Pop: He's miserable and it's heaven

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The Independent Culture

THERE WAS a time when Travis's Fran Healy was content. Indeed, sometimes he was so overcome with joy that, according to "Good Feeling", you would occasionally have to scrape him off the ceiling. But Healy has found a dark side. Far from the "I'm so happy 'cos you're so happy" sentiments of their debut LP, he is now more concerned with why it always rains on him and where his childhood naivety has disappeared to. Fittingly, Travis's second album, The Man Who..., is named after a psychological study of schizophrenia.

To look at, Healy is an unlikely candidate to pick up the miserablist baton. His youthful good looks, gleaming teeth and rosy cheeks afford him more the appearance of a recalcitrant schoolboy than of a grizzled old cynic, while the rest of the band are Identikit Britpoppers with their basin hairdos. But it was Healy's dual personality that won us over at Cambridge.

During the soaring, weepy "Writing to Reach You" and "Fear" his vocals reached such heights of dolefulness that you wanted to call for a therapist. In contrast, during "U16 Girls" and "The Line is Fine" he was the consummate rock musician, roughening his voice into a Waits-like growl and imbuing each line with a filthy swagger.

Granted, Travis's dispirited moments are sometimes too close to Radiohead for comfort and Healy's change of heart may have seemed abrupt in the eyes of his detractors, but it has shed glorious new light on both his vocal potential and his songwriting skills. New songs came across as intelligent and touching, if a little earnest, and the old ones seemed less irritating than I remember.

The only disappointment was the monitors lined up across the stage - de rigueur for gigs these days - displaying moving eyeballs, graphic equalisers and other irrelevant nonsense. If Travis insist on such superfluities, they would have been better showing The Man with Two Brains.