It may seem as though The Man Who has come out of nowhere…this from the band that could barely contain its Oasis-like Britpop swaggering on 1997’s Good Feeling. In fact, Travis made such a big point at the time about putting out deliberately dumb music, as though that were something to really strive for…the lowest common denominator as a high artistic goal. But that’s only half the story and it’s before Radiohead upped the ante with OK Computer. I suspect Travis was always plenty cognizant of how ridiculous that marketing method was because even on Good Feeling, the traces of a brilliant band hid on the second half of the album away from the laddish anthems of underage sex and boy’s fun. The Loaded (popular British men’s magazine associated with laddishness) culture of 1990s Britain was giving way to sensitive guy post-rock right before our eyes on Good Feeling and it completely missed most of the pundits of the time.
It’s hard to believe a band who offered up “All I Want To Do Is Rock” and “U16 Girls” is the same band giving us “The Fear” and “Driftwood” in 1999/2000. But all you have to do is pop in Good Feeling around track seven and listen to the six tracks that essentially serve as the preface to The Man Who. All the subtle attention to mood and slightly downcast dynamics, smarter lyrics are there in the embryonic phase completely developed to near perfection on The Man Who.
Daft critics have suggested Travis merely made the move from Oasis to Radiohead as their prime inspiration. I beg to differ. Rather, Travis is the bridge between the two dominant ends of British rock in the 1990s. Less defiantly miserable than Thom Yorke and company, with more classical tastes in songwriting, and a more than a little unaware of their own monstrously enormous talent, Travis stands in no band’s shadow. And hell, they’re putting themselves out there while Radiohead goof around in the studio for three years searching for a musical nirvana they’re unlikely to ever find. I’m even willing to go out on a limb and suggest that The Man Who is the logical successor to OK Computer as the “important rock” album of its year at least in Europe.