Travis, The Man Who.
Since their emergence in 1996, Travis have proved as impossible to pin down as mercury.
In the wake of their '97 debut album, "Good Feeling", the quartet - Fran Healy (singer, songwriter), Andy Dunlop (guitar), Dougie Payne (bass), Neil Primrose (drums) - were variously labeled as cerebral art school rockers, irrepressibly happy-go-lucky pop freaks and laconic balladeers to skim but the surface.
Some of the reviews for the first album," notes Fran, "said that, musically, we were a schizophrenic band." Going some way to acknowledging this is Travis' much-anticipated second album, the wryly-named 'The Man Who' - its title inspired by Oliver Sacks' book 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat', a well-thumbed compendium of schizophrenic case studies.
Perhaps ironically then, the album finds Travis more in tune with themselves and their music than ever before. To all intents, it's the sound of a band pushing the envelope; leapfrogging that "difficult" second album and emerging with a classic collection of songs.
'The Man Who' bears a melodic and atmospheric depth that will undoubtedly set Travis apart from their contemporaries. Within its grooves, the echoes of a host of diverse musical spirits can be detected: from the Plastic Ono Band to Simon And Garfunkel, Jacques Brel to John Barry, Hunky Dory-era Bowie to Ennio Morricone. In just a handful of its tracks, it can take the listener from the dark-clouded paranoia of "The Fear", to the hypnotic, piano-led, slow-motion dynamics of "As You Are".
"The last album was recorded in four days with no trickery and it became this supposedly 'schizophrenic' record," Dougie states. "This time we've recorded it over six months in six different studios using more instrumentation and it's turned into this weirdly cohesive piece of work."
While three members of Travis were rooted in an art college background, in their nascent days Fran Healy was the first to wake up to the fact that his real passions lay in music, when he realised that he was finishing more songs than paintings. Dropping out, he encountered Primrose pulling pints at a Glasgow bar and formed the group with him and Dunlop, before Payne was recruited and the line-up of Travis was completed. In 1996, after securing a publishing deal with Sony, the group decamped south to London.
Coasting on the waves created by their limited edition Red Telephone Box debut release, the much-sought-after "All I Want To Do Is Rock EP", Travis became the first major signing to former Go! Discs boss Andy Macdonald's newly-minted Independiente label. The ensuing two years found the band turn in a pivotal performance on "Later With Jools Holland", perform close to two hundred gigs - including key tours with Oasis and Catatonia - and gradually attract legions of devotees. As a result, when "Good Feeling" was released in September '97, it went straight into the Top Ten of the UK charts, eventually producing five strikingly memorable singles, including the rallying "U16 Girls" and the achingly melancholic "More Than Us".
Preliminary sessions for 'The Man Who' - recorded and mixed between the summer of 1998 and the beginning of 1999 - took place in the picturesque surroundings of producer Mike Hedge's Chateau De La Rouge Motte studio in Normandy in three weeks of, as Andy evocatively recalls, "cheese, bread, tequila and watching shooting stars going across the sky every night".
Back in London, work continued in a variety of studios around the capital with Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, R.E.M., Pavement) at the controls, the wonderkid producer helping the band take their sound to new extremes.
In striving to create the desired radio-in-traffic effect of "Slide Show", the group tried to record the song in a car cruising the mean streets of St. John's Wood, before settling for a backdrop of street sounds recorded using Neil's car for the final mix. Further flung, the French passages of the lyric in the album's hypnotic swansong "Last Laugh Of The Laughter" were translated by five Gallic hairdressers that Fran met while on a "shite" holiday in Israel.
"This album's a wee bit more grown-up," acknowledges Fran. "But if you were to listen to the last song on 'Good Feeling' and then put the first track of 'The Man Who' on, it's just a continuation really." Dougie continues: "The best way to listen to 'Good Feeling' was watching us playing it, seeing and feeling the whole thing." Fran adds: "This album's not a rock album in that way, it's more of a song album. It's an album for staying in rather than going out"
In the end, despite the huge step forward that 'The Man Who' represents, Travis remain a band who're not in this for the limelight and the glory. These songs are bigger than them.
Relying on a trusty artistic analogy, Dougie says, "So many bands are like painters standing in front of their paintings going, Look at me, I did this. It's like, Get out the way, I can't see it."
"We don't want to play that game," Fran concludes. "When we all disappear this music will still be here."