpose, and there's a good argument for that considering how sharp parts of them are, then it's a brilliant success - especially as measured by commercial sales.

Travis would completely blow any confidence I had in them after this album - I still consider the follow-up, The Invisible Band, to be one of the biggest letdowns I've ever purchased in my life - but my love for this record has refused to dim. A rather large poster of the album cover hangs in the room where I write these pieces (thanks, Jenny!) and it always reminds me of how immediately amazing some music can be. This review wasn't so much a review as a love letter. But that's okay. People don't always believe me when I talk about how good The Man Who is - maybe this'll change a few minds.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Travis - "Writing to Reach You"

Travis - "The Last Laugh of Laughter"

Travis - "Turn"

Purchase or download The Man Who from Amazon.

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  • At 7:56 PM, May 11, 2008, Blogger jen said…

    oh how i enjoyed reading this! hi, this is jen stover, long time no talk. i do enjoy this album and believe the greatness of Travis may even return someday (please, please please!)i am re-signing up to do shows this summer, maybe we will see you around. i havent learned the new board yet. once a month you should come on my show and we can our favorite albums. whatcha think


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