First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2010, Volume 17, #11
Written by John Metzger
Tue November 9, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
At first glance, it appears as if Fran Healy was rather tentative about the manner in which he approached his solo debut Wreckorder. Instead of distancing himself from his work with Travis, as many lead-man-turned-solo-acts are want to do, he opted instead to embrace his established habits. In effect, he rededicated himself to the majestic arrangements and keenly crafted melodies of The Man Who and The Invisible Band, the albums that earned Travis an international following. Those folks who never liked the outfit — or preferred the efforts on which it dug in its heels and kicked up more dust — likely will condemn Healy for pursuing this path. The fact of the matter is, however, that Wreckorder is his most accessible and seamless outing in years.
With so many groups competing for attention within the same market, Travis inevitably became lost in the crowd. Despite the emergence of its identity on The Man Who — as well as the strength of its subsequent offering The Invisible Band — Travis became increasingly dissatisfied with the slow pace of its commercial growth. Not only did the outfit fail to recognize the progress it had made, but also the near-death experience of drummer Neil Primrose, combined with Healy’s bout with depression, sent the collective into a tailspin. For the better part of the past decade, Travis has been fighting to regain its footing, even though its members haven’t necessarily been in agreement about the direction that the band should take. As a result, the ensemble is now in the midst of an indefinite hiatus.
With Wreckorder, Healy makes it very clear where his heart lies. Undeniably, he is intent upon using Travis’ greatest successes as a foundation upon which to build his future as a solo artist. A streamlined affair that blows through 10 tracks in just over 30 minutes, Wreckorder folds Radiohead’s modern-era experimentalism into the pop-leaning perfection of The Beatles. Healy even lured Paul McCartney into the studio to add a bass line to As It Comes. Anchoring a song that feels like a lost remnant from David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), McCartney’s cameo is unobtrusive, to say the least. Nevertheless, his presence fits quite naturally with Healy’s style. Likewise, the notion that the track is a lyrical response of sorts to The Beatles’ When I’m 64 surely isn’t accidental.
Even so, the weakness in Travis’ songs has always resided with Healy’s lyrics. He is prone to dabbling in clichés, invoking simplistic storylines and distilling human emotion to its barest essence. Although Healy pushes himself a little harder on Wreckorder, his new material largely suffers a similar fate. At its best, though, Travis found ways of obscuring its deficiencies. In effect, the outfit repeatedly strapped lyrics to the back of an irresistible melody and constructed arrangements that swelled until its tunes became soaring anthems, merging melancholy moods with unbridled optimism.
With Wreckorder, Healy finally has regained his confidence and his composure. On In the Morning and Shadow Boxing, he modifies the adventurousness of Radiohead to suit his own purpose, while he and Neko Case form a delightfully perfect union within the gentle sadness of Sing Me to Sleep. Overall, Wreckorder might not reach the heights of The Invisible Band, but it is the best album Healy has made since then. ½
Of Further Interest...
Wreckorder is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2010 The Music Box