Review Summary: The Man Who was the perfect spiritual successor to OK Computer in 1999. Where the former saw lyrics expressing paranoia about the politics of the 21st century, The Man Who is paranoid about just making it out of 1999 with its head screwed on tight. A poig
British music was in a different place in 1999, Radiohead and The Verve had single-handedly taken over the universe with the release of their seminal albums "OK Computer" and "Urban Hymns" respectively in 1997. Gone were the days of Oasis and Blur duking out over the britpop landscape. What we were left with was a somber, more subdued era for alternative British music, a kind of hangover from the party that was britpop. Enter Travis, a band that came on the scene during that tide-shifting year of 1997 with their debut "Good Feeling". It was a record that lived up to its title, it had the fun trad-rock anthems that Oasis fans could nod their heads to, and it also had the poetic ballads that characterized some of the best moments on The Bends. By the time The Man Who came out in 1999 however, Travis was a different band. The subdued effect of European music had taken hold and what we are left with is an album that is your best friend when you're in a reflective mood. I mean that in the best way possible.
"Writing To Reach You" sets the tone of the album perfectly as it begins with a chord progression that serves as a nod to Oasis' Wonderwall but quickly turns into a ballad about a person trying to come to grips with his complex feelings. "Because my inside is outside/my outside is on the left side/ cause I'm writing to reach you/ but I might never reach you/ only want to teach you" Fran Healy croons as chilly guitars aided by Nigel Godrich's production work envelop his voice. Yes this the way we start the album proper - with a ballad about that vague kind of heartache one only truly understands in that vulnerable phase that characterizes much of their late teens and early twenties. Think "High and Dry" without Thom Yorke's signature cryptic phrasing.
"Driftwood" is another moment of pure melancholic bliss. It is the type of song that sounds so uplifting yet tears you to bits at the same time. There is something so poignant about this song wherein Fran Healy compares this mess-up of a person to Driftwood. Yet the song's shimmering guitars and melodies imply that there might be hope. "Why Does it Always Rain on Me" is the ubiquitous song that would define Travis' reputation, and damn them in later years as NME's punching bag. Despite this, it really is a fantastic point in the album, as it really makes this tale of depressing and angst come full circle with this analogy that is simply asking: why does all of this stuff happen to me?
Overall, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. The Man Who by Travis is an album where you get what you put into it. Its lyrics have that heart-on-your-sleeve style of songwriting that Chris Martin would adopt in Coldplay. Fran Healy's approach is not as cringe-inducing as Chris Martin's, but know that if you want self-awareness and levity it won't be found on The Man Who. It may not be an album that touts its masculinity, but from where I stand The Man Who is a bright spot in 1999's pantheon of great pop-rock. Anyone into the trad-rock of Oasis or say, Suede may not get anything out of this album, but then again as Fran Healy says in the beginning of this album: What's a wonderwall, anyway?