After a well-received summer release, Travis hopes for a great fall on the road.

Humpty Dumpty Heart 

After a well-received summer release, Travis hopes for a great fall on the road.

When Travis added Britney Spears' " ... Baby One More Time" to its live set a couple of years ago, making the song a tightly coiled epic of unrequited longing, the band replaced its heavy-lidded dourness with an otherwise undemonstrated sense of irony. The song (later issued as a b-side) was the best winking testament by a Scottish group to the magnetism of American Top-40 pop since Aztec Camera released a raucous acoustic take on Van Halen's "Jump" fifteen years ago. In fact, for all the justifiable skepticism lumped on Travis for its willful breach of Radiohead's patented sonic boundaries, songwriter Francis Healy poaches a lot more from the unabashed romantic pleading of vintage Aztec Camera.

And from Britney.

Still all I need is you/ I just need you/ Yeah you got the glue/ So I'm gonna give my heart to you Healy sings on "The Humpty Dumpty Love Song," the closing cut on Travis' The Invisible Band. Released over the summer to grudgingly favorable reviews and encouraging sales, the disc takes up where 1999's breakthrough The Man Who left off, adding canny rustic touches (the album might have been called The Man Who Got a Banjo) and streamlining Healy's already direct lyrics to the point of near self-parody. An eye on all my horses/ you've slept with all my men, the singer complains in character as "Humpty Dumpty" climaxes. Not very clever unless he's addressing Catherine the Great.

"Franny writes great songs," says bass player Dougie Payne by telephone from a tour stop in Arlington, Virginia. "There have only been one or two we haven't bothered doing."

Payne's enthusiasm is genuine -- and, expressed in his friendly, mellifluent brogue, contagious enough to make one take another look at what initially seemed insipid lyrics: For the love you bring/ won't mean a thing/ unless you sing, sing, sing, Healy advises on the leadoff track and first single, "Sing."

"I think people need songs to sing, especially at this point in time when technology has gone completely rampant," Payne says. "Jesus, look at what's going on. These are difficult fucking times. People need songs that sound human."

The Invisible Band is achingly human, Healy's philosophies as cloying and simple as the music is textured and pastoral. Healy's leaping falsetto and genteel croon are supposed to draw attention to his lyrics, but his voice transcends the words to become another instrument. Criticizing Healy's shopworn aphorisms is easy; turning away from the songs themselves is not.

"A melody done simply, purely and honestly is what affects people," Payne says. "I wouldn't presume to try to put my finger on why people like us just now, but when you hear someone singing his heart out on the street, it's fantastic. It's pure.

"Me and Franny were playing each other's songs the other night," he continues. "You get so nervous when you're playing a fresh song. You've done this thing that no one's ever heard. The idea of someone not liking it is like getting kicked in the nuts."

Payne says that Healy's bandmates haven't kicked him in the nuts so far.

"Franny is so hard on himself when he's writing because he has to feel it," Payne says. "You have to feel free to make an ass of yourself to write something good."

The band spent from October 2000 through the holidays working on The Invisible Band, entering the studio only a week after the close of its sixth American tour that year. "We're an old-fashioned band," Payne says. "We do it the traditional way. The lifeblood of bands is recording and touring. We were meant to tour and write and record. We're a live act. And if you don't go to people's towns, you don't exist to them."

Rattling off eight songs in a few weeks, the quartet flew to London (its home for the last five years) to rest and work on familiar turf with returning producer Nigel Godrich.

Godrich has also been a key figure for Radiohead, producing that band's last three albums. Payne says the band never thought that Godrich's dual associations would make life more difficult for a band already labeled as a Radiohead stand-in. "It's his name on the album, too," Payne says. "Nigel's an artist in his own right."

Payne is right; in many ways, it's Godrich's reputation at risk if Travis sounds too much like his other charge. But with Radiohead having broken free of its earthly orbit with the twin rockets Kid A and Amnesiac, the template has changed. Someone else can make what once were thought of as Radiohead albums. Think of it as a public service -- a talented band continuing the more mainstream trajectory of another talented band that has left the flightplan up for grabs. (Of course, it's the band's taste in cover songs that really distances Travis from other UK imports; its version of Queen's "Killer Queen" will accompany the next Travis single.)

"It's the school of hard knocks," Payne says, amused. "When we first came out, we were compared to everybody. We got Bay City Rollers and Slade comparisons, poles apart. But we've got through to the next stage. Coldplay and whatnot are the new Travises, God bless them."

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