Along with fellow Scotsmen Idlewild, Travis lead the charge of U.K. trad-rock bands returning melody and pop structure to modern rock radio. No rage, no Radiohead experiments in digitally reprocessing their identity, just banjos and the occasional Ben Folds-like touch of earnest piano tinkling balladry. Travis gained stateside notoriety with their sophomore album, 1999's The Man Who. And with their third, The Invisible Band, Travis offer more of their wistful choirboy sincerity.
The Invisible Band continues in Travis' tradition of hummable introspection. Even The Man Who's most memorable melody, "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?," contained pleasantly framed paranoid talk like "I can't stand myself/I'm being held up by invisible men." But what is most invisible to Travis is not some upper-level conspiracy's henchmen, but rather irony. You have to ignore even a trace of irony to effectively deliver lines such as "The love you bring won't mean a thing unless you sing, sing, sing, sing" from The Invisible Band's catchy first single "Sing," or "The grass is always greener on the other side" and "Life is both a major and a minor key" from the bouncy, bass-heavy "Side."
But radio-friendly tunes don't mean a thing unless they've got that swing, which Travis has on its side. Fran Healy's tenor is never overpowering, and the band's arrangements on album highlights such as "Pipe Dreams," "Flowers in the Window" and "Follow the Light" (which sounds like a lost Billy Joel ditty), chime and jangle agreeably. But what else would you expect from such tranquil, mild-mannered young men? The Invisible Band is visible proof-positive that good guys, even if they don't finish first, at least finish with style. Travis aren't yet finished presenting a return to mellow tunefulness.
Travis perform at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre Wed., June 20.