Playing their first gig in the UK for five years, Travis arguably haven't really been missed. So the band skipped the fanfares and chose a sedate show at Islington Assembly Rooms to give fans a preview of the new album, Where you Stand.
Peaking at the end of the Britpop-era, Travis came on the scene at the right time with their inoffensive rock and non-cerebral choruses. Tired of Pulp and Oasis chant-a-longs, the public turned to Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Travis for their warm vocals and catchy hooks.
Mid set, lead singer Fran Healy explains: “The reason we’ve been away so long is that we wanted to take time off to enjoy our kids.” Travis have always been the oh-so-nice Scottish band that failed to achieve Coldplay’s knack for the anthemic. The set switches between examples of their new album and slight re-workings of old favourites. The new songs are agreeable enough, but lack the grit of rock and their usual knack for naff, lyrical catchiness that made “Sing” and “Driftwood” such big hits.
“Moving” and “Mother” head straight down the middle-of-the-road - soft-rock that is bland enough for Alan Partridge’s radio show despite the energy Fran Healey and guitarist Andy Dunlop attempt to inject into it. Other tracks are inspired by Healey’s family life. “My Eyes” and “Reminder”, dedicated to his son, are agreeable enough with a whistling intro reminiscent of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” - but as cheery as it is, it is too wincingly sentimental to be palatable.
Healey certainly sells rosy-faced charm in his peasant’s hat and leather braces; “Selfish Jean” and “Love Will Come Through” are delivered with rounded, folkish inflections and a warmth Chris Martin could only dream of.
The band takes a sidestep into rock on “Blue Flashing Light” which looks fun but restricted when wedged between “Turn” and an acoustic performance of “Flowers in the Window”.
As musically drippy as Travis are, Healy’s vocals undeniably exude emotion and a world of experience that can take you by surprise at times. As for their new album, it’s a cosy but bland affair that lacks the hooks to ring out above the nostalgic sing-alongs for the crowd.