Review Summary: Don’t quit your day job, Mr. Healy.
Against my better judgment, I pre-wrote the introduction to this review about three days ago in anticipation of the unceasing juices of awesome which I half-expected to flow from every orifice of Wreckorder
, the debut solo effort of Travis frontman Fran Healy. However, seeing as how the album somehow managed to let me down on just about every single level conceivable I have since decided to shelve that introduction and start again from scratch. But all is not lost, for in the case of car crashes like this one, there really is no shortage of places to begin.
In all fairness though, some of Wreckorder
’s bigger issues aren’t really Mr. Healy’s fault. No matter how much he might try to deny or even change it, Fran Healy has such a distinctive voice and style that any solo work he might care to produce has about a snowball’s chance in hell of not
sounding like a Travis derivative. However, without the familiar surroundings of fellow post-Britpop conspirators Payne, Dunlop, and Primrose to fall back on when the going gets tough, all the gambles inevitably end up becoming Healy’s own. And the man is too simple – too uncomplicated – to survive them. Wreckorder
is basically one man’s attempt to put himself at an emotional crossroads, and to try and find out what it is exactly that makes his songwriting tick, all while coming face-to-face with himself in the process (as the album’s cover art suggests). Unfortunately, in doing so, Wreckorder
reveals itself as lacking the same amount of panache that made even the weakest Travis songs burgeon with a yearning sincerity.
But the worst part of it all is that very often one gets the impression that Healy didn’t even try to get his best shi
t together; plain and simple, this album is God-damned lazy. At its very best, Wreckorder
sounds like something Healy recorded while bored in his two bedroom apartment on a particularly rainy day in east Berlin; at its absolute worst, the album comes off like an experiment to figure out the minimum amount of effort required to separate a Travis fan from $9.99. When one removes the production frills (of which there aren’t many), one starts to realize just how truly uninspired Healy’s songwriting is this time around. Opener “In The Morning” is just a notch above being plain criminal. The number struggles to get anywhere at all, with Healy repeatedly expressing his eagerness at visiting a vague and unexplained something
in the next few moments of his life. “Anything”, which follows, isn’t much better either, but the aura of mystique forced through the speakers by a reverberating violin in the background just about manages to prevent the entire affair from falling apart at the seams. “Shadow Boxing” is just plain awful; a yowling mess of a song that is prodded along by nothing more than Healy’s low-pitched voice and a prickly, almost annoying piano riff. The entire arrangement feels spare and fleeting, and by the time its eventual disappearance into nothingness arrives it’s frankly not a moment too soon.
But even a song like “Shadow Boxing” is more bearable than the torpid “Holiday”, in which Healy puts together a string of verses even a third-grader would find insulting to his or her intelligence (“I have nothing to do/To do to do to do to do/And I want to do it with you/With you and no one else will be beside me”). Yet the biggest proof of Healy’s insufficiency as a solo artist is in the fact that the album’s best moment comes when Neko Case sits in for a duet on “Sing Me to Sleep”. Case’s delightful persona exudes effortless charm into the track as she sings in counterpoint to Healy’s third-rate lyrical work, and ultimately her contribution to Wreckorder
is for the album what Colbie Caillat was to the entirety of Jason Mraz’s equally abysmal We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
. The song also features one of the few verses on the album that are halfway decent and actually succeed in acting as a form of evocative brain-food. Elsewhere, Sir Paul McCartney’s laying down of the bass guitar on “As It Comes” is an intriguing listen, but alas his contribution is too minute to change much of the final verdict.
Fran Healy has never been the world’s most consistent songwriter, but when he faltered on previous occasions, he at least had the cohesion of his band mates to keep things varied and engaging. In other words: whatever problems there were with Travis’ weaker cuts on any of their studio albums (recall “Under The Moonlight” and “My Eyes” off The Boy With No Name
), they were still palatable because by the next song, the band would hit on another gem and all would be forgiven (or at least temporarily forgotten). But on here, with all the songs suffering from the same dire lack of inspiration, and with no reserves to call on to help recreate the subtle glory of “Sing” or the fist-pumping euphoria of “Selfish Jean”, the end result is a textbook example of dysergy and a glorious waste of time for all involved.