Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Travis may not be a band recognized by many (yes, a band, not just one guy named Travis).
Best known for their song “Sing,” made famous by Jim and Pam’s iPod slow dance on The Office, Ode to J. Smith is the seasoned group’s sixth official album. While past albums may have fluctuated between positive and negative reviews, there is no doubt that the majority of songs on J. Smith are energetic and inventive with just enough lyrical quality to back them up.
“Chinese Blues” brings an easy, strong start. A slow, steady tempo, it may not be the most experimental song, but it remains solid. Lead singer Fran Healy’s wailing voice is well-suited for the blues, and the slight background sound that does remind a listener of old Asia makes “Chinese Blues” just a little more special.
The title song “J. Smith” is meant to bring the album together. Oddly, the band has chosen for their encompassing song to come early as the second track on the album, which does not help the already shaky cohesion of Ode to J. Smith.
However, the song as a single is catchy, with small twists on classic guitar riffs. Lyrically, the song is haunting, about a man attempting to make something of himself. Travis’ character of J. Smith is taking the ordinary life and trying to battle perhaps an inevitable fate. The temptation to rely on the divine or to give in to the fated is evident when “he prays to his god that reaps his reward.” Simple, but powerful, “J. Smith” is reminiscent of “Sing,” which makes the single one of the easiest to listen to on the album.
Other songs are edgier and as powerful as individual EPs. “Something Anything” and “Broken Mirror” are heavy with grit and guitar. Travis’ most appealing songs are the catchy ones that seem to appeal to adults looking for a youthful kick such as “Long Way Down.” There is an odd celebratory feel to many of the songs, even when the lyrics are more nostalgic.
The only other stand-out track besides “J. Smith” is “Get Up.” With a great beat and experimental percussion, the track is as catchy as anything else currently on the Billboard 100. Uncomplicated with metaphorical lyrics, Travis’ “Get Up” is simply a message of “get[ting] up” to find “a little love and a hand to hold somewhere.” However, “Get Up” combines the melodramatic blues and wail of Healy with that strange celebration in experimental rock. There’s a sense of electronic rock to the song that is not specifically discernible.
Ode to J. Smith is an easy listen, with catchy and blues-esque songs with more edge than the band has shown previously. For anyone who enjoys sounds like Keane and Coldplay, Travis is definitely an investment. There’s a move toward experimental rock that sells instead of breaks ground, and Travis is a solid band for that movement.