Ode To J. Smith encapsulates Travis' 12 years of experience
Sophie Bruce 2008-09-19
Pre-release, Travis tipped their sixth studio album to be their ''loudest and edgiest yet'', their ''rockiest since their debut''. In the past, they've swung both ways, from the happy, wistful band of Driftwood to the more serious boys of Repeat Offender. But that was then and this is now – with more than a decade in the spotlight, copies of an early EP estimated at £1,000 a pop and an international status necessitating US, German and Japanese microsites.
Ode To J. Smith is certainly rockier than ever before – recorded in just two weeks, it's the first album to be written on electric guitar since their 1997 debut. However it's also more than rock - this is an eclectic, experimental mix.
Singer Fran Healy's voice is incongruously upbeat on lamenting album opener, Chinese Blues, almost-title-track, J. Smith, starts brightly before switching into rock via an unexpected choral interlude, while if Healy's voice was more Cobain-like, then the effortlessly stylish Broken Mirror would be black as Nirvana's darkest night.
Along with Broken Mirror, recent single, Something Anything, is another of the album's highlights - a sing-along chorus with riffy guitars that's reminiscent of their superfans, Oasis. Last Words is more of a country ditty with Travis' old pal the banjo tiptoeing amongst the electric guitars. While the opening chords of Friends sound eerily similar to the Rolling Stones' epic, Gimme Shelter.
Ode To J. Smith encapsulates Travis' 12 years of experience, from the peaks of BRIT Awards and celebrity cameos (think Ben Stiller in their promo for Closer as well as the band'’s recent appearance in Son Of Rambow) to the troughs of the pressures of mega fame and drummer Neil Primrose's almost-fatal neck break.
The band speak of their ''need to make an amazing record'', of a ''rush of creative urgency''. This album is certainly a rush. Their re-embrace of rock is a move forward, rather than a step back – a return to form. Travis say the album title is a tribute to its key track, while J. Smith is ''about just another nameless character''. But any namesakes would do right to feel pretty chuffed with a dedication like this.