For every successful band there’s a marketable lead singer looking to put his or her name in lights with an offshoot solo project. And these endeavors essentially give rise to more docile and placid renderings of the artist’s erstwhile sounds. This is his or her chance to showcase vocal talent while leaving any scene-stealing guitar solos on the cutting-room floor, nourishing the vanity of that narcissistic beast that is the frontman or frontwoman. Of course, not every solo project is a vainglorious ego trip to rival Brandon Flowers’s Flamingo, but even the cream of the extracurricular crop seems trivial in its existence.
Fran Healy is the featherlight crooner of the already docile British indie outfit Travis, and he breaks from his bandmates for this collection of especially soft acoustic numbers. Paul McCartney lends his bass guitar to one track and Neko Case her vocals to another, but Wreckorder rarely strays far enough from a Travis-lite sound to justify Healy’s decision to go solo.
Lead single “Buttercups,” for example, is your token Travis tune. Healy’s voice is beautifully strained as he lets his unrequited love narrative unfold, bouncing along the bijou twangs of the same acoustic guitar sound that adorned The Invisible Band‘s more intimate moments. And with “Holiday” and “Anything,” Wreckorder floods back to the darker turns of 12 Memories. Essentially, the listener is ushered through Travis’s hummable back catalogue for large portions of the album, only here the tracks are served without the dynamism and verve of a group effort.
To achieve this aforesaid dynamism, then, Healy turns to his distinguished roll of featured guests. His duet with Case on “Sing Me to Sleep” works wondrously, her dusty country sonic supplementing Healy’s honeyed croon for an off-kilter lullaby finished with ghostly slide guitar. It must be said that McCartney’s turn on “As It Comes” isn’t exactly distinguishable, and hardly warrants Healy’s decision to give thanks by way of turning vegetarian, but it’s still one of the album’s strongest tracks. Healy adopts the guise of a world-withered pensioner casting a tearful eye on his romance and marriage, telling a stirring tale which is complemented beautifully by a resonant piano melody and subtle string work.
Clocking in at a brisk 34 minutes, there isn’t enough time for Wreckorder to falter. But on the other hand, Healy can’t seem to find the time to amply spread his wings either. Though there’s very little here that couldn’t have been done without his previous bandmates, the Travis frontman delivers a sumptuous collection of low-key ditties that should further cement his legacy as one of Britain’s most bankable songwriters.