It’s Weezer’s Pinkerton all over again. Well, not exactly, but the striking transition between Travis’s first three albums and their fourth release 12 Memories is akin to the shift between Weezer’s debut and their under-appreciated sophomore effort. Edgier, less sing-songy and often harder than 2001’s innocuously pretty The Invisible Band, 12 Memories is very much a post-9/11 record, mostly abandoning tidy love songs for meditations on war, domestic violence and education. “Peace the Fuck Out” addresses Bush and Blair’s foreign policy (“You have a brain, so use it”) as well as the global protesters who went largely ignored (“You have a voice, don’t lose it”), while “The Beautiful Occupation” seems to simultaneously reference the war in Iraq and 9/11 (“You don’t need an invitation/To drop in upon a nation”). Perhaps it’s impossible for a British rock band to sing about love amid the current state of the world (unlike hip-hop-driven America, where it’s business as usual). Continued comparisons to the Beatles are inevitable; even the politically-charged tunes carry bouncy piano melodies, bobbing basslines, ornate vocal overdubs and harmonies. Singer-songwriter Fran Healy’s fragile, alpine voice still fits the code of so many other current British front-men (Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is the typical point of reference), but the album’s production is significantly less lush than their previous Nigel Godrich-produced work. Of Travis’s 12 “memories,” the biggest surprises are “Happy To Hang Around,” a masochistic love song with a clunky beat and crunchy, irreverent electric guitars, and “Walking Down the Hill,” with its tinkling, softly climbing piano and pitter-patter drum programming. 12 Memories delivers on the promise of Travis’s The Man Who and The Invisible Band, not by repeating past successes, but by allowing Travis to evolve. Now, for fans who want Travis to return with another set of torn love songs, perhaps we should all unscrupulously hope that Nora breaks Healy’s heart.
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