Review Summary: Getting older isn't always a bad thing.
It’s hard to watch your kids move on. When Travis first made a mark on the music community nearly 20 years ago, it carved out a path for future Brit-rock torchbearers like Coldplay and Muse. But it’s 2013, and while I imagine Chris Martin is busy dreaming up his next collaboration with Rihanna, and Muse is probably drafting new ideas for its next epic Olympic theme song, the band that started it all is still more or less where it began, two decades after its beginning. It seems like the band has other things in mind, though: with its seventh album, the aptly-titled Where You Stand
, Travis makes a quiet but graceful commitment to the sound it’s been honing over its entire career.
What’s most lovely about Where You Stand
is how breezy it is. Whether on the gentle, melancholy “Moving,” the striking ballad "The Big Screen," or the more upbeat “Warning Sign,” every song feels like a fine fit for the band, lending the music a sense of friendliness and warmth rarely seen in the work of other Brit-rock titans. The vocals are particularly strong throughout; frontman Fran Healy finds ample room to show off his gorgeous, understated voice. This is an asset, especially when Where You Stand
delves into the melancholy. “All of the things you never noticed, all of the lives you cling to, it don’t mean a thing,” he sings on the breezy acoustic-laden “Reminder,” bringing us back to Earth but letting us down as softly as possible.
Where You Stand
may be musical comfort food through and through, but it’s comfort food done with heart and nuance; nowhere is this more evident than on its title track, likely the best on offer here. Opening with a bright piano note, the song soon blooms into a graceful, winningly romantic celebration to commitment; “Lift me up or tear me down, I’ll stand right up again,” Healy sings in the second verse, the plink-plink of the piano and the thump-thump of the drums building his broken heart back up. The chorus goes down like lemonade on a September afternoon, the melody not quite triumphant but soaring regardless thanks to Healy’s delivery and the fuzzy guitar noise rising to meet his falsetto. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the genre’s recent tendencies towards grandeur and as moving a plea as any anniversary speech could be.
Admittedly, the band’s tendency to understate poses occasional problems for the band, particularly when it feels like it’s stuck in its own ennui. “Another Guy” is one mildly intriguing example; the persistence of the drum and guitar rhythms suggest Travis is building up to a big, dramatic finish, but when Healy steps up to question the aforementioned other guy, it sounds less like a confrontation than a retreat. Even if that's a thematic point, it’s a shame the band felt the need to make it musically, too.
To be fair, sometimes the approach is pretty smart, as it is on “New Shoes,” whose hopeful title is undercut by the plop-a-dop of the synth lead and the distant echoes of programmed drum kit dragging Healy’s ambling narrator all around the empty city streets of London and Hollywood. And as if the band’s aware of this paradoxical loneliness, it sneaks in a poignant line on “The Big Screen,” where tellingly, the only instrument on display is the piano: “Life doesn’t fit on the big screen.” What the band loses in emotional intensity it more than makes up for with its honest exploration of loneliness, boredom, and all of the baggage that comes with weathering life and coming out of the other end, a little weaker for the moment but a little wiser at the end of it. My parents tell me middle age is a curse sometimes; Where You Stand
presents the uplifting idea that it’s just another phase we’ll all get through.