Review Summary: In conclusion, 12 Memories sees Travis being more than the sum of their influences. This is one memory worth remembering.
Travis - 12 Memories
To put things into context, Travis was a band formed in the early '90s whose early output (The Man Who, The Invisible Band) saw them rise to stardom in the early 21st century that seemed to perfectly encompass what was going on in the European rock scene with Post-Britpop being a word often used to describe their mix of catchy melodies, mature ballads, and of course the voice of Fran Healy who in many songs could easily be confused for a more posh sounding Thom Yorke. In many ways, Travis were Coldplay before Coldplay, with lyrics that often circled that same realm of earnestness and heart-on-your-sleeve unpretentious songwriting. Another thing that made the two similar is that Travis didn't have rock credibility, with some unfortunately classifying them as "bed-wetter indie rock".
On 2003's 12 Memories things have changed however, as this album saw Travis reacting to a post-9/11 world as many bands were doing at the time. In that sense, Travis have never sounded more emotionally raw than on this record. "The Beautiful Occupation" is the most outwardly political and distinctly un-Travis song on the album, as Fran Healy states in weathered vocals "The Beautiful Occupation/Don't need an invitation/ To drop it upon a nation". It is the most biting moment on the album, as the song roars into a Suede-esque guitar solo that eschews any assumptions that Travis still want to be the band full of nice blokes who just wanna sing songs about life. No, Travis and Fran Healy have things to say here that wouldn't be right unsaid.
There is an undercurrent of depression and wistfulness on this album. Like on the track "Somewhere Else" wherein pianos shimmer as Fran Healy speaks of days better spent in perhaps a different place, or world all together. "Love Will Come Through" is the track most Travis fans will gravitate towards, as it shines in that pop-rock way Travis were known for before this album, but even then it comes at a moment that gives the song a feeling of longing for a fantasy that one knows may never truly be realized.
12 Memories has a grand sense of pacing, with each track being more emotionally arresting than the last. It builds and builds, with different moods being touched upon throughout with it all feeling very immediate. The final track in particular "Walking Down The Hill" is quite possibly the most lonely sounding song this side of Beck's 2002 album Sea Change, as just Fran Healy's voice and a few sparse piano notes guide you through a fog that grips you with its cold dead hands and never lets you go.
On this record, Travis have created a world that is as grey as the album's artwork. Moods eb and flow like the crashing waves against a blank shore as you realize Travis have reached their breaking point, from which they wouldn't return until 2007's The Boy With No Name. 12 Memories is captivating and cohesive, the sound of a band maturing gracefully. Before this record Coldplay wrote a song about looking towards the stars in boyish adoration of a love interest, on 12 Memories, the stars are not Yellow but an unrelenting grey that challenge you to look. Walk down the hill when your blue skies turn to grey, and 12 Memories are what you will find.