It almost feels like bullying to be mean about Travis, tantamount to kicking a puppy.
They are durable, inoffensive and seem like nice guys. There should always be a place for nice guys, and there’s a lot to be said for maintaining the same line-up for a quarter-of-a-century…but by jingo, 10 Songs is dull.
Serendipitously causing the acoustic takeover of British indie during the latter years of the 20th century (turns out they didn’t just want to rock), it’s hard to quantify quite how big the four-piece were before Coldplay stole a large amount of their thunder. Ever since they’ve ploughed on, sporadically reminding us of their songwriting talent with a great single (Re-Offender, Selfish Jean) or a decent album.
Sadly, 10 Songs is not one of them.
The title should give you some clue as to the lack of inspiration found within. They are (rightly) well beyond a place where they should have to placate criticism, but there’s no deviation from the steady and safe formula. Within seconds of pressing play you know where you are: Waving At The Window is instantly familiar as piano and semi-acoustics lead us into the Glaswegians’ safe space, where on this occasion even Fran Healy seems flat, with much of the song simply made up of him la-la-la-ing along to the admittedly quite pleasant melody.
Sequenced oddly, we then get the two stand-out tracks. The despondent Americana of The Only Thing is a duet with The Bangles’ Susannah Hoffs, whose waspish, crisp vocals work well in contrast to Healy’s soft tone. It’s followed by Valentine, all frenzied chunky rock which harks back to their debut Good Feeling as even Healy’s voice seems to roll back the years. While not a classic, it at least shows some vigour.
Thereafter it’s either anodyne piano or insignificant guitar; Butterflies comes and goes without leaving any impact apart from the telling closing line (‘but we still just solider on’), while piano ballad A Million Hearts is four-minutes long and overstays its welcome by two with some lyrical clangers (you’re one in a million hearts/letting go of you is tearing me apart’) well hidden by sincerity.
On it goes, with varying results. A Ghost has some restrained energy and vibrancy, but this being Travis it’s very restrained. Kissing In The Wind contains a good chorus and a melody which is uplifting to a point, and Nina’s Song has some sense of stubbed ambition. But these are offset by tracks like All Fall Down (‘your love is made of gold, your love is rock and roll’) which are made up just of Healy and acoustic guitar, or like No Love Lost, another piano-driven lament which closes the album.
Previously, Travis albums were often saved by Healy’s introspective, universal lyrics, an approach he takes here once again. But where they were occasionally profound, on 10 Songs it manifests as mundane.
They are capable of so much better, but this one’s coming soon to a dentist’s waiting room near you.