Off-Key with Eric D. Travis

Eric D'Orazio

It’s been seven years since Scottish rock quartet Travis moved to London in search of stardom. Backed with a slew of fun-loving and usually romantically-oriented material, they’ve all but conquered the globe with countless hit singles, awe-inspiring videos, and undeniably energetic live shows, all in turn stemming from their three successful albums.

However, in spite of all that success, things in the band took a dramatic downturn in 2002. In the latter half of that year, drummer Neil Primrose sustained a serious spinal injury and all plans for the band were put on hold, citing that they could not go on without their beloved friend.

Yet miraculously, after a month of treatment, therapy and recuperation, Primrose was back behind the kit, rehearsing new songs with the band and playing a select number of gigs.

Though Travis survived that traumatizing ordeal, it opened their eyes to the fragility of life and the world around them. They knew that they would be forever affected by Primrose’s accident, as well as the events of Sept. 11 the year before, and with that in mind, they began to write and record their new album.

Entitled “12 Memories,” the album is truly different than anything the band has ever recorded. Focusing on more political and social material, the new album displays the revamped version of Travis, that which has let go of lovesickness and lament and outwardly comments upon the troubles of the times.

One song that seemingly exemplifies the band’s new direction is “The Beautiful Occupation.” Driven by Travis’ signature light-then-heavy guitar sound, as well as an overpowering bass backing, the song sounds like something stereotypical of the band. However, its content dictates otherwise. Commenting on the western world’s “beautiful occupation” of instilling unprovoked havoc on third-world countries, the song is best summed up through the line, “we don’t need an invitation to drop it upon a nation.” No matter how hard one may try to get around it, the truth is that “The Beautiful Occupation” seems to be a very political song.

But according to lead singer Fran Healy, such thoughts are unfounded, stating that “it’s a personal song about watching a train crashing in slow motion, and being helpless to do anything to stop it.” Whatever it may be, “The Beautiful Occupation” surely is a powerful track.

Another track on “12 Memories” that exudes an overtly political message is the fan-favorite “Peace The **** Out.” Other than standing out as the first time Travis have openly used profanity on record, the song establishes itself as a protest song to the fullest, with an anthemic chorus and a message of nonviolence for all to heed.

In fact, that message comes across clearly in its chorus, where the band proudly proclaims that “you have a voice, don’t lose it, you have a choice, so choose it, you have a brain, so use it.” All in all, it’s a simple song, and a great one at that. The only factor that makes it stronger is the massive sing-along at the song’s end, driven by what sounds to be hundreds of people chanting, in unison, “peace the **** out …”

Should one pay attention to the tracklisting of Travis’ new album, they may be surprised to find that there are only 11 tracks to its credit. Considering that the album is called “12 Memories”, it seems as if the band forgot to add its final song. However, that seemingly missing song comes in the form of a hidden track towards the album’s end. Aptly titled “Some Sad Song,” it is, unto itself, the new record’s standout effort, and proves the point of saving the best for last.

Unlike any Travis song previously recorded, including those on the new release, “Some Sad Song” is described by Healy as dealing with his “problems with the Catholic Church and authority in general.” Opening the song with the line “in the church, one day you’ll get hurt,” Healy tries his hardest to encourage the idea of looking past personal guilt, and thus to “just be good and love life.”

Aside from the song’s lyrical content, it can easily be said that “Some Sad Song” is the most moving piece of music that Travis has ever recorded in its illustrious history. Driven primarily by Healy’s somber but potent piano work, the song all but provides the greatest ending to any of their records to date, thereby solidifying “12 Memories” as a truly unique release.

When all is said and done, it should be quite obvious that Travis’ “12 Memories” is something special. It stands most definitely in the vein of their previous albums, but quite superbly more innovative, provocative and dare be said, more “out there.” The band’s attitudes have been lifted from the mere romanticized daydreams that defined their past material, and in their place, a more worldly good feeling has sprung up.

The fact of the matter is that Travis have matured artistically, the same way they did upon the release of their smash sophomore effort, “The Man Who.” Whether or not their new album will become as great as its penultimate predecessor, only time will tell. But one thing is for sure: that in respect to Travis’ many wonderful works, “12 Memories” is worth remembering.